Space Music: 'Silent Running'


Just a guy and his robot friends. Universal Pictures

Douglas Trumbull's "Silent Running" is one of those films that really sticks with you. Steeped in 1970s environmentalism, the film follows the world's last treehugger as he fight's to save Earth's last trees. Only these trees arn't even on Earth any more since we managed to poison the planet. Instead, they grow in robot-tended space gardens.

When Earth sends the orders to dump the gardens and bring the spaceships home, our treehugger (played by Bruce Dern) has to make a deadly decision. Let's watch a clip featuring the music of Joan Baez. Some of you may find this a bit dated and cheesy, but I feel a lot of nostalgic love for it:

It's a true sci-fi classic and a wonderful film. I remember discovering it for the first time during an afternoon showing on A&E.

"Silent Running" also had a huge impact on "Mystery Science Theater 3,000" creator Joel Hodgson, who discussed his obsession with the film in a 2012 STBYM interview. Here's a bit from that:

Now, isn't that funny? Folk music in space, but it kind of worked. I liked that tune "Rejoice in the Sun"- very counterpoint to the rest of what was going on in space music. I was strangely obsessed with that movie. I believe I saw it when I was about twelve years old, on the ABC movie of the week. I'm not sure If I mentioned this but I watched a bunch of TV as a kid. Silent Running really stuck with me and this in the 70s before the advent of home VCRs and cable TV so when you wanted to see a movie again you had to do some pretty outrageous things to see it, that could mean setting your alarm for the middle of the night or do what I did. Anyway, when I was in college my roommate was the "campus coordinator" and he's the guy who booked all the entertainment for the college. He had this huge catalog of movies you could license and watch. Back then, if you wanted to show a movie at your college, you had get the sixteen millimeter film print and there was this company that rented these films to your college and I found "Silent Running" in the catalog! That was the only way I could see it: Rent the film and screen it at my college.

And of course the rest is history. Joel's "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was something of an homage to "Silent Running" in its depiction of a man stranded in space with robots and forced to watch cheesy movies.

I'll close out with this new mix from DJ Food, which happens to feature various samples from a documentary about the making of "Silent Running," in addition to tracks from Sinoia Caves, Pye Corner Audio, Machinedrum and Belbury Poly. Enjoy "A Little Night Music..."


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.