Saturday, August 20, 2005

Silent Running (1972)

In the wilted salad days of my misspent youth, a local channel used to air out old movies on weekday afternoons between 3 and 5pm. Films were bundled into themed weeks, usually Abbot & Costello comedies or Charlie Chan mysteries, the Blondie series, so forth. Creature Week meant the classic Universal Monsters, Godzilla, King Kong, giant radioactive insects, space invaders -- a genre melting pot. Unless I skipped out of school early, the programming meant I'd miss at least the first quarter of the story. Sometimes this was important, sometimes not (when you're ten years old, you don't care about small talk made during the boat trip up the Amazon, you want to see the Gillman!). One of the last afternoon movies I half-caught in this way (probably near about the time the channel dropped long films in favor of Oprah and The People's Court) was Silent Running. Which meant I lacked the first half of the movie, explaining how Bruce Dern became stranded in space aboard a greenhouse of a spaceship, and equipped with poker-playing robot pals. Still, as I remembered it over the years, the situation of Freeman seemed straightforward enough: he's an astronaut Adam, trapped in an Eve-less Garden of Eden, drifting towards future adventure....

At one point in college, when it was my turn to pick the Movie Night movie, I chose Duel. I'd seen it similarly as a half-told boob tube matinee, and my time-dusted memory was of a superb nail-biting quasi-supernatural thriller. Don't get me wrong -- Duel is a decent, if dated, piece of filmmaking, and would probably be well remembered even if it wasn't Steven Spielberg's early work. But I sold that movie to my buddies like it would be a pants-wetting rollercoaster like they couldn't imagine. And then the Dennis Weaver voice-over narration started....

Some things are best remembered, rather than revisited.

A worthy ecological message is muddled by astrobotanist Freeman's problematic mutiny, a dead-end operation, more of a protest sacrifice than a heroic measure. Slow-moving, moribund, and preachy, but an undeniable marvel visually, Silent Running is best left being fondly, fuzzily recalled -- and credited for being a large inspiration for MST3K. (Aaaah, to be trapped in space aboard an orbiting satellite, watching old sci-fi movies with a couple of wisecracking robots....)

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