HTF REVIEW: "Silent Running" (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, May 7, 2002.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    [​IMG]

    Silent Running




    Year: 1971
    Rated: G
    Film Length: 90 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16x9 enhanced (1.85:1)



    Earth's last battle will be fought in space
    [​IMG]
    The year is 2008. While disease has been wiped
    from the face of planet Earth, so has all its
    forests. There is no more beauty nor imagination
    left on the planet. Hovering miles above the
    planet's surface in outer space is the space station
    called Valley Forge. This freighter is preserving
    the only botanical specimens left from Earth.
    [​IMG]
    Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern)is among the crewmen
    who tend to these forests and care for them with
    the help of three robot drones dubbed Huey, Duey
    and Luie. He's sort of a loner, as his three
    human crew mates don't have much respect for him
    or his passions towards the forests he preserves.
    It is Lowell's hope that soon the government of
    Earth will financially be able to repopulate the
    earth with the lost greenery it once had.
    When orders come in to destroy all the on board
    forests, Lowell rebels and hijacks the freighter,
    forced into a showdown with the other crewmen, who
    want to follow the orders and return home.
    [​IMG]
    The rest of the film becomes a one-man show
    as Lowell is left alone with two drones as they
    try to save the last remaining forest from
    extinction.
    It's difficult for post-Star Wars era sci-fi
    enthusiasts to really enjoy a film like Silent
    Running. Watching this film 30 years after
    its initial release can be rather difficult, as
    the film has become sorely dated. It's not the
    type of sci-fi action film that young audiences
    are used to. The film explores the relentless
    claustrophobic tedium of life in space while in
    the company of 2 extremely boring drones. You
    can't ignore the fact, however, that the film does
    present an extremely important message about
    preserving our forests as the film tends to get
    preachy with extensive footage of forest growth
    shown against the songs of Joan Baez. It's not
    too surprising to see that the film's ecological
    and social themes still carry weight today.
    How is the transfer?
    Generally, Silent Running looks pretty
    good. Most all the problems are related to the
    film's source material, including a lot of film
    blemish most evident in the opening shots, but
    also occasionally seen throughout the film. There
    is also a noticeable amount of video noise in
    many of the film's scenes, most abundantly in the
    special effects shots. Surprisingly, as vivid as
    the colors are on this film -- especially in the
    crew member's jump suits -- the flesh tones remain
    very accurate.
    The sound is 2.0 mono, and for the most part
    sounds okay. The sound is more "tinny" than
    robust, and this really affects some of the
    interesting visuals by Director Douglas Trumbull,
    whose work never gets the sonicly matched impact
    it deserves.
    Special Features
    [​IMG]
    It's nice to see that Universal made an
    effort at including a sizeable amount of extras
    for a title such as this.
    [​IMG]
    The Making of Silent Running is an award
    winning documentary film about the first
    directorial effort of Douglas Trumbull, the
    brilliant special effects master who's credits
    include "2001, A Space Odyssey", "Andromedia
    Strain", "Blade Runner", "Brainstorm", "Close
    Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Star Trek,
    The Motion Picture". What struck me most about
    this documentary was the fact that it was shot
    aboard a retired aircraft carrier also called,
    "Valley Forge". This was done so that one million
    dollar film budget could be met. The documentary
    interestingly explores the young double amputees
    who made up the drone characters. We go behind
    the camera to watch Bruce Dern rehearse the poker
    game that he has with the drones. Bruce talks how
    he improvised that scene as he felt needed respect
    had to be given to the machinery. The aircraft
    carrier not only served as the ship's set, but
    as offices, dressings room, cafeteria and school
    for the actors and crew. Some of the crew talk
    about the claustrophobic experiences of it all, but
    the practicality of shooting the picture in this
    manner. One of my favorite pieces in this documentary
    is a visit with Film Editor Aaron Stell. From
    inside the ship's hull, he is busy editing the final
    cut of the film as he explains the importance of
    editing rules as well as the importance of breaking
    them. When not filming, Bruce Dern is seen jogging
    around the ship's deck. Once again we go behind the
    camera to see how the racing terrain vehicle
    sequences were shot. The documentary ends with a
    look at scoring the film, as Peter Schickele takes
    us through the entire process with the help of
    singer Joan Baez. (length: approx. 48 minutes)
    A full-length Feature Commentary with
    Director Douglas Trumbull and Bruce Dern.
    [​IMG]
    Silent Running by Douglas Trumbull
    introduces us to the visual effects icon who
    at the age of 29 turned Director for this film.
    He talks about how at the time, Universal was
    at a stage where it wanted to make 5 films at
    a million dollars apiece -- something which
    Silent Running was a part of. He recalls
    advice and training he received from Stanley
    Kubrick, as well as the experiences he learned
    through his first Directorial debut. Some of
    film's effects work and production design are
    discussed, including the building of miniatures
    and a front projection machine to shoot the
    visual effects shots.
    (length: Approx. 29 minutes)
    [​IMG]
    A conversation with Bruce Dern is an
    all-new interview with the very gray-haired
    actor who recalls meeting Douglas Trumbulll and
    without an audition, was selected to play the
    lead role. He hails the fact that this was the
    most organized film project he had ever been a
    part of, almost like a game. He elevates the
    Director to the status of "genius", right up there
    with Alfred Hitchcock. At that point I should
    have turned the documentary off, but alas, this
    is a review. (length: approx. 10 minutes)
    Douglas Trumbull Then and Now is a final
    retrospective from the Director on his experiences
    with Silent Running. Afraid that the era of
    big 70mm cinema was dying, Trumbull introduced the
    "Showscan" process which used increased frame rate
    (60fps) to make a large screen movie seem more alive.
    This is more of a look of what Trumbull has been up
    to since his Silent Running days, as well
    as where he sees the future of cinematic entertainment
    is heading.
    Rounding out the extras is the film's original
    theatrical trailer as well as Production
    Notes and Cast and Filmmaker filmographies.
    Final Thoughts
    This is a tough film to recommend. We have come
    such a long way with science fiction movies these
    past 30 years. Watching Silent Running seemed
    to be more of a chore than sheer entertainment.
    Though credit must be given to the environmental
    issues it so lovingly preaches, what was probably
    an eye-opening film in its era has now become
    stale through time since.
    Release Date: May 21, 2002
     
  2. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

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    Wonderful review, Ron!
    One of my most anticipated discs of the year! [​IMG]
    Thanks for confirming the quality of this disc, even if the movie wasn't to your liking.
     
  3. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

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    Great review Ron, classic 70's SF, I'll def be picking this up.[​IMG]
    Love the haunting ending...
    Don't read if you don't want the ending spoiled for you.
    The only survivor of the Valley Forge- one tiny robot tending the Earth's last remaining forest garden drifting off into deep space.[​IMG]
     
  4. Neil White

    Neil White Supporting Actor

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    Thanks for the review Ron. I have the first release of this but not watched it yet. I'll be watching this new one when it arrives though.

    I have fond memories of watching this film many moons ago.

    N

    PS - Ron, how are you capturing those screen shots? I ask becauase the two with Dern and Trumball look squished.
     
  5. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    I take it this is nonanamorphic? If so [​IMG]
     
  6. Michael St. Clair

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    Film SF was once largely followed by a pretty 'bookish' crowd. Star Wars may have brought film SF into the mainstream, but the real SF fans have interests that go well beyond big-budget fairy tales.
    I think that films like this will continue to have a lot of appeal to real SF fans, just not the casual ones.
    Hell, 'Star Wars' isn't really science fiction, it's fantasy.
     
  7. Neil White

    Neil White Supporting Actor

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    Jeff, I think it is anamorphic...

    N
     
  8. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    Jeff - DVD File has also reviewed the title and specifically mentioned the presence of a 16x9 enhanced transfer for this release in terms of comparing it to the previous letterboxed release from Image Entertainment.
    Michael - as an long time SF literature fan, I couldn't agree more. Silent Running is a fine SF film that I will happily repurchase.
    - Walter.
     
  9. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    Okay, from Ron's review it wasn't clear if this was anamorphic or not, and I agree it is a worthy title for repurchase. If they could only have left the cover alone...
     
  10. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    I am sorry, it is enhanced for 16x9.

    I will update the review
     
  11. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I noticed a minor word-usage error, so I thought I'd point it out for everyone's edification. [​IMG]
    Just after the synopsis, Ron writes,
     
  12. Peter McM

    Peter McM Supporting Actor

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    The new cover sucks!![​IMG]
    "Earth's last battle will be fought in space"?!?
    Does not capture the introspective spirit of the film at all. A lot of uninitiated people are gonna buy this expecting another Starship Troopers or something. Be forewarned--expect to have your heart and intellect stimulated.
     
  13. Marianne

    Marianne Supporting Actor

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    Being over 40 (and pre-Star Wars) I can still watch this movie and enjoy it for it's simplicity. I will be buying this DVD!

    Hey Steve!

    Regarding your spoiler

    I don't usually cry at movies but the end of Silent Running makes me blub!
     
  14. TheoGB

    TheoGB Screenwriter

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    There's no way I could buy this. I saw it for the first time one Saturday afternoon aged 7 or something and it was the most upsetting thing I'd ever seen. I cried for ages it was so depressing...[​IMG]
     
  15. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

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    Marianne, I know how you feel, a really poetic ending.

    Marianne I started blubbing when that other little 'bot went to bot-heaven, but lets keep this to ourselves eh? No one looks under spoilers anyway, so my reputation as a cold evil bastard is safe, but just thinking of that poor defenceless little robot is depressing me now, no I have to stop typing now, something in my eye (sniffs).
     
  16. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    I consider myself young (30) and I enjoy many of these slower-paced more artful attempts at Sci-Fi over the bombastic sort of images we get in movies like Starship Troopers (which I also like, BTW).

    Some of my favorite classic sci fi:

    Day of the Triffids,

    Day the Earth Stood Still,

    Forbidden Planet,

    Logan's Run,

    First Men in The Moon,

    War of the Worlds (which I'm waiting for a DVD version with STEREO sound like on the LD),

    2001 (which *is also* boring compared to Star Wars but an brilliant and amazing movie)

    and a few relatively modern film that capture this same spirit:

    Outland (which is a horrible DVD transfer but an incredible movie)

    Blade Runner,

    Dark City,

    Dune (lynch)

    IMO, we need to encourage our fellow movie fans who have grown up on action and special effects to take the challenge and try and enjoy some of these classic films that may be slow paced, and often dated (logans run) but have something wonderful to offer if we let them.

    -dave
     
  17. Duncan Harvey

    Duncan Harvey Stunt Coordinator

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    very pleased to see this out with a 16x9 transfer.

    I've now purchased this on DVD three times, as a R2/R4 bare bones version came out last year - not anamorphic alas...

    I've always had fond memories of this film as its a semi regular on BBC2 in the UK.

    Effects wise this film is a lot more realistic than most SF pap that those with shorter attention spans might enjoy.

    The message is excellent and more relevant today than in the 1970s - so the film was considerably ahead of its time.

    Personally I've nearly always shed a tear at the end of the film - always found the final scene as the credits roll very moving.
     
  18. Phil Nichols

    Phil Nichols Second Unit

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    Dave,

    What is Dune (lynch)? Is this the particular version that I should watch for ..... thanks?
     
  19. Charles Guajardo

    Charles Guajardo Stunt Coordinator

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  20. Sam Davatchi

    Sam Davatchi Producer

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