Silent Running (Special Edition): 4K UHD Review

Earlier this year we lost Hollywood legend, Douglas Trumbull. The visual effects pioneer worked on iconic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Blade Runner. He made his directorial debut in 1972 with the environmental science fiction film, Silent Running. While it may not have gone on to be as widely remembered, it has generated a following of devoted sci-fi fans over the decades.  This week Silent Running arrives on 4K UHD for the first time, courtesy of Arrow Video.

Set sometime in the future, the plant life on Earth is becoming extinct. Just outside of Saturn’s orbit, there are a fleet of space freighters with domes attached to them. Each dome is filled with various specimens of plant and wildlife which are being preserved. Set on one of the ships named the Valley Forge, there are four crewmen. John Keenan (Cliff Potts), Marty Barker (Ron Rifkin), Andy Wolf (Jesse Vint) and our central character Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern).  Freeman is the resident botanist/ ecologist and the only crewmember that has become personally invested in saving Earth’s nature. The rest of the crew couldn’t care less. It shows when they go on reckless vehicle chases, damaging the plants in the process. This of course angers Freeman.

When the Valley Forge receives orders to jettison the domes and blow them up, Freeman begins to unravel. Before all the domes are destroyed, the furious Freeman kills is crewmates salvaging the last dome in the process. With the help of the ship’s service robots Freeman tries to keep the plants within the last dome alive, which have suddenly started to die. Silent Running does have an interesting premise, but Trumbull might not have been ready at the time to helm is own feature. His skills improved as a filmmaker a decade later with Brainstorm, which was a flawed by entertaining venture into sci-fi.  Dern essentially carries Silent Running but the big ideas around his character often feel small. Still, he gives one of the best performances of his career here.

Arrow has delivered a beautiful 4K restoration. The 35mm camera negative was scanned and graded in HDR10 and Dolby Vision. While there is a good amount of grain on display, where the 4K presentation really pops are the locations. The cargo bay area that we first see the crew driving their vehicles through, looks bright, clean and absolutely shines with the big while shipping containers. Even more impressive is the wildlife. The opening credits features close-ups on various animals like frogs and iguanas and they look incredibly detailed. No matter the resolution, those are simply great shots.

There are no big audio upgrades here. We get a standard mono DTS audio track, which is serviceable. However, it would have been nice to have the 6-track audio that was released with the 70mm presentation of the film. While I have never been a big fan of Silent Running, there is still quite a bit about the film that I appreciate. Arrow has done a great job with the restoration and this release should please the fans of Trumbull’s film.

Bonus Materials:

  • Brand new 4K restoration by Arrow Films from the original camera negative
  • 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
  • Original lossless mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary by critics Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw
  • Original audio commentary by Douglas Trumbull and actor Bruce Dern
  • Isolated music and effects track
  • No Turning Back – an interview with film music historian Jeff Bond on the film’s score
  • First Run – a visual essay by writer and filmmaker Jon Spira exploring the evolution of Silent Running’s screenplay
  • The Making of Silent Running – an archival 1972 on-set documentary
  • Silent Running by Douglas Trumbull and Douglas Trumbull: Then and Now – two archival interviews with the film’s director
  • A Conversation with Bruce Dern – an archival interview with the film’s lead actor
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Extensive behind-the-scenes gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Arik Roper
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and Peter Tonguette

By: Marc Ferman