• Silent Running (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: November 17th, 2020.
    Director: Douglas Trumbull
    Cast: Bruce Bern, Cheryl Sparks, Cliff Potts, Mark Persons
    Year: 1971
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    Silent Running – Movie Review:

    Douglas Trumbull’s 1971 film Silent Running is set far in the future and stars Bruce Dern (Hang’em High, The Burbs) as a botanist named Freeman Lowell. Freeman has spent the last eight years of his life on a massive space ship working with the only remaining specimens of plant life left from the Earth, which are being kept preserved under massive domes in the ship.

    Freeman loves his work passionately and when he’s told by his commanding officers that he’s going to be sent home and reassigned and that the project is going to be axed, as it’s no longer financially feasible, he is understandably upset by the news. Lowell goes a bit off his rocker when they start demolishing the pods that his precious plants are being kept in, but quickly comes up with a plan and is able to head off into space with one of them, accompanied only by his robot companions.

    Rescue ships are sent out after him, that he tries to avoid, all the while struggling to keep his project alive with little to no resources at his disposal. When the rescue ships devise a sure-fire plan to ‘save’ him that involves the destruction of the last pod, Lowell has to make some difficult choices and decide what matters most to him.

    While Silent Running isn’t going to appeal to those who are only after hard action and Earth-shattering special effects, it should certainly strike some cords with people looking for a more thought provoking and intelligent movie. It’s a picture that offers up a good bit of food for thought, and while the pacing is a bit deliberate, it works. Although the movie moves a little slower than most typical sci-fi fare, Dern’s performance keeps it entertaining. It’s great to see him interact with his robot companions as his mind almost adapts to them as humans once he jettisons himself away from society.

    Trumbull’s direction is pretty solid, though a strong Kubrick influence is pretty evident (which shouldn’t be surprising considering that Trumbull was the SFX supervisor for 2001: A Space Odyssey). The production values are strong across the board and the movie benefits from some excellent production design work, some neat sets and costumes and seriously great cinematography. The score from Peter Schickele is also pretty solid.

    Though not a perfect film (the Joan Baez music is grating and some of the effects do seem pretty dated by modern standards, though they are not without their own charm), Silent Running is definitely worth watching for those interested in thought provoking science fiction who don’t require a Hollywood blockbuster approach to the genre.

    Silent Running – Blu-ray Review:

    Silent Running arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation famed at 1.85.1 widescreen transfer taking up 27.5GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Taken from a ”brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, approved by director Douglas Trumbull and produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release,” the transfer looks great. Colors are definitely perfectly, black levels look really nice and there’s really strong detail throughout. There are no problems with any noise reduction or edge enhancement nor are there any obvious compression artifacts.

    The only audio option on the disc is a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 track in the film’s native English language. Optional English subtitles are included. The track is clean and balanced, free of any issues. The score sounds nice and crisp and the effects have good punch behind them.

    Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by critics Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw that is worth listening to. They do a pretty deep dive into the film’s history, talking about Trumbull’s career both before and during the making of the movie. They explore and discuss the themes that the film deals with and offer lots of interesting trivia about the cast and crew, throwing in all manner of factoid throughout the talk while still keeping the track conversational and fun to listen to.

    Carried over from older editions is a commentary track from Dern and Trumbull as well, which is also quite interesting to listen to, though it does repeat a lot of the information that is in the documentary. The track is interesting enough though, it stays on topic and there isn’t really any dead air to speak of. An isolated music and effects track is also included here in 24-bit LPCM 2.0 format.

    Arrow has put together a few new featurettes, starting with No Turning Back, a new interview with film music historian Jeff Bond on the film’s score. Here, over thirteen-minutes, he talks about how Baez came to work on the movie but also details the history of composer Peter Schickele and his work and career (this was his first film score work). He talks about the challenges of writing music for a sci-fi film, aspects of the story that the music accentuates and how the score has to function alongside the Baez songs used in the picture.

    First Run is a new visual essay by writer and filmmaker Jon Spira exploring the evolution of Silent Running’s screenplay. In this fourteen-minute piece, Spira talks about the different conceptual drafts that were done with Deric Washburn and Michael Cimino having done the earliest version, explaining why there are some interesting similarities to The Deer Hunter. He also talks about the work that Steven Bochco did on the screenplay and what he brought to the project that the other two did not. Long stretches of the screenplay are read over comic book style illustrations.

    A few other extras are also carried over, such as the fifty-minute documentary from 1972 entitled ‘The Making of Silent Running’ which features some interesting interviews with star Bruce Dern and director Douglas Trumbull, both of whom seem to really enjoy the film. The documentary goes into quite a bit of detail about the situations surrounding the making of the film and fans will find much to chew over here. Next is a new half-hour featurette called ‘Silent Running by Douglas Trumbull’ which is another making of documentary, though this one focuses more on Trumbull’s personal feelings and reactions to the film and how it came to be. There are also two separate interviews on the disc, one with Trumbull and one with Dern respectively that again go over some of the same information we’ve already learned about, but in a slightly more personal manner.

    Rounding out the extras is a theatrical trailer for the feature, an extensive behind-the-scenes gallery, menus and chapter selection options.

    Silent Running – The Final Word:

    A slow burn to be sure, but a very rewarding watch. Silent Running gets a very nice Blu-ray upgrade from Arrow. Recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Silent Running Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Ian, in "The Final Word" paragraph you accidentally posted the details for (I think) Burst City.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      That's what I get for reusing templates.