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Blu-ray Review: Silent Running (1972)

Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) spends most of his time aboard the spacecraft Valley Forge caring for the ship’s verdant greenhouses while the rest of the skeleton crew tears ass through the corridors of the vessel on dune buggies… when they aren’t shooting pool, playing poker, or generally acting like complete assholes.

Speaking of the Forge; the ship is part of a space fleet that contains all of the Earth’s remaining flora after the planet has succumbed to a catastrophic environmental event, and they’ve been cultivating those plants for eight long years, and to say Lowell is attached to his job is an understatement.

Imagine his outrage then when the orders come down from above to jettison the greenhouse pods from the fleet and nuke them… and imagine how he’s not going to sit still and let that happen… at least not to his greenhouse.

After eliminating the crew, Lowell makes a desperate gambit to pilot the ship through Saturn’s rings with the help of the craft’s three robot drones, but will his hijack attempt prove successful?

Two things Silent Running has in it’s favor are it’s amazing practical effects and even more amazing acting, and believe me those are more than enough to make this sci-fi flick truly special!

Speaking to the first positive, the effects, it’s no surprise they are of superior quality seeing as how the film’s director is none other than Douglas Trumbull (in his directorial debut), who supervised the effects work on such pictures as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Blade Runner… so yeah, the spaceships and other visual wonders are top fuckin’ shelf indeed!

As for the acting, this is Dern’s showcase; emotional, impassioned, given to bouts of meaningful introspection… this is a deep and complex character, played to perfection, and it’s incredibly easy to care about and relate to Lowell, no matter how extreme his actions may be.

Another big plus of the film is the lived in environment it creates. The Valley Forge is a completely believable space, and everything within looks as if it could actually function and thankfully eschews the more fantastical elements of sci-fi vehicles that preceded it… an aesthetic that Alien would borrow to great effect seven years later.

Finally, the aforementioned robots (Huey, Dewey, and Louie by name) while utilitarian in design, are nevertheless filled with silent charm and character… and Dern’s interactions with them are incredibly genuine and full of heart.

As rock solid as Silent Running is on it’s own, the fine folks at Arrow Video (along with MVD Entertainment) have included plenty of bonus material to enhance your enjoyment of the film!

First up we get a new audio commentary by critics Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw (who provide a scholarly examination of the film’s themes and place in sci-fi history), followed by an archival commentary by Douglas Trumbull and actor Bruce Dern (which contains scads of info on the film’s production). An isolated music and effects track is included as well.

Following that we get an interview with film music historian Jeff Bond discussing the film’s score (be sure and watch this before diving into the isolated audio track), a fascinating look at the evolving screenplay for the film courtesy of writer and filmmaker Jon Spira, an archival “making of” documentary from 1972, and archival interviews with Trumbull (two in fact) & Dern.

Also included are the film’s theatrical trailer, a behind-the-scenes image gallery, a reversible sleeve featuring new art from Arik Roper, and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by film critic Barry Forshaw and author Peter Tonguette.

Thought provoking, heartfelt, and astoundingly well-crafted, Silent Running is a sci-fi classic worth viewing in today’s tumultuous times. A true masterpiece!

 

 

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