Looking Back At Silent Running

Fifty years ago this month, Silent Running was released in theaters. Right away, the sci-fi eco-drama stood out back in the 1970s thanks to its innovative special effects, set design and the ecologically driven storyline that struck chords with environmentalists everywhere.

Silent Running takes entirely onboard a spaceship near Saturn called the Valley Forge that serves as an environmental ark for the last remaining Earth ecosystems encased in giant geodesic domes that act as greenhouses.

Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is a botanist and one of the four crewmen who care for the ecosystems, along with a trio of robotic drones called Huey, Louie and Dewey. The crew receives orders to destroy the domes and return to Earth, but Freeman is mortified by the orders even though the others are eager to go back home. During the operations of jettisioning and blowing up the domes, Freeman mutinies, kills his crewmates and hijacks the Valley Forge. With one dome remaining on the ship, Freeman heads out to deep space to continue caring for the last ecosystem with help from the drones. During his voyage, Freeman has to deal with loneliness, guilt and the logistics of caring for the fragile plants and small animals in the dome.

Elevated by Bruce Dern’s passionate and sensitive performance, and superior special effects, Silent Running is a contemplative and quietly emotional film. Despite its short run time and the over-the-top environmental message, the film is quite effective and leaves you thinking about it long after it is over. The late special effects guru Douglas Trumbull made his directorial debut with this film, though the only other film he directed was Brainstorm, which is a shame as he showed a lot of promise as a director. The effects truly stood out from practical effects, such as the drones which were performed by bilateral amputees, to excellent and intricate model work. The footage of the Valley Forge would pop up in other films and TV shows such as the orginal Battlestar Galactica.

Kudos has to go to Bruce Dern who largely spends the film by himself. He was able to project a kinship with the drones who despite not able to speak demonstrated emotions like bravery and loyalty. Of course, he is guilty of murdering his colleagues and his environmental rantings come off as too extreme, yet his passion for the last remaining plant and wildlife is sincere and relatable.

One nagging fault about the film has to do with unanswered questions about the domes and the film’s simplistic script. What exactly happened to the Earth and why was the Valley Forge crew told to destroy the domes and return home? What we know about the importance of plants in our complex enviroment with creating oxygen and food would mean that these domes would not be casually discarded. Did the environmental situation improve on Earth to make the domes unneccesary? In one exchange between Freeman Lowell and his crewmates, it is pointed out that humanity can now duplicate the benefits of plants. Does this mean air and food can now be easily created without vegetation? Based on the level of technology shown in the film, this does not seem likely. Even if this was true, why discard such precious resources so casually? It’s hard to imagine that all of humanity except for Freeman would be fine with this. If a remake is ever made for this film, these issues can be addressed or its premise should be updated given what we now understand about ecosystems.

There is also an unavoidable fault with Freeman’s thinking that honestly makes him out to be a complete fool. At some point, the plants are withering and the botanist spends significant time trying to figure out why, while the cause and solution are quite obvious.

Still, in spite of these lapses in logic, Silent Running truly was one of the best sci-fi films released in the 1970s and should be seen at least once by sci-fi fans. The film is a true gem with resonating message and images. The best example is Silent Running’s very last scene, which is very emotional and serves as a fitting allegory for our own fragile and special planet in the vast cosmos.

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring 20 Years Later

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month and looking back, it’s clear now, how influential this highly successful film has become. Peter Jackson’s epic start to The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy paved the way for a fantasy film revival that is still going strong today and led to similar adaptations such as HBO’s Game of Thrones, Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time, and other fantasy-themed films and shows. The Fellowship of the Rings’ success wasn’t a sure thing though, as author J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive novel was deemed unfilmable due to its intricate plot and long back story which spanned thousands of years.

The earliest film version was the animated adaptation from Ralph Bakshi in 1978. Tje animated version of LOTR was well received, but due to time constraints the film only told half the story. Jackson’s take is a fully fleshed out world that showcases his native New Zealand’s beautiful landscapes and scenery that show the viewers what Middle-earth would look like if it really existed. He also takes his time in setting up the tale of the diminutive hobbit Frodo Baggins and his quest to destroy an evil mystical ring created by the sorcerer Sauron. His journey would culminated in casting the ring into a volcanic pit in the dreaded land of Mordor.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring starts off by showing some of Tolkien’s back story and the history of Middle-earth where the rings of power were created for men, elves and dwarves, as well as the epic battle against Sauron where he is defeated, but only temporarily. After the battle, the all-powerful one ring was lost and found its way to the distant land of hobbits known as the Shire.

Frodo’s journey begins when the wizard Gandalf arrives at the Shire and enlists him and his companions Samwise Gamgee, Merry and Pippin to accompany Gandalf to Mordor to destroy the one ring which Sauron needs to conquer the world. Along the way, the group encounters the heroic ranger, Strider (later to be known as Aragorn) and the stalwart dwarf, Gimli and his rival the elf, Legolas as they all join forces to become the Fellowship of the Ring. Together they vow to end the threat of Sauron once and for all.

Their journey through the elf kingdom Rivendell and the mines of Moria are all classic set pieces that are fully brought to life and culminate in an epic battle against swarms of orcs (Sauron’s minions) and a final clash between Gandalf and a massive demon known as a Balrog. Fate has the fellowship splinter and go their own way as Frodo and Sam are left to go on alone to Mordor while Strider, Legolas and Gimli race to rescue the other hobbits who were captured by orcs. This sets up the excellent sequel, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which was just as successful as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

The success of The Fellowship of the Ring was crucial as it paved the way for the subsequent films and established LOTR as a huge cinematic franchise that spawned further adaptations of the earlier Middle-earth book The Hobbit, as well as a new TV series coming from Amazon that will explore the earlier time periods of Middle-earth. It also led to the groundbreaking success at the Academy Awards of the third film in the trilogy The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won 11 Oscars including Best Picture. This was the first time a genre film won this honor and led to increased respect and awareness for genre films as valid, cinematic art. It was also a blueprint for how book adaptations can be done, even for complex works, such as the recently released Dune or even earlier films like Watchmen.

The film studio New Line Cinema committed to Jackson’s vision and gave him the required financial resources and time to have his ideas come to life and Jackson committed to filming all three LOTR movies back to back, which was a massive undertaking and spanned multiple years. This was seen in throughout all three movies as the details of the imaginary world are incredible to see and experience. Of all three movies, I think The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is the best one as its story is paced very well and has elicits a whirlwind of emotions for viewers. It has moments of terror, such as when Frodo first encounters the ring wraiths who were hunting him and the ring; instances of wonder when the group arrives at Rivendell; and pure excitement when the Fellowship has its last battle in the mines of Moria. It is also the only time you see all of the main characters together until the end of the last film as they are separated at the end of the first movie and go their own separate ways. Their interaction as a group is a highlight as their differences in personality and stature are humorous and flesh out their characters.

Overall, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a masterpiece film, not just in the fantasy genre, but in all of cinema with superb storytelling mixed with unforgettable characters and stunning visual effects. Its impact is still being felt and will continue to be enjoyed and imitated for decades to come, as will its sequels. Hopefully the upcoming Amazon series will be able to recapture some of the magic that was apparent as soon as Frodo walked out of his home and we saw the Shire and Middle-earth in live action for the very first time.

C.S. Link

A Look Back At Spider-Man 3

The first two Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man films are still considered classic superhero films that helped put Marvel Entertainment on the Hollywood map of superhero films.

Then there is Spider-Man 3.

Honestly, the film is not all bad, though it does a lot to earn its infamous reputation, but it is hardly the trainwreck many critics make it out to be. It certainly is not the worse Spider-Man film…that dubious dishonor goes to The Amazing Spider-Man 2. What is frustrating for fans is that Spider-Man 3 has so many elements that would have made a great Spider-Man film, but it is so cluttered thanks to studio interference. Let’s take a look at it’s messy plotline to see for ourselves. Spoilers are ahead.

Spider-Man 3 begins with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) reveling in his dual role as the masked superhero Spider-Man. He is on top of his game as New York City, his home base, showers him with praise and cheers. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), once a rising star of an actress and model, is suffering a career slump. She gets fired from a starring role in a Broadway musical and is eventually forced to work as a singing waitress in a jazz club. Peter thinks little of Mary Jane’s plight and tells her everything will be fine. On one such occasion, the couple are out stargazing in a park and a meteor crashes nearby without either noticing it. From the meteorite, an extra-terrestrial shapeless mass emerges and hitches a ride onto Peter’s moped when Peter and Mary Jane leave the park. Later, the alien life form stays hidden in Peter’s apartment waiting for the right moment.

After Peter decides to propose to Mary Jane, he is attacked by his former best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco). In the previous films, their friendship drifted apart because Harry blamed Spider-Man for the death of his father, the original Green Goblin. After discovering his father’s weapons at the end of Spider-Man 2, Harry modified the weapons and assumed a new identity as the New Goblin. During the fight, Peter, who never changed into his Spider-Man suit, defeats Harry and then takes him to a hospital to be treated for his injuries. During his recovery, Harry has short-term memory loss, but soon regains them and with his hatred of Peter renewed, Harry begins plotting revenge against his former friend.

While this went on, a common thief called Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) escaped from jail and tried to evade the police by hiding at a sandy testing site for a particle accelerator. The device is activated with Marko inside it and the criminal’s body is altered as it is fused with the surrounding sand. Marko is only motivated to use his powers as the Sandman to steal money to help pay for his young daughter’s medical bills. This activity soon puts him at odds with Spider-Man.

The superhero by now is suffering several setbacks in his life. He faces new competition in his profession as a freelance photographer for The Daily Bugle newspaper from photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) and his superior photos of Spider-Man. Peter also learns that Marko was actually responsible for the death of his Uncle Ben in the first Spider-Man film and becomes obsessed with finding him. At the same time, tensions grow between him and Mary Jane who feels Peter is not supportive enough. She eventually leaves him after concluding Peter is flirting with a fellow college student, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard). But what Peter does not know is that Harry Osborn forced Mary Jane to break up with him as part of his schemes of vengeance.

Making matters worse is that the alien mass bonds to Peter while he is sleeping in his apartment and forms a black version of his Spider-Man suit, It’s revealed that the alien organism is actually a symbiote that enhances Spider-Man’s strength and…his aggression. Peter quickly adopts a new cocky and hostile attitude that alienates him from everyone as his enemies close in on him.

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A Look Back At Spider-Man 2

As the countdown continues for Spider-Man: No Way Home and we wait anxiously for the second trailer to drop (which will supposedly feature the return of Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man), it is time to take a look back at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. The second Spider-Man film is well loved for many reasons but one of the standouts was its villain Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), who will return in Spider-Man: No Way Home,

When Spider-Man 2 begins, we see that Peter Parker (Maguire) is still a lovable loser who is struggling desperately to balance his civilian life with his superhero antics as Spider-Man. Being the costumed adventurer is clearly interfering with his private life to the point that it gets him fired from a delivery person job, threatens his academic career in college and even late for his own birthday party. Peter is constantly broke and unhappy over how his responsibilities keep him from getting romantically involved with his friend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). She is now a successful model and Broadway actress and has feelings for Peter but his inability to admit their mutual feelings for one another keeps her away. Eventually she gets engaged even though she still loves Peter, which crushes him.

The dilemma of leading a double life eventually gets to Peter. He begins to lose his powers for pscyhosomatic reasons and he decides to give up his Spider-Man identity. While this decision brings him momentary happiness, the love of his life is still engaged to someone else, he is still struggling to make ends meet, crime and other mishaps in New York City continue, and a new supervillain soon enters his life.

Dr. Otto Octavius (Molina) is a brilliant nuclear scientist working for Oscorp, the company that Peter Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), runs. Harry took over the company after his father, who was secretly the villainous Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man film, was killed in battle with Spider-Man. Dr. Octavius is working on a way to create fusion to supply a cheap energy source. During a live demonstration attended by Peter, Harry and Octavius’ wife Rosalie (Donna Murphy), the scientist unveils these robotic arms that he invented to help him handle hazardous materials in his fusion reactor project. He cybernetically attaches the arms to his spinal column to control them mentally. Dr. Octavius informs his audience that the arms have a form of artificial intelligence to help him but he maintains control with an inhibitor chip implanted on the arms.

Not long after the scientist begins his fusion demonstration, the experiment gets out of control because of an energy spike. The fusion reactor threatens everyone but Peter switches to his Spider-Man identity and shuts down the reactor. However, before he does this Rosalie is killed and Dr. Octavius is caught in an explosion that permamently fuses the arms to his spine and destroys the inhibitor chip. Later in a hospital, the AI took control of his robotic arms killed the doctors who attempted to remove them from Dr. Octravius. After he escaped from the hospital, it is clear that the AI took control of the scientist and goad him to rebuild the fusion reactor regardless of the danger. This leads “Doctor Octopus”, as the press dubbed him, to go on a criminal spree to get the funds and materials to complete his work, and in direct conflict with Spider-Man.

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60 Years Of The Marvelous Fantastic Four

“A brilliant scientist—his best friend—the woman he loves—and her fiery-tempered kid brother! Together, they braved the unknown terrors of outer space, and were changed by cosmic rays into something more than merely human! MR. FANTASTIC! THE THING! THE INVISIBLE GIRL! THE HUMAN TORCH! Now they are the FANTASTIC FOUR—and the world will never be the same again!” Introduction to the Fantastic Four comic books during the 1970s,

Not much can be said about the Fantastic Four that hasn’t been said before. It’s widely regarded as one of Marvel Comics’ greatest teams and to this day, it deserves the title of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine- as it was advertised proudly on the covers of the comic books. They were called “the First Family of Marvel”, and during the silver and bronze age the creative teams, which began with co-creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, spun tale after tale involving the main four characters with their supporting cast as they figured out how to solve their problems or win the battle against the bad guys.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary the FF, their story has proven to be as timeless as it is popular. First, we got Dr. Reed Richards, who becomes the stretchable Mr. fantastic, we have Sue storm who marries Reed and she becomes the Invisible Girl (and later rightly renames herself the Invisible Woman), then we have her younger brother Johnny, a hot rod-riding hothead, who loves fast cars and is always dating pretty girls, and then we have the family’s trusted friend Ben Grimm, who becomes the ever lovin’ blue-eyed Thing.

Why these characters work together is because the creation is structured around a family dynamic. A family who is close and loyal, yet bicker and banter, but at the end of the day come together as a team to win the day.

Why the setting works is that this is no ordinary family. Each one has been imbued with super powers based on cosmic ray irradiation when they rocketed to space on a test flight. Reed can stretch his body, Sue becomes invisible, Johnny bursts into flames and fly, and Ben became a rocky layered bulk of a humanoid. In terms of personality, Reed is the level-headed leader, Sue with her invisible powers also has a force projection where she could solidify the air around her making her a telekinetic, and effectively the most powerful member of the team. Johnny usually flies when he is fully engulfed in flames and can project flame blasts from his hands. And the Thing is so strong he could almost beat the Hulk, if not hold his own against the green goliath.

Also, the creators skillfully mixed the situation of the mundane and juxtaposed it with the cosmic. While Johnny and Ben were bickering over a meal, there might be something going on in the universe, a catastrophic threat of some kind or a massive universal event so they had to suspend their meal and arguments until later.

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