By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: He saves the forest.
Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is a member of a 4-man space crew residing on a shuttle called Valley Forge that house underneath giant glass domes plant and animal life that was made extinct back on earth. One day the crew is ordered to destroy these domes, but Freeman refuses and kills his fellow crew members when they attempt to. He then jettisons the craft further into space and uses robotic drones to help keep the forests alive, but is horrified to learn that the members of another space ship called the Berkshire have been able to locate him and now want to board his vessel where they’ll soon find out what he has done.
This film marks the directorial debut of special effects wiz Douglas Trumbull and much like with his ‘80s effort Brainstorm is strong on visual design, but lacking in story substance. The script never bothers to explain what caused the plant life on earth to die, or why they are suddenly forced to destroy the domes on the ship. It’s almost like the three screenwriters, which included Michael Cimino, were merely content to come up with a very basic concept with a lot of simplistic plot devices bundled together.
The way Freeman is able to trick his superiors on the other end of the radio relay into making himself look innocent is so pathetically easy that it is hardly entertaining to watch. I would’ve thought in such as technologically advanced age that there would be cameras installed on the ship, so others could monitor what happens and not simply rely on verbal feedback from the crew.
The story’s second and third acts are in desperate need of more conflict. Instead of wasting time showing cutesy, silly scenes of Freeman playing poker with the drones there should’ve been a bad guy nemesis on the ship trying to thwart Freeman’s attempts to save the forest. The way he is able to kill off the other crew members is too easy especially the Cliff Potts character as all Freeman has to do is lightly push down on Potts’ neck with the handle of a shovel and it’s enough to kill him even though I thought he had just been briefly knocked unconscious as Freeman never bothers to check the man’s pulse and this was the type of character who could’ve come back to life and hide out on the ship while creating trouble.
Attempts to add some intrigue by having the plants in the forest suddenly die off mysteriously is utterly lame. I immediately presumed that it was because of a lack of sunlight, but Freeman the so-called botanist takes several days and lots of research until he finally comes up with this same conclusion, which is pathetic.
The songs by Joan Baez are loud and shrill and having to listen to three of them simply to bulk up the runtime only proves how empty the script is. The numerous flashback sequences showing footage that the viewer has already seen earlier are equally unnecessary.
Dern is good and helps hold the thing together in a role that I felt was tailored made for his acting style and was surprised to learn that he was only given the part after 17 others had turned it down. I also liked the outer look of the space craft even though you could clearly tell that it was a miniature. Unfortunately there are not enough compelling elements in the story to keep it interesting and the long stretches where little happens will easily bore most viewers.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: March 10, 1972
Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Director: Douglas Trumbull
Studio: Universal Pictures
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube