Silent Running is a film that now divides people more than ever, 40 years on from its initial release. Those watching it expecting an action packed science fiction film in the vein of Star Wars will be disappointed. This is a surprisingly tender film, wrapped up in a sci-fi skin. The film was directed by Douglas Trumbull, who had been chief special effects supervisor on Kubrick's epic 2001 - A Space Odyssey
, but this was his first film on his own (still at the surprisingly young age of 29). One of the first things that impresses is the standard of effects throughout. Yes, to a modern audience, and considering the extra definition afforded by Blu-ray, there's some scenes that look less than convincing, but on the whole it still holds up well. The story itself is deceptively simple: four men are the crew of the space-station Valley Forge, a vessel containing the last forests from the Earth, now a swelteringly hot planet. As they orbit Saturn, the call comes from Earth that they are to jettison and destroy the domes housing these forests. This is too much for the environmental botanist Freeman Lowell (played by Bruce Dern), and the rest of the film follows his plight to save these forests.
One of the highlights is actor Bruce Dern, who by the nature of the film ends up carrying much of it himself. He's an immensely watchable actor, and though he's not playing the most sympathetic of characters, you understand why Lowell is going to the extremes that he does. The crew are accompanied by three service drones, Huey, Louie and Dewey, and because of their unconventional size, Trumbull hired three double-amputees to play the robots. Again, with few actors in the film, the drones are characters themselves, and are one of the most memorable things about it. So, though it's slow by today's standards and won't be to everyone's taste, the acting, special effects, and more to the point, the environmental message, are spot on: this is an excellent film which deserves to be seen. Also, it's one of Mark Kermode's favourite films. Make of that what you will.
This is a Limited Edition Blu-ray only release as part of Eureka Entertainment's superb Masters of Cinema Series. Part of a deal with Universal to celebrate the studios' centenary in 2012, this has been given an fantastic release (ironically far better than that which is afforded to most of Universal's in-house releases). The picture itself is one of the best I've seen of a 70s film on Blu-ray, sharp throughout, with strong, vibrant colours. On the very odd occasion the image is almost overcome with very strong grain, but this is undoubtedly an issue with the film stock itself. There's a DTS-HD Master Audio track in English, as well as an isolated music and effects track, both of which have no problems. Special features are numerous, but it should be noted that they are all in SD. First of all, there is an audio commentary with Trumbull and actor Bruce Dern which is certainly informative, if not one of the most exciting commentaries I've ever heard. There's also a contemporary and refreshingly candid 1972 on-set documentary which lasts 50 minutes, covering all aspects of the production, such as the problems of shooting a film on an abandoned US aircraft carrier. There are also two video pieces with Trumbull, totalling well over half an hour, as well as a conversation with Bruce Dern lasting 10 minutes and an original trailer. Finally, this wouldn't be a Masters of Cinema release if there wasn't a booklet inside, and in this case we get a 48-page colour booklet full of production photos (from Trumbull himself) and memories from the cinematographer, special designs coordinator and composer.
Especially as this is a Limited release (a condition apparently imposed by Universal) anyone with an interest in 70s sci-fi, or looking for a sci-fi film with real emotion should not hesitate to pick this up, as this will undoubtedly become very difficult (and expensive) to get hold of in the future.