With startling special effects and a convincing portrayal of an imagined future it is easy to discuss Silent Running simply within the context of being an accomplished science fiction film, but like the best that science fiction has to offer Silent Running is far deeper than its outward appearance may suggest.
That is not to say that the special effects and so on are not important and worthy of high praise. Director and special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, hot on the back of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Andromeda Strain, managed to create physical special effects that even today look entirely convincing and natural to their surroundings. The biodomes that are so important to protagonist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), and in many ways the human race as a whole, look less futuristic now than they may have done in 1972 (visitors to domes such as the Eden Project in Cornwall will attest to this I'm sure) but the image of these fragile structures floating in space is a powerful science fiction image, and it is one that has all the more impact due to Trumbull's impressive use of miniatures.
But it is scriptwriters Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino & Steven Bochco's emotional story of Freeman, the domes and his robot companions that makes Silent Running such a compelling and rewarding film. Filled with post-sixties rage about the destruction of the environment, the story of Silent Running is powerful, critical and prescient but crucially it is devastatingly heartbreaking.
Freeman Lowell is a complex and conflicted character and when he commits acts that in another context may seem unthinkable we understand his motivations and sympathise with what he is doing. Almost 40 years on it is hard to think of a more cogent film that tackles direct action and environmental concerns so thoughtfully and effectively. It's also still hard to find a more emotionally affecting science fiction film.
Silent Running makes its HD début here and it's an impressive one. Masters of Cinema have given the film a new lease of life with this HD transfer, which is stunning in its clarity and detail. Work has been done to restore damaged elements but this is all but impossible to see in the finished HD transfer. Grain is intact, appearing a little too heavy in the brighter scenes perhaps, and apart from a couple of slightly smoother sequences (these are very short) the transfer is consistent and superb. The 2.0 audio track is also clear and seems far more dynamically wide and representative of the original track than the previously released UK DVD.
The booklet describes the technical breakdown of the process and elements used to produce the Blu-ray as follows:
Silent Running appears in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with mono 2.0 sound. 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. For this Blu-ray, we encoded in 1080 / 24p using theAVC codec.
Full-length commentary by director Trumbull and actor Bruce Dern - Trumbull and Dern obviously still hold a lot of affection for Silent Running and this helps make for a warm and enjoyable commentary. The pair provide a lot of interesting production information and this coupled with their obvious enthusiasm for the film 28 years on (this commentary was recorded in 2000) helps make this a must listen special feature.
Isolated music and effects track - A feature I've never really found essential myself but it is a nice addition regardless, especially considering how wonderful much of the score, soundtrack and the sound effects are.
The Making of Silent Running, a 1972 on-set documentary [50:00] - A great overview of Silent Running's production with a lot of behind-the-scenes information.
Two video pieces with Douglas Trumbull [31:00 + 5:00] - The longer interview segment focuses on Silent Running's production and the shorter has Trumbull talking about his career in general. The latter, despite its short length, is fantastic and definitely one of the highlights of the extras.
A Conversation with Bruce Dern, a discussion with the actor [11:00] - More from Dern on the making of Silent Running and getting the part.
Original theatrical trailer [3:00]
A lavish 48-page full-colour booklet featuring rare photographs and artwork from Trumbull's personal collection, and recollections of the film's cinematographer, special designs coordinator, and composer. - MoC's booklets are always of a particularly high standard and the one that accompanies this disc is no exception. The photographs and artwork included are a particular treat, both contextually interesting and beautiful.