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Image Entertainment presents
Silent Running (1971)

It calls back a time when there were flowers all over the earth, and there were valleys, and there were plains of tall green grass that you could lie down in, that you could go to sleep in. And there were blue skies and there was fresh air, and there were things growing all over the place, not just in some domed enclosure blasted some millions of miles out into space.
- Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: June 08, 2000

Stars: Bruce Dern
Other Stars: Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint, The Drones
Director: Douglas Trumbull

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01h:30m:00s
Release Date: March 18, 1998
UPC: 014381422924
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-C+B- D-

DVD Review

The late sixties and early seventies produced a number of classic science fiction features before the genre became merged with the action adventure films in the post Star Wars era. These films were often slow paced, cerebral, and in the spirit of true science fiction, gave us a look at our possible futures, and questioned where mankind was headed. Silent Running deals with the dilema of how far someone would go to save the last traces of the natural world, and whether they could live with the consequences of their actions.

Silent Running takes place in a future where Earth has been completely deforested and the temperature is a constant 75° everywhere. There is no poverty and no disease, and everything is almost perfect, for some. For one man, all that was good about the earth has been lost, as the last specimens of the natural world were sent into space on huge ships which now wander the spaceways around the gas giants. Here, botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) has spent the last 8 years tending the gardens in the geodesic domes aboard the spacecraft Valley Forge, in the hope of one day returning and reforesting the earth. When word comes that the fleet harboring these remaining forests are to destroy their cargo and return to commercial service, Lowell rebels, setting off a chain of events that will send him and his ship running silent into Saturn's rings with only a trio of drones. What follows is a character study of a man torn between the mission to save the last creatures and botanical specimens of old earth, and the loneliness and guilt he faces for his actions.

The film is noteable for the character interaction between Dern and his robot companions, Huey and Dewey, as the audience is made to empathise with the machines, which are not the emotionless robots depicted in earlier science fiction films. Dern's performance is emotionally edgy though pretty dry, which may not appeal to everyone. The pacing is contemplative, so if you are looking for a high adrenaline modern space adventure you won't find it here. Although I could live without the Joan Baez songs that bookmark the film, they do add to its uniqueness. Like its predecessor 2001: A Space Odyssey (which director Douglas Trumbull cut his SFX teeth on), Silent Running featured ground breaking special effects for its time, with majestic space sequences and extensive use of miniatures. These were pioneering efforts which advanced the techniques used in every space adventure that followed. There is a lot of 70's "high tech" equipment on board, such as robotic accessories and collections of interesting display devices. Trivia fans will note that the space shots of the ships were recycled in the Battlestar Gallactica TV series episodes (which shared special effects wizard John Dykstra). Overall, Silent Running is a great example of true science fiction filmaking, and as a film is highly recommended.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This was one of Image's Universal licenses, and features a non-anamorphic transfer (the same transfer used for the last laserdisc edition). The source print is quite good, with only minor dust appearing occasionally. Colors are strong and well saturated. There is fine grain visible, which for the most part is not distracting. No noticable edge enhancement, with only a few minor artifacts here and there, but again, nothing jarring. This looks like a 70's film, and is quite enjoyable, though I will always favor an anamorphic representation which would help tighten up the sometimes soft appearance. Overall it is a cut above its laser predecessor, though only marginally.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is clean and free from much hiss. The mono sountrack has reasonable frequency range, with only a minor rolloff of the high frequencies. It suits the feel of the film quite well. Note that the audio grading is based on what is actually there, not on the potential a remix could have made.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: As a DVD, this (and the other Image releases from this period) epitomise the non-special edition, to the extent that there aren't even any menus other than 4 chapter selection screens! No trailer is provided, nor any information (other than the promo blurb on the box) about the cast or crew of the film. This is disappointing as director Douglas Trumbull has special effects credits on other science fiction classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, while John Dykstra (special effects, special photographics effects) made his debut on the film, which immediately preceded his Oscar®-winning special photographic effects role on Star Wars. Additionally, there was an on-set making of feature released in 1972 which would have been a nice bonus. A chapter listing is included on the foldover of the snapper case.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

While Silent Running may be a bit slow for many viewers, it has a well deserved place as a classic, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Its message of environmental concern rings true today, and asks the viewer what they would do in the same circumstances. There are no clear cut moral decisions, which add to the complexity of the subject matter. While the DVD is short on extras the transfer is reasonable, and I would still highly recommend this disc for any fan of 60's/70's Sci-Fi.


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