Nearly half a century ago, special effects pioneer Doug Trumbull (“2001: A Space Odyssey” “Blade Runner” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) took the director’s chair (at the tender age of 28) to make a low budget ecological sci-fi called “Silent Running.” The movie came from a script by writers Derek Washburn, Michael Cimino (both of “The Deer Hunter”) and Steve Bochco (“Hill Street Blues” “L.A. Law”).
The lead astronaut/botanist protagonist “Freeman Lowell” was played by semi-legendary character actor Bruce Dern, whose thin build, long hair and wild eyes usually cast him as heavies or eccentrics. In “Silent Running”, Dern arguably gives the performance of his career.
**** GIANT ECO-DOME SIZED SPOILERS! ****
In “Silent Running”, Dern’s Lowell is a flawed hero… an ecological savior who is forced to murder his colleagues in order to try to save the very last of the Earth’s dwindling forests, which are now drifting in large pods aboard massive space freighters near the orbit of Saturn, in an unspecified but relatable future. Lowell’s ship, the Valley Forge, is one of many containing the very last of Earth’s forests and other ecospheres within their attached domes.
Lowell’s doomed shipmates, Keenan, Barker and Wolf (Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin and Jesse Vint) are intent on nuclear-detonating the large eco-domes aboard their freighters. The madness of their mission comes directly via their chain-of-command, in order for the large spacecraft to “return to commercial service” (such ecological shortsightedness in favor of short-term profit feels all-too familiar today). The Valley Forge’s sister ships are also doing the same…freeing themselves from the ‘burden’ of caring for the last of Earth’s vegetation.
After the deaths of Keenan, Barker and Wolf, Lowell’s only companions are several two-legged robotic drones, Huey, Dewey and Louie (Louie is lost earlier in the film). The drones in the film were played by real-life double amputees aging in range from 17-20 years old (Mark Persons, Steven Brown, Cheryl Sparks and Larry Whisenhunt).
The drones’ functional design, electronic vocalizations and movements would not look at all out of place in George Lucas’ “Star Wars” (1977). “Silent Running” was released five years earlier.
Over the course of the film, the increasingly lonely Lowell begins to anthropomorphize his automated companions, as he reprograms them to perform surgery on his injured leg, play poker, and ultimately care for the single remaining forest pod that he has sacrificed his shipmates to protect. Realizing the vegetation in the forest pod is dying, he rigs up a series of lights within the dome to simulate sunlight in the darkness of deep space. It works.
After passing through Saturn’s rings in a desperate bid to shake off any would-be ‘rescuers’, the Valley Forge emerges from the far side of the planet and is tracked on long-range sensors. Earth is sending a rescue mission. Lowell realizes if his rescuers catch up to the Valley Forge, his last remaining forest pod will be destroyed, just like all of the others. Programming Dewey with all of his botanical knowledge, Lowell puts the drone in charge of the forest pod’s maintenance; and then detaches it safely away from the ship. With the pod escaping out into the void, like a message in a bottle floating into an open sea, Lowell then nuclear destructs the Valley Forge before the rescuers can board it.
The final shot of the film sees the final forest dome of Earth floating away into an uncertain fate…
Douglas Trumbull’s direction, and special effects supervision, does an awful lot with a relatively meager $1 million budget. Future Star Wars effects legend John Dykstra even gave an assist with the photographic effects work. While there are some minor issues (most notably a lack of coverage during the human scenes, making the editing feel somewhat static), Trumbull’s overall direction for the 89 minute “Silent Running” is inventive, resourceful and inspired.
Most of the Valley Forge spacecraft interiors were filmed aboard the real-life decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45) which was berthed in Long Beach, California at the time. With little redressing, the vast cargo bays, main bridge and claustrophobic corridors of the ship make convincing stand-ins for the interiors of a futuristic space freighter. The USS Valley Forge was launched near the very end of World War 2, and served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. The ship was ultimately consigned for scrap in October of 1971 (seven months after filming aboard the ship had completed).
The interiors of the spacious wilderness preserving domes were shot within a large aircraft hangar in Van Nuys, California (the future birth place of Industrial Light and Magic). The vegetation and trees inside the pods were rented from a local nursery, and a Sears-bought children’s pool (cleverly concealed by foliage) made for a convincing mini-lake.
Space backdrops outside of the translucent domes were rendered with front projected imagery, the same process used to project African wilderness scenery onto British film sets in Trumbull’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (the “Dawn of Man” sequences). Scenes of the renegade Valley Forge spacecraft ‘shooting the rapids’ within the rings of Saturn were originally planned for “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) but were not ready in time.
Miniatures of the Valley Forge spacecraft were 25 ft. long and photographed before front projection screens to place them seemingly into the void of Saturnian space. The effects footage of the Valley Forge and its sister ships (multiplied images of the single Valley Forge miniature) was later reused in both “Battlestar Galactica” (1978) as the rag-tag fleet’s ‘agro ships’, as well as an episode of “The Night Gallery” (1971’s “The Different Ones”) which aired three months before “Silent Running” was released theatrically in March of 1972.
The film’s songs (“Silent Running” “Rejoice in the Sun” ) by popular 1970s folk singer Joan Baez seem somewhat calculated to make a pop soundtrack tie-in, yet they work… largely because they add a much-needed feminine presence to what is otherwise an exclusively male cast. “Rejoice in the Sun,” in particular, feels like a vocalization of Mother Nature herself. Some viewers may find Baez’s songs hokey and dated, but they are also an intractable part of the film’s DNA; they fit well with the music of composer Peter Shickele (“Fantasia 2000”).
Hero or Antihero?
The flawed Freeman Lowell bears many things in common with other stranded or isolated astronauts in cinema, such as Commander Kit Draper (the late Paul Mantee) in “Robinson Crusoe On Mars” (1964), Commander David Bowman (Keir Dullea) in the aforementioned “2001,” and lunar miner Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) in “Moon” (2009).
Lowell arguably shares the most in common with Mars-stranded botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) in 2015’s “The Martian.” Both men are botanists, and prefer living on the food they grow through their own resourcefulness (Mark’s infamous poop-tatoes), and both men share a bit of grim humor regarding their enforced solitudes. Mark, however, is an unabashed optimist while Lowell is far more fatalistic. Mark Watney has thousands of people on Earth all brainstorming on ways to rescue him. Lowell doesn’t want a rescue (hence his ‘silent running’), because he knows his rescuers would only want to destroy the forest dome he’s sacrificed so much to protect… he also carries the tremendous guilt of being forced to murder his shipmates.
The 1970s were also the age of the antihero, with films such as “The Godfather” (1972), “Chinatown” (1974) and “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) having protagonists were operated in somewhat gray moral waters. Freeman Lowell has a very noble and selfless goal (the protection of Earth’s waning vegetation and wildlife) but he uses murder to achieve his ends. Lowell doesn’t waver; he jettisons Barker and Wolf in one of the agro pods that are destroyed (murdering both at once), and later murders Keenan in gruesome hand-to-hand combat.
We see that Lowell feels great pain and remorse over the deaths he’s caused, even using the drones to dig a grave for murdered crewman John Keenan (Cliff Potts), the only member of the Valley Forge’s four man complement who showed Lowell any measure of sympathy or compassion. But at the end of the day, he makes his choice…the last of Earth’s forests over the lives of his crew mates.
Some might find Lowell’s act of murdering one’s own crew irredeemable in a modern movie, but that’s also one of the things that separates “Silent Running” from an ordinary space flick; Lowell does what his conscience dictates, as easily as his colleagues tried to nuclear-destruct the forest pods mindlessly on orders from Earth. Both are acts of murder; one of fellow human beings, and another a mass murder of multiple species on the verge of extinction. “Silent Running” doesn’t pronounce judgment upon its lead character… it leaves that to the viewer.
As of this writing the Amazon rainforest is burning out of control…threatening roughly a fifth of the world’s oxygen, as well as irreplaceable biodiversity. The Brazilian president has told international parties to “mind their own business” in the matter.
The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency, under the current Trump administration, is virtually eliminating long-held protections on multiple endangered species by factoring economic impacts into their overall salvation ‘worth.’ In other words, if a species survival has too great an economic impact on short-term profits, then it’s no longer going to be worth saving.
As more and more restrictions for safeguarding the natural environmental are being phased out (or otherwise subverted), the barren future imagined in “Silent Running” 47 years ago isn’t so difficult to imagine these days, nor is the film’s seemingly suicidal decision to nuclear-destruct the last of Earth’s forestation in favor of commercial interests. Given current world leadership, this possible future may come far sooner than depicted in “Silent Running.”
While Trumbull’s innovative ecological sci-fi film may seem superficially dated in some respects, its message is perhaps even more potent (and timely) now than it was in the early 1970s.
14 Comments Add yours
Happy 50th Anniversary for Silent Running (1972-2022)
That’s right! Thanks for the reminder!
In the last 2 weeks, I just purchased the DVD of Silent Running, and I’m really glad I did.
I first saw Silent Running on the CBS Late Movie in the early/mid 1970’s, I think at least once. Aside from that, I don’t recall it ever being re-run on television in my area, in the decade after or since. But it left a great impact on me and while not seeing it for so long, I remembered it and it was one of the first movies I wanted to have when I got my first VHS player/recorder in 1983. But it was never broadcast in that time, at least not here in Florida.
In the mid 1980’s, I finally rented and recorded Silent Running, dubbing it from VHS to a blank tape. But even on the original tape, the sound was distorted, it was not a carefully produced re-release, and I knew I would not enjoy re-watching it again in that form, Particularly frustrating was the distortion in the segments with the Joan Baez songs. it just disappointed when I tried to re-watch it once or twice in the years after.
On a whim recently, I looked to see if Silent Running was released on DVD I could purchase. And finding it available in abundance and very reasonably priced, I snapped it up on Ebay. It wasn’t released on DVD until 2002 !
I purchased it, and I think it’s one of my best movie purchases of all the DVD’s I’ve gotten. Not only is the DVD quality of picture and sound the best I could ask for, but there are multiple documentaries on the making of Silent Running.
The documentaries actually far exceed the length of the movie itself, and answer every question you could possibly have about the making of Silent Running: how it was conceptualized and developed, the design and visuals for the ship’s exteriors, how the drones were created, and the faces of those who were inside them, the small go-cart like vehicles, the use of a de-commissioned Navy ship for the spaceship’s interior (I like that the Navy ship was also named Valley Forge, and that they used the same name as spaceship Valley Forge in the movie), even the Valley Forge space crew uniforms were explained. I envision the rear projection on a blank screen being very similar to how, say, the orbiting shots of the starship Enterprise in Star Trek (the original series, produced in the years just prior to Silent Running) was filmed, either orbiting planets or in space.
So I’m really glad I got the film on DVD, and have re-watched and savored it many times.
I’m also amazed that this was Douglas Trumbull’s first movie he directed. And that he was able to create such a visually striking and lavish production on a budget of just $1.3 million. Insightful to know that he also did either technical or director work on 2002:A Space Odyssey (released April 1968), The Andromeda Strain (March 1971), Silent Running (March 1972), Close Encounters (Nov 1977), Startrek The Motion Picture (Dec 1979), Blade Runner (June 1982) , and Brainstorm (Sept 1983).
One thing I didn’t know until I read your blog is that exterior footage of the space ships were re-used in a Night Gallery episode, and then again in the Battlestar Galactica series. I mean hey, if you’re a series producer and you’ve got great footage to borrow from Silent Running, why re-invent the wheel, right?
So thank you for you’re nicely formatted blog, and your insights on Silent Running.
The one area I disagree with you is where you go a bit political in your commentary, bashing Trump and Republicans as environmental destroyers.
First off, it was Richard Nixon in 1971 (THE EXACT SAME YEAR SILENT RUNNING WAS FILMED) who created the Environmental protection Agency.
It’s a tough call, to strike a balance on industrialization and jobs, vs.
protection of the environment and species. You could argue that Republicans do a better job of striking that balance than Democrats. I feel like, on the environment and many other issues, Democrats are more about virtue-signalling and appearances of doing something, throwing money and smothering regulation at the a problem, rather than actually fixing problems. I also feel (with considerable evidence) that Democrats/socialists/authoritarians use the environmental issue as a way to control people, rather than actually having a concern for or better preserving the ecological system.
The United Nations’ “Agenda 21” codifies that authoritarian plan.
Barack Obama’s stillborn “cap and trade system” would have cars and homes and movements of every U.S. citizen, if implemented.
Al Gore and John Kerry, and their ecology-destroying private jets and massive homes, as they tell everyone else to abstain.
Barack Obama virtue signalling about rising oceans, who then buys a very expensive beachfront mansion in Martha’s Vinyard. Oh yes, he’s very concerned about rising sea levels !
Pure and simple hypocrisy.
It should also be pointed out that about 10 years ago, scientists worldwide were exposed as cooking the books with their coordinated combined research, to make the results conform to their theories of global warming.
There are plenty of books presenting the science about what is termed the “global warming hoax”.
It infuriates me how the Democrat/Left in this country pushes to destroy and shut down the fossil fuel industry in the United States (where we in the U.S. have the cleanest and most regulated fossil fuel extraction and production in the world), and drive it to other nations that have FAR LESS care and environmental regulation in fuel extraction and production. Does that Democrat policy help protect, or help destroy, the Earth’s environment?
Even John Kerry in a video interview (after being appointed Biden’s environmental czar and emissary) said that ultimately, if the United States brings its emissions to zero, but countries like China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and the OPEC nations are still polluting, the U.S.’s sacrifices to prevent global warming will mean nothing, the Earth will still be further polluted and destroyed, regardless of the sacrifices of U.S. workers and taxpayers.
China opens up a new coal-burning energy factory a week now. But Democrats seem perfectly okay with that, while they bash the U.S. as the great destroyer of the earth. If you look up the 10 greatest pollutted nations, or the 10 most polluted cities, not one of them is in the U.S. I think the closest on the list is Mexico City.
There’s an article I read in American Thinker that discusses scientists worldwide cooking the books to create data that supports a joint global warming narrative, and it further says that at many liberal-dominated universities and scientific institutions, there is a “consensus” on the threat of global warming, because anyone who disagrees or pushes for an empirrical study that challenges that established narrative, will either be fired or never promoted.
That’s equally true of discouraging any empirical challenge to the “scientific” narrative about homosexuality. One editor of Psychology Today in the magazine’s editorial page just said we should objectively investigate whether or not homosexuality is inborn or not (“nature” or “nurture”) and despite his being liberal and pro-gay, was the victim of a backlash campaign to have him fired for just asking the question, and ultimately resigned to avoid further harassment and controversy.
And more recently, the authoritarian backlash and shutdown of any medical/scientific challenge to the accepted narrative about Covid-19’s origins, or the effectiveness and necessity of vaccine mandates.
So… those are a few examples of “scientific consensus”.
And while I’m certainly a fan of nature and animals and want everything reasonable done to preserve the environment, forgive me for being a bit skeptical about how reliable the “scientific” data is on this point.
Further, there have been scientific Ice Ages and Hot Ages on the planet for billions of years, long before there was a human civilization.
There was a cover story in TIME magazine around the year 2000, when the human population hit 6 billion people. It said since the late 1960’s, the environmental groups had been predicting worldwide armageddon if the population reached 6 billion, mass starvation, wars over limited supplies of food and water worldwide, massive disease.
But in fact what occurred was genetic engineering of plants that were resistant to insects and plant diseases, more efficient crop production, so that more food can actually be grown on less land, that while the population had reached 6 billion (over 7 billion now) there were resources to provide for those people.
(With the caveat that some of that needed research and development and preservation of resources is being neglected, and could cause that kind of predicted famine in the future. )
So, I’m not saying the Democrats (or liberals worldwide) are bad, or that Republicans are bad. I’m saying they both have their own views of how to best deal with these problems. One or the other might be right. Or they could both be wrong. In which case, God help us all.
I’m just saying, don’t buy one narrative hook line and sinker, there are other valid factually sourced perspectives and counter-points.
Regardless, I love Silent Running, it’s a beautiful film with an epic scope, made on a relatively small budget. While entertaining us with a great story and memorable visuals, it intelligently raises important issues that have enduring relevance, incredibly, even 50 years after its release.
And people can nit-pick and say it’s “dated”. Well… Star Trek (in its many forms) is dated too. But it also is deeply entertaining, and has enduring aesthetics and relevance. Both Star Trek and Silent Running hold up on many levels, way beyond their time.
Well, I very much disagree with your political outlook (esp. since the Republican-led SCOTUS just gutted the EPA’s ability to enforce environmental regulations this week), but I’m glad you enjoyed the look back at Silent Running.
On the politics, you and I will simply have to agree to disagree.
Well, regarding the U.S. Supreme Court ruling abut EPA regulating emissions, I guess that’s another respectful “agree to disagree” issue.
The U.S. Supreme Court is not a Republican administration that enacts of enforces laws, they just rule whether a law is within the framework of the Constitution. The Supreme Court does not administrate or make laws, they just determine whether laws are constitutional or not, and whether the Court-ruled-upon law should remain in effect.
I frankly like that there are strict constructionalists who dominate the court now, who rule on what the Constitution actually says, rather than what is commonly termed “legislating from the bench” that circumnavigates the lawmaking legislative process (no better example than Roe v. Wade, which was also just overturned after 50 years. Just as Dredd Scott, and Brown vs. the Board of Education overturned decades upheld bad law. )
Conservative justices rule on what the Constitution actually says and past legal precedent, Even when the law more conservatives uphold goes against their own personal politics. Whereas the Democrat-appointed judges tend to rule without precedent based on what advances their personal agenda. (Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for example, who conducted a gay wedding a month before the U S S C ruled on that issue, should have recused herself from that decision, based on her obvious biases.)
The same week as the EPA ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to take down former President Trump’s exertion of “Title 42” (the order that illegal immigrants crossing the southern border into the U.S. carrying a risk of Covid-19 or other diseases cannot enter the U.S., and have to stay in Mexico, the first nation they took refuge in, until their pending cases are processed in U.S. courts.)
Clearly as conservatives, the more conservative U.S. S.C. justices would personally prefer the “stay in Mexico” order to remain in effect, but they ruled that previous president Trump issued an executive order to enforce Title 42 of immigration law in the way his administration did. And whether the best policy or not, Biden and the Democrats, after Trump’s term ended, have the right to implement their own executive orders while Biden’s administration is in power.
But regardless, the administration that is in power is the Biden administration, the Democrats. The U.S. Supreme Court just makes legal rulings on a law’s constitutionality, it is not an administration, and within the Constitution framework, they struck down the over-reach begun in 2015 by the Obama administration of having the EPA to take on new powers not previously legislated. And after that ruling, leaves it up to the Biden administration and the Democrat-majority legislative branches to create actual laws (in accordance with Constitutional separation of powers and legislative process) to give EPA those powers, if they want to.
And again, a point I didn’t fully raise because I already typed a lot in my first post, Trump as president withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto agreement, because he felt it was unduly punishing U.S. industry, in a global agreement that other nations aside from the U.S were not even complying with, and made the argument that many of the world’s nations, such as China and India, were labelled as “developing nations”, that despite being the world’s greatest polluting nations, WERE NOT EVEN SUBJECT TO EVEN HAVING TO COMPLY LIKE THE U.S. DOES for several more decades, while the U.S. and other first-world nations were punished with hundreds of billions in regulatory compliance.
And yet… even after Trump withdrew from Kyoto, the U.S. had the greatest decrease in pollution emissions of any nation worldwide remaining in the Kyoto agreement. Now, 0.5% doesn’t sound like a lot, but that is 0.5% of a $21 trillion industrial economy. There is irony that the U.S. had the greatest improvement of any nation, even over any of those remaining in the Kyoto agreement.
Further, the Biden administration is declaring war on the fossil fuel industry (I believe Biden used those exact words while campaigning in 2020). So if we shut down the oil, gas and coal industries within the U.S. (where we have the cleanest and most regulated fossil fuel industries) and we get our oil, for example, that we previously produced domestically from countries like Venezuela, OPEC nations, Iran and Russia, who have far worse environmental standards for how they extract, refine and transport these fuels that we now import at higher prices into the U.S. ( and further brings us back to foreign dependency and national security issues that could bring this country to its knees, as it did in 1973 and 1979), that helps the global environment… how?
The move to make the U.S. use “green” energy is a bit of a shell game. If the whole U.,S. were driving Tesla or other hybrid/electric cars, they use electricity that is supposedly “green” and less polluting than gasoline. But where does that electricity come from? From electrical power plants that generate electricity with giant turbines, that use millions of gallons of (fossil fuel) oil to run and generate that electricity. That on the surface appears green, but is not green. Further, there is a (Democrat/Left/”Green New Deal”) push to shut down these electricity generating power plants, and nuclear plants. But if you have, say, 10 million new Tesla cars charging every night in their garages in a metropolitan area, that region needs much MORE electricity to charge those 10 million cars nightly, not LESS electricity.
Further all these electric cars use tens of millions of batteries, that like any other batteries, are very polluting when discarded, and we will be throwing tens of millions of them in landfills nationwide, which will again do more, not less, damage to the environment.
And all the components of battery, wind and solar energy, both the raw materials and the manufacturing, are exported from China. Where, I might add, they are manufactured often by slave labor and in terrible human rights conditions. And if we go fully “green”, China could shut off exports of these resources in a moment and bring the United States to its knees.
All of which I’m saying to make the point that, while I want every reasonable step taken to make the U.S. and the world cleaner, is much more complicated than the official narrative would have us believe. It’s again a not a clear case that Democrats are the defenders of the environment, and the Republicans are the great destroyers who out of greed or whatever want to allow pollution and let the world be destroyed.
Here’s a link to an overview of the U.S. Supreme Court EPA ruling, going back in context to when the EPA’s powers were expanded while Barack Obama was still president:
I’ve read the decision, thanks.
Do me a favor?
Let’s just stick to “Silent Running” for now, okay? This isn’t Twitter, nor is it a lengthy political forum.
OK, I understand. I was just trying to answer the issues raised. And felt it was relevant to the movie itself, and its environmentalist issues that we’re still discussing 50 years after the movie was released. Pretty amazing for Douglas Trumbull, who was only 29 at the time, directing his very first film.
I was sorry to see that he died earlier this year, and saw your tribute to Trumbull’s passing on another page here.
Another show with great spaceships and visuals is the SPACE 1999 show. Back in the day, I bought a Moonbase Alpha landscape model, and several models of the Eagle scout spaceship models that needed to be assembled and painted. I never saw any similar models for Silent Running. Although I did see some figures of the Huey, Dewey and Louie drones.
Probably because Silent Running was only in the theatres for a very brief time, and with no advertising promotion. Trumbull said that the producers relied on word of mouth, but that didn’t go as well as planned. So most people never even knew the Silent Running movie existed until it was broadcast on television.
One other point about Silent Running that occurred to me, it was funded by Universal Studios as one of five commissioned movies on low budgets of roughly $1 million each or less, to capitalize on new young directors. Universal got the idea for this after the independent and relatively low budget independent film “Easy Rider” (released July 1969) with a budget of about $400,000, grossed a phenomenal $60 million.
The 5 films Universal released in that project were:
1) “The Last Movie” , released July 1971, directed by Dennis Hopper (who previously directed Easy Rider), on a budget of $1 million, and was a commercial failure. I was particularly amused by this part: “the studio was so eager to cash in on the youth market following the success of Easy Rider that they gave Hopper carte blanche, and they were horrified with the results.”
2) “The Hired Hand” , released August 1971, directed by Peter Fonda, on a $1 million budget, that again was a commercial flop.
3) “Taking Off”, released in March 1971, directed by new-to-Hollywood Czech director Miloš Forman. Also on a budget of roughly $1 million, it was another commercial flop.
But director Forman just four years later reached enormous success with the multiple Oscar-winning “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), followed by “Ragtime” (1981) , Amadeus (1984), and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996)
4) “Silent Running”, released in March 1972. It initially had a $1 million budget, that director Trumbull somehow got permission to raise to $1.3 million for additional costs. While loved by many and critically acclaimed, it again was not an enormous commercial success, and as Trumbull himself says, most people were unaware of it during its theatre release, and became aware of it later when it was broadcast on television, at which point it gained a loyal following. Trumbull attributes its initial lack of success to a lack of studio
promotion of it during its theatre release. He said the studio felt word of mouth would be enough to give it success, and didn’t finance its promotion on release.
5) “American Graffitti” directed by then-new director George Lucas, released in August 1973, filmed on a budget of $777,000, less than for each of the previous four movies, probably due to the low return on the previous four, and yet it grossed an incredible $140 million, one of the most successful films of the decade.
These are listed rather quickly on the voice-over bonus track of the “Silent Running” movie DVD by Bruce Dern and Douglas Trumbull, in the opening minutes. I added some details of the directors, release dates, budgets and box-office of each, to flesh out the context in which “Silent Running” was made in this program.
Another that was made by Universal in the same period was “Play Misty For Me” directed by Clint Eastwood, released in Oct 1971, produced on a $950,000 budget, and grossing $10.6 million. It was the first film Clint Eastwood directed, and was not part of the same program, apparently, but in terms of the budget allotted and trying out another first-time director, it seems to follow the same pattern as the other 5 films listed. Needless to say, Eastwood has gone on to phenomenal success as a director. As did Lucas, Trumbull, and Forman.
All of which put Silent Running in fine company, as one of several film projects that, while not initially successful, showed the talents who created them as well selected by Universal, talents who went on to show in later projects they were unquestionably some of the best in their field.