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HTF REVIEW: "Silent Running" (with screenshots) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

Senior HTF Member
Jul 3, 1997
Real Name
Ronald Epstein

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

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.

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.

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
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

It's nice to see that Universal made an
effort at including a sizeable amount of extras
for a title such as this.

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.

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)

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

Jon Robertson

May 19, 2001
Wonderful review, Ron!
One of my most anticipated discs of the year! :)
Thanks for confirming the quality of this disc, even if the movie wasn't to your liking.

Steve Christou

Long Member
Senior HTF Member
Apr 25, 2000
Manchester, England
Real Name
Steve Christou
Great review Ron, classic 70's SF, I'll def be picking this up.:emoji_thumbsup:
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.:)

Neil White

Supporting Actor
Jan 8, 1999
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.


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

Michael St. Clair

Senior HTF Member
May 3, 1999
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.

Walter Kittel

Senior HTF Member
Dec 28, 1998
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.

Jeff Ulmer

Senior HTF Member
Deceased Member
Aug 23, 1998
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...

Ronald Epstein

Senior HTF Member
Jul 3, 1997
Real Name
Ronald Epstein
I am sorry, it is enhanced for 16x9.

I will update the review


Senior HTF Member
Mar 4, 2001
Catfisch Cinema
Real Name
I noticed a minor word-usage error, so I thought I'd point it out for everyone's edification. :)
Just after the synopsis, Ron writes,
It's not the type of sci-fi action film that young audiences are akin to.
akin means
  • Of the same kin; related by blood.
  • Having a similar quality or character; analogous.
Audiences aren't "akin" to a movie (unless the people are born of celluloid). To express Ron's thought more precisely (presumably), "It's not the type of sci-fi movie that young audiences are used to (familiar with, expect, etc)." Or maybe, "Silent Running is not akin to current sci-fi movies; it has much different pacing and thematic sensibilities."
Keep up the good work Ron! I'd seen this movie on sale, and was wondering what it was and if it was any good. You gave me the info I needed.

Peter McM

Nov 18, 1999
Indianapolis, IN
Real Name
The new cover sucks!!:angry:
"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.


Supporting Actor
May 18, 2000
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!


Jun 18, 2001
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...:frowning:

Steve Christou

Long Member
Senior HTF Member
Apr 25, 2000
Manchester, England
Real Name
Steve Christou
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).

DaViD Boulet

Senior HTF Member
Feb 24, 1999
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.


Duncan Harvey

Stunt Coordinator
Mar 27, 2000
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.

Charles Guajardo

Stunt Coordinator
Jun 2, 1999
This is a tough film to recommend. We have come

such a long way with science fiction movies these

past 30 years.
I'd say we've come a long way down the toilet with science fiction movies in the past thirty years.

I'll take Silent Running over Mission to Mars, Wing Commander, or whatever else hollywood tries to pass off as science fiction these days.

Sam Davatchi

Senior HTF Member
Sep 15, 1999
Real Name
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...
Notice that you said 7. You should try it again. We cannot judge a movie when we are a child. I loved many movies when I was a kid that I find crap today, like Battlestar Galactica. The reverse is also possible.

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