Plot: What’s it about?
As all of the trees, bushes, and grasses once abundant on Earth have vanished, the surviving samples are quite important, to be certain. These samples have been stored under optimal conditions aboard the freighter Valley Forge, a mammoth spacecraft. In order to ensure the final plants are cared for, Lowell Freeman (Bruce Dern) looks after them and does so with a passion, as he truly has a love for the plantlife he watches over. So when he is given word to drop the project, abandon the plants, and return home, his emotions are frayed, to say the least. He simply cannot bring himself to demolish the plants and as such, takes his case to his fellow passengers, that they should rebel and refuse to follow the commands. When the other crew members dismiss his proposal, he is faced with perhaps the toughest decision he’ll ever have to make. Should he allow the others to ruin this project that’s so close to his heart, or should he take action and keep the project intact, no matter what that involves?
The sci/fi genre these days is all about special effects, alien invasions, intergalactic dogfights, and action focused entertainment. I like movies with those elements of course, but I do wish sci/fi could return to a more old school style at times, one which focus more on the material, as opposed to the action scenes. Silent Running is a good example of a sci/fi film that relies on writing, direction, and acting to succeed and it does, holding up rather well even these days, over three decades since it was released. Bruce Dern is very good here and carries the film well, while Douglas Trumbull supplies solid direction and of course, helps out on the special effects side. You’ll see some special effects here and they’re good for the time, but they’re present to enhance the material, not distract us from it, as in many more recent sci/fi pictures. As such, it comes off as a more literate, thought provoking picture, instead of sheer popcorn fodder. I recommend this film to anyone interested in well made sci/fi and since Universal has outdone themselves with this new treatment, I think a purchase is more than worthwhile.
The main man of Silent Running is Bruce Dern, an actor I always like to see on screen and here, he turns in one of his finest performances. It seems like Dern is often found in smaller, but memorable roles and he usually steals a few scenes, but he is also able to pull off leading roles, as seen in this picture. Although Dern plays a passionate, emotional character, he is able to remain in bounds and doesn’t often go over the top, which is good news. The message of his character flows out and is on the preachy side at times, but I never felt like the message was being forced on me, so it all balances out in the end. Other films with Dern include The Glass House, Diggstown, The ‘burbs, Support Your Local Sheriff, and Hang ’em High. The cast also includes Cliff Potts (Sahara, Deadly Charades), Ron Rifkin (The Sum of All Fears, The Sunshine Boys), and Jesse Vint (Macon County Line, I Come in Peace).
Video: How does it look?
Silent Running is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is a marked improvement over the previous disc to say the least, thanks in part to the anamorphic enhancement Universal has bestowed here. The result is a cleaner, sharper picture and in a film like this one, that is an impressive feat indeed. This movie has some unusual scenes in terms of cameras used, but this transfer never slows down and handles all the switches well, though the methods used do cause some visual flaws. But this is inherent to the material, so don’t think the transfer is bad, as it is supposed to look kind off at times. The colors come through in excellent form here, with vivid hues throughout, while flesh tones remain natural. I saw no errors with the contrast either, as shadow depth is solid, detail seems acceptable, and black levels are well balanced, not a single issue to complain about. I have to admit, I was surprised to see such a terrific transfer here, but Universal has more than delivered the goods.
Audio: How does it sound?
As far as mono goes, the track included here is more than solid, but it seems like time has done some work on this one. I heard some harshness, a few lines seem muffled, and the audio sometimes sounds a tad thin, but this is a mono option from 1971, so I suppose some slack should be cut for the mix. So the elements do seem a little restrained at times, but the basics come through as needed, so no serious worries there. The music is dated and sounds as expected, while dialogue is usually clear as can be, but some scenes do suffer a shade. But in the end, this is an acceptable track and fans should be satisfied. This disc also includes Spanish and French language options, as well as English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Universal has put together a solid assortment of extras for this release, including an audio commentary track with director Douglas Trumbull and star Bruce Dern. This is an open, relaxed session and both men recall all kinds of memories from the production, which means there’s a lot of insight to be gained here. You’ll hear about how the shoot went, personal stories from the set, and what kind of lasting impact the film has had, as well as other various topics. I think this is one very good session, but you’ll find that some of the material is covered elsewhere on the disc, so there is some overlapping of information. Next is The Making of Silent Running, an in depth documentary that explores all aspects of Silent Running, from budget issues to the cast members to the special effects and beyond. This well crafted piece clocks in at just under fifty minutes and is a pleasure to watch, a most excellent inclusion. A newly created half hour featurette titled Silent Running with Douglas Trumbull is also found here, in which Trumbull takes a more personal approach in detailing his memories of the production. Another brief featurette with Trumbull has him discussing his more recent projects, while a short interview with Bruce Dern rounds out the interview portion of the supplements. This disc also includes production notes, some talent files, and the film’s theatrical trailer.