Tag Archives: Michael Cimino

Silent Running (1972)

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

Rated G

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The one room schoolhouse.

Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) is a former bank robber hiding out as a Montana preacher while trying to avoid Red (George Kennedy) and Eddie (Geoffrey Lewis) who are his former crime partners that mistakenly believe he double-crossed them. One day they manage to catch up with him and try gunning him down during one of his church services. Thunderbolt escapes by hopping into a car driven by Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). Despite their contrasting temperaments and ages of the two end up hitting-it-off and even manage to bring Red and Eddie into the fold once it’s explained to them that Thunderbolt hadn’t sold them out. Now the four plan to rob the same bank again using a 20 millimeter cannon to break into the safe.

This was the Michael Cimino’s first foray behind the camera after having success co-writing the screenplays to Silent Running and Magnum Force.  For the most part it’s a success and I particularly enjoyed the way he captures Montana’s majestic landscape, which helps add a strong flavor to the story. Some of the comical bits and throwaway lines are hilarious and gives the film an edge over the usual bank robbery storyline.

The drawback is that like with Cimino’s other films it takes too long for the story to get going. The Thunderbolt’s backstory doesn’t get explained until almost 50 minutes in and we never learn much of anything about Lightfoot or why he would simply appear almost out of nowhere in this tiny, isolated town for literally no reason. There are certain scenarios that get introduced, but offer no payoff and the robbery itself gets pulled off a little too easily while not taking enough advantage of its unique premise.

The acting though is uniformly excellent including Bridges who is at his most engaging and even looks weirdly sexy when disguised as a woman and I loved the part when he talks to himself in the mirror. Kennedy gets one of his better post Cool Hand Luke roles as the cantankerous Red and Lewis is funny as his dim-witted partner.

The film also has some great bits for its supporting cast. Cliff Emmich is amusing as an overweight security guard with a porn fetish and Jack Dodson has a memorable moment when he finds to his shock that his teenage daughter isn’t quite as ‘innocent’ as he thought she was.

Bill McKinney is goofy as a crazy man driving around in a car with a trunk full of rabbits, but like with a lot of other things in the film it introduces something that doesn’t get fully explained including the fact that the character seems to be acting erratically because he is overcome by toxic gas fumes from his own car, but when Thunderbolt and Lightfoot take over the car and drive it for themselves they don’t for some reason end up having the same issue.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Director: Michael Cimino

Rated R

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video