Friday, January 30, 2009

SILENT RUNNING (Douglas Trumball, 1972, USA) Freeman Lowell casts adrift humanity’s final message in a bottle, a geodesic dome that contains Earth’s anachronistic untainted beauty, a prescient missive to all intelligent beings that rape their environment. In 1777, the fate of a young nation struggled in the cold of Valley Forge; now, the destiny of the human race is fought in the cold dark recesses of space upon a ship bearing the hallowed namesake. Director Douglas Trumball was responsible for the special effects in two of the greatest science fiction films ever created: 2001 and BLADE RUNNER. The set design of the Valley Forge is the template for Ridley Scott’s Nostromo: the bridge a functional design and not a flashy space opera spectacle. Though the science is questionable: Why seed these geodesic domes in deep space? Wouldn’t it be more economic to orbit them around the moon or build them on Earth? As the film begins, is there enough sunlight 8,933,750,00 miles from Sol to sustain these domes? How is life sustained on earth without any plant life? But Trumball is more concerned with the inner spectacle, with examining human nature, its faults and strengths, and the slow decay of the mind in isolation devoured by remorse and regret. Bruce Dern’s powerful performance carries the narrative burden, a one-man tour-de-force that evokes compassion and sadness as he descends into the darkness of inner space. The two drones Huey and Dewey display a few subtle gestures that grace them with an electric soul: they tap their toes in impatience and, while playing cards, out-cheat their creator. The film is full of these tiny flourishes and details that add depth and realism, though the Joan Baez music is teeth grinding. Lowell murders his companions and hijacks the precious cargo, running silent through the nebulous rings of Saturn, sharing paradise with his programmed creations. When “rescued”, Lowell succumbs to the schizophrenia that divides his peaceful nature and disappears in a brilliant flash of silent light. But his message remains free of human bondage. (B)

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