Release Date(s)1972 (November 17, 2020)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
A favorite of a generation of fans who saw it when they were young, Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running didn’t fare well in 1972 due to a lack of publicity. Trumbull had worked with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey and wanted to make a science fiction film of his own utilizing the same level of great special effects, but also brought in writers like Michael Cimino and Steven Bochco to help him write it. And while the effects are to certainly be praised, more important is the performance of Bruce Dern. Essentially a one-man show, the empathy for his character, regardless of his actions, is off the charts because of the pathos he brings to it. As such, the film explores themes of morality and ecological disaster, but does so masterfully. It also utilizes a score provided by Peter Schickele and songs performed by Joan Baez, both of which are highly unusual for a sci-fi film from this era. Films like Moon would build upon and modernize its ideas, but Silent Running stands today as unique science fiction—made at a time when studios were more willing to gamble on filmmakers with new ideas and fresh approaches.
Sometime in the future, the Earth has become uninhabitable, meaning that plants and animals can no longer survive there. The solution: preserve what’s left by putting it on a spaceship and nurtuing it over an extended period of time. Chosen to oversee this is Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), an ecologist hellbent on the belief that humans have lost their way and that appreciating nature is the most valuable thing left. His three crewmen, Keenan (Cliff Potts), Barker (Ron Rifkin), and Wolf (Jesse Vint), do not share in his views and see plant life as unnecessary. One day Earth contacts the crew and, without warning, orders them to destroy the domes housing the vegetation and come home. Unwilling to go along with this, Lowell sabotages and kills his crewmen, left alone to float in space with his three service robots and avoid rescue.
Arrow Video brings Silent Running to Blu-ray for a second time utilizing a new 2K restoration taken from a 4K scan of the original 35 mm camera negative and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The final color grade was approved by Douglas Trumbull. The previous Universal disc was plagued by heavy grain and leftover damage, both of which have been addressed here. The grain is fairly well-resolved, aside from opticals, and detail has improved, particularly for skin textures and clothing. The color palette remains mostly the same, which lacks a vibrancy that the film just doesn’t offer, though the uses of blue, red, and green have obvious potency. Blacks are deep and brightness and contrast levels are ideal. It’s a stable presentation as well, and easily the best the film has ever looked on home video.
The audio is included in English mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The film was also released in 70 mm with 6 track audio, but that doesn’t appear to have been utilized here. The mono track handles the various elements admirably, including the score and music selection. Dialogue is prioritized well, even Bruce Dern’s quiet murmurings, though sound effects don’t always have the level of heft that they should. It’s a satisfactory mix without any leftover instances of hiss, crackle, dropouts, or distortion to speak of.
The following extras are also included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary by Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw
- Audio Commentary by Douglas Trumbull and Bruce Dern
- Isolated Music and Effects Track
- No Turning Back (13:48)
- First Run: The Evolution of Silent Running’s Screenplay (14:03)
- The Making of Silent Running (49:17)
- Silent Running by Director Douglas Trumbull (30:09)
- Douglas Trumbull: Then and Now (4:52)
- Silent Running: A Discussion with Bruce Dern “Lowell Freeman” (10:57)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:58)
- Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (635 in all – 105:56)
In the new audio commentary, authors and film historians Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw discuss the reasons why the film didn’t do well at the box office, the casting of Bruce Dern, the film’s similarities to and differences from science fiction stories of the era, the use of sound and music in the film, its ecological message, the impact of Star Wars on science fiction, the differently abled being cast in films, and Douglas Trumbull’s attention to technology, among other subjects. The older audio commentary with Trumbull and Bruce Dern was recorded in 2000 and features the two men in discussion about the making of the film, commenting upon it as they watch it together—though Trumbull does most of the talking. The isolated music and effects track is presented 2.0 LPCM. No Turning Back features a new audio interview with music historian Jeff Bond speaking about the film’s music and song selection. First Run is a new video essay by writer and filmmaker Jon Spira about the evolution of the film’s screenplay using illustrations and voice actors. The Making of Silent Running is a vintage 1972 documentary made concurrently with the film’s production. Silent Running by Director Douglas Trumbull and Douglas Trumbull: Then and Now features an interview with the director about the film in retrospect. In A Discussion with Bruce Dern, the actor discusses his career, how he got the main role, working with Douglas Trumbull, and his retrospective feelings on the film. The Behind-the-Scenes Gallery contains a whopping 635 full color and black white production stills.
Also included is a 32-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, Silent Running: Douglas Trumbull’s Visions of Nature by Barry Forshaw, Silent Running: Bruce Dern’s Star Turn Among the Stars by Peter Tonguette, and restoration information. Everything is housed in a clear amaray case with reversible artwork—new artwork on one side and the original theatrical poster on the other—within a slipcover featuring the same new artwork. All that’s missing from this release is the German Super 8 version of the film found on the Koch Media Blu-ray release, and the Trailers from Hell commentary featuring Edgar Wright.
Arrow Video certainly ups the ante here, giving us a presentation of Silent Running that’s been given careful attention. With a quality transfer and extras, it’s definitely the kind of treatment that a film of its calibre deserves. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons