December 16, 2022

SILENT RUNNING: Sci-Fi Kleenex Fodder in 4K

1972 / 89 min
Review by Mr. Paws😺

I’ve loved Silent Running since childhood. It was the first movie ever to make me cry.

Bruce Dern stars as Freeman Lowell, a botanist onboard the Valley Forge, one of several cargo ships carrying the last of Earth’s plant and animal life (enclosed in massive glass domes). When the crew is given orders to jettison and destroy the domes and return the ships to commercial use, Lowell goes to extremes to save the lone remaining forest, killing his crewmates and changing course in hopes of disappearing. A majority of the film consists of Lowell and two endearing little drones (Dewey & Huey) maintaining the forest, and we grow to love this de facto family. But when a rescue team discovers their whereabouts, Lowell is forced to make some heartbreaking decisions in order to save the forest.

Silent Running is a shamelessly manipulative film that forces us to not only condone Lowell’s murder of his crewmates, but feel an enormous sense of loss with every exploding dome. Additionally, Silent Running has us more emotionally invested in the fates of two faceless, emotionless robots than most of the human characters. These elements, along with the tragic conclusion, are total Kleenex fodder. It was the first movie that ever actually made me feel anything. But despite my sorrow, I liked how it made me feel.

"I thought I asked you two to scoop that up."
Revisiting the film in 4K, I still found myself choking up from time to time. Not just because I was once again invested in the plight of its characters, but that its none-too-subtle message seems alarmingly more relevant now. Some of its flower-power environmental sermonizings probably seemed a bit heavy-handed back in ‘72 (when most of us kids associated ‘climate change’ with snow days). But 50 years later, the world is arguably closer to the bleak future depicted in Silent Running than the advanced optimism of 2001: A Space Odyssey

In addition to its sobering themes and pessimistic view of humankind, Silent Running remains one of the more technically impressive sci-fi films of the pre-Star Wars era, especially when one realizes it had a budget of only a million dollars. I gotta say, though, that while this 4K restoration is impressive, the 2160p transfer tends to render some of the special effects a bit more quaint looking than they did on Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release a couple of years ago. On the other hand, the details of Valley Forge’s interiors (and inside the domes) are sharper. The mono audio is identical to the one found on the Blu-ray, as are all of the bonus features. Even the artwork is the same.


This means the only real upgrade is the picture, which of course will be enough for videophiles. For everyone else, the 2020 Blu-ray edition - which features a pretty great video transfer in its own right - is a less expensive option. Whatever the case, Silent Running is a cult classic worth having in any collection. Just make sure you have some tissue handy.


“NO TURNING BACK” - Music historian Jeff Bond discusses the unusual film score and songs.

“FIRST RUN” - This is a video essay - with storyboards - which reveals how the first draft of the screenplay was much darker (and more violent).

2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By critics Kim Newman & Barry Forshaw; 2) By Douglas Trumbull and Bruce Dern.


BEHIND-THE-SCENES GALLERY - Over 600 pictures, though many of them look like still from the film itself.

“THE MAKING OF SILENT RUNNING” - Archival documentary


“A CONVERSATION WITH BRUCE DERN” - Archival Interview. Bruce has fond memories of this film, and especially Trumbull.



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