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A botanist has spent eight years aboard the space freighter "Valley Forge" preserving the only botanical specimens left from Earth under huge geodesic domes. When he receives orders to destroy the project and return home, he rebels and hijacks the freighter, killing his fellow crewmen, injuring himself, and plunging the craft into the gaseous rings of Saturn.
For more about Silent Running and the Silent Running Blu-ray release, see Silent Running Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on October 9, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint, Joseph Campanella (I)
Director: Douglas Trumbull
» See full cast & crew
Silent Running Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, October 9, 2011
Douglas Trumbull's "Silent Running" (1972) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Eureka Entertainment. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer; audio commentary by director Douglas Trumbull and Bruce Dern; documentary film directed by Charles Barbee; video interview with Bruce Dern; and more. The disc also arrives with a lavish illustrated booklet featuring notes by director of photography Charles F. Wheeler, concept art designer Wayne Smith, and composer and conductor Peter Schickele. In English, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
The future. Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern, The Great Gatsby, Coming Home) is one of four astronauts on board of Valley Forge, a state-of-the-art spaceship carrying giant domes with Earth's last forests. Assisted by three drones, he waters the plants, feeds the animals, and makes sure that there is enough sunlight for everyone. Unlike the other three astronauts, he truly loves what he is paid to do.
During a routine briefing, the astronauts are ordered to destroy the domes and get ready to head back home. Having invested years of work in the domes, Lowell becomes incredibly sad - and then angry. Moments before his colleagues destroy the last dome he openly confronts them, and later on eliminates them.
After he takes control of Valley Forge, Lowell reprograms the three drones and gives them new names - Huey, Louie, and Dewey. Then he teaches them how to take care of the last dome, monitor animal activity, and even play poker. However, he loses one of them during a powerful asteroid storm.
Meanwhile, the owners of Valley Forge, who have absolutely no idea what has taken place, begin asking questions, which force Lowell to hide behind Saturn's rings, where communication is impossible and the spaceship cannot be traced. But how long can he hide there before the owners of Valley Forge send someone to find out what has happened to their property?
Silent Running was the first film directed by Douglas Trumbull, who earned a solid reputation for his work as a special photographic effects supervisor on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The script for the film was co-written by soon to be a director Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter), Deric Washburn (The Border), and Steven Bochco (TV's NYPD Blue).
The film carries an important environmental message but it is not overwhelmed by it. The dilemmas Lowell faces are unique and credible enough to have the viewer entertained and at the same time consider the bigger picture.
The pacing is slow and the atmosphere moody, both most appropriate for Lowell's gradual mental deterioration. Alone on Valley Forge, and communicating only with the drones, he begins to realize how desperate his situation has become, which forces him to reevaluate his entire life.
The film starts to stutter a bit towards the end, when Lowell becomes emotionally attached to the drones. There are a few overly sentimental and melodramatic scenes which at the very least could have been shortened, but they are hardly as damaging as they may sound. Ultimately, the ride is thrilling and the visuals indeed very impressive.
Dern is convincing as the pacifist hippie gone berserk. His angry outbursts, however, are not as intense as the ones he will become famous for a couple of years after he appeared in Silent Running (see Walter Hill's The Driver and Bob Brooks' Tattoo).
Mark Persons, Steve Brown, Cheryl Sparks, and Larry Whisenhunt, the four multiple-amputee actors who operated the drones seen in the film, are excellent.
The film is complimented by a great retro soundtrack (featuring two songs by the great Joan Baez) courtesy of Peter Schickele.
Silent Running Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Eureka Entertainment.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The film was transferred and graded in HD resolution from an interpositive 35mm source element made in 1996 and supplied by NBC/Universal, USA. Further restoration work was completed at Deluxe 142, London. Picture issues, such as dirt, light scratches, and debris as well as warped, damaged, or unstable frames were removed or improved upon using a combination of HD-DVNR, Phoenix, and MTI systems."
This Blu-ray release makes it perfectly clear that Universal Studios could keep a lot of people happy if they treated their older films like Eureka Entertainment have treated Silent Running - put the best raw transfer you have on Blu-ray without denoising and then sharpening it beyond recognition. Things may not be perfect, but the film will look like film.
Detail and clarity are pleasing, especially during the darker sequences, which look blocky and murky on the R1 SDVD release. Some of the close-ups look a bit soft but not scrubbed up. A light layer of grain is present throughout the entire film and there are practically no traces of edge-enhancement affecting the integrity of the image (the only extremely mild sharpening I noticed during a few scenes is as seen on screencapture #10). Color reproduction is convincing - the warm blues, greens, brown, and blacks never look manipulated. Furthermore, I did not see any serious compression issues to report in this review. Blown through a digital projector, the image also remains tight around the edges while boasting pleasing fluidity. Finally, there are no large damage marks, scratches, or warps. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Silent Running Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and Music & Effects DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. For the record, Eureka Entertainment have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
The loseless audio track opens up the film rather well. Not only are some of the special audio effects better enhanced, but generally the sound is also notably crisper and clearer (the birds in the domes, for instance, are a lot easier to hear). Joan Baez's singing is also richer and better rounded. There are no problematic pops and cracks, or background hiss.
Silent Running Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Silent Running Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I truly hope that the recently announced collaboration between Eureka Entertainment and Universal Studios will last a long time as there are literally hundreds of older films I would love to see the British distributors bring to Blu-ray. Silent Running, the first film to transition to Blu-ray as a result of this collaboration, looks and sounds very good, and I am convinced that fans of classic sci-fi cinema will be very pleased with the attention it has received. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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