Film Reviews

Silent Running (1972) – Blu-ray Review

It’s taken a while, but finally Arrow Video in the UK are releasing their 2K restoration of Douglas Trumbull’s sci-fi masterpiece, Silent Running. Arrow already released this in the US back in 2020, so if you own this version already, you can stop reading now, as there’s nothing new in this UK release. (For the UHD fans among you, there’s a 4K version coming out at the same time as this one, which features a new restoration of the movie.) So, let’s step back to 1972 and join our main character, Freeman Lowell (The Cowboys, Nebraska), aboard the ship Valley Forge, somewhere out in the orbit of Saturn.

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It is the future. At some point the Earth has lost the ability to sustain much in the way of plant life. The few remaining forests have been loaded into domes aboard spaceships and sent out into the black to preserve them. They’ve been out there a while doing this, and Lowell’s companions are champing at the bit to go home, so when the news comes in that they have to blow up the domes and come home, they’re ecstatic. Mostly. Lowell, though, is the onboard ecologist and biologist who has spent years tending to these plants, waiting and hoping that they’ll be called home to repopulate the Earth. Instead, he has to face his life’s work being destroyed. Lowell snaps, refuses to obey the order and decides to save the forest by any means necessary, even if it costs him not only his own future but also the lives of his crewmates.

Released three years after the ground-breaking 2001: A Space Odyssey, this is another thoughtful piece of science-fiction, although not one as cold or esoteric as Kubrick’s effort. The beating heart of the story is Lowell, given warmth and sympathy by Dern’s performance, helped along by a couple of lovely folk songs performed by Joan Baez (‘Silent Running’ & ‘Rejoice in the Sun’). It also features special effects by an – at the time -almost brand-new visual effects artist by the name of John Dykstra, who went on to work with a few movies you might have heard of, such as Star Wars, Spiderman, Star Trek, Godzilla and more.

In terms of special features, it’s Arrow’s usual solid offering. The 2K restoration walks that fine line between being sharp and clear, while still keeping that original grainy film stock look. You might not see every pore on Bruce Dern’s face, but you can certainly read every patch on his jacket and every sign and poster on the set.

There are two audio commentary tracks, one with authors and critics Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw, the other with director Douglas Trumbull and actor Bruce Dern. The latter is a somewhat rambling affair, though it’s fascinating to hear the two of them reference George Bush and Al Gore as still being in office when they recorded it. There’s also an isolated music and effects track for those who absolutely can’t get enough of Joan Baez’s singing, which is good fun to listen to at least once, if only to see some of the effects that are left in. We don’t get any dialogue, but we get one of the characters laughing. Does that mean they dubbed the laugh in?

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For fans of the score, there’s an interview with Jeff Bond, a film music historian, looking at the film’s score. There are also all the special features from previous DVD release, with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and even the original trailer, which is filled with ALL THE SPOILERS, so maybe don’t watch that until after you’ve seen the film.

While the term “ultimate edition” is used far too often these days, it’s difficult to see what else might be added to this film that Arrow hasn’t included here. All in all, you’ve got enough here to make any fan of the movie happy.

Silent Running is out now on Blu-ray and 4K UHD from Arrow Video.

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