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'Silent Running': How the '70s classic inspired modern sci-fi movies

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Classics such as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner are often cited as the most influential science fiction movies of all time, but for our money, Douglas Trumbull's 1972 film Silent Running deserves special recognition for its significance to modern cinema.

Silent Running saw Bruce Dern play an astronaut aboard the Valley Forge, a spacecraft containing Earth's last remaining plant life. After he's given the order to jettison the forest he's so lovingly cultivated, Dern's Freeman Lowell goes rogue in a bid to protect the flora.

Bruce Dern in Silent Running

© c.Everett Collection/Rex Features



Director Trumbull had already masterminded the visuals for Kubrick's 2001 when he stepped behind the camera for Silent Running, and the stunning creation-of-the-universe sequence in this year's The Tree of Life was supervised by the special effects maestro.

Modern filmmakers who grew up on Silent Running are now making movies in Hollywood, so the spirit of the film lives on. As Silent Running is released on Masters of Cinema Blu-ray this week, Digital Spy looks at five modern sci-fi movies that owe a debt to Trumbull's overlooked masterpiece.

Solaris (2002)
Steven Soderbergh's George Clooney-led space drama might be a remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's Russian sci-fi, but at a lean 90 minutes and with a protagonist whose sanity and grip on reality is tested, there's more than a passing resemblance to Silent Running. Like Lowell, Clooney's astronaut Chris Kelvin spends much of his time on screen all alone.



Sunshine (2007)
Danny Boyle's stab at sci-fi is so very nearly a genre classic, only going off the rails in the final act as it introduces jarring horror hysterics. Leading up to that, though, Sunshine is all golden as a team of astronauts set out to re-ignite the dying sun. The Silent Running similarities are evident in Michelle Yeoh's character Corazon, a scientist who tends to the ship's botanical gardens.



WALL-E (2008)
Not only is this a cracking animated movie, it's also a science fiction masterpiece in its own right. Its endearing lead robot character instantly brings to mind Silent Running's Huey, Dewey and Louie, while the strong ecological awareness also binds it to its live-action predecessor. Director Andrew Stanton said in a 2008 interview: "I was [influenced by] Silent Running, Blade Runner, Alien, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, big time."



Moon (2009)
Duncan Jones' love of '70s sci-fi is well-documented - you only need to look at Moon's classy miniature work and solitary astronaut Sam Bell to make the Trumbull connection. "There was a particular period of science fiction that I was a huge fan of," Jones told Digital Spy in 2009. "There were films like Outland with Sean Connery, Silent Running with Bruce Dern and Ridley Scott's original Alien. They're about blue-collar people working in space. I think Sam Rockwell and I missed that honesty and naturalism about what the future might be like."



Avatar (2009)
Forget Fern Gully and Dances with Wolves, James Cameron's record-breaking blockbuster's themes of 'going native' and environmental preservation mirror Trumbull's 1972 offering. Sam Worthington's Jake Sulley makes a journey away from technology as he connects with nature on the world of Pandora. Cameron has been friends with Trumbull for years, and the latter's patented Showscan Film process will reportedly be digitally adopted for JC's upcoming movies..



The Masters of Cinema Blu-ray edition of Silent Running was released on Monday, November 14.

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