Silent Running

6.71 h 30 min1972G
In this sci-fi classic, a botanist (Bruce Dern) who has spent years aboard a space freighter receives orders to destroy his project and return home, but instead rebels and hijacks the vessel
Douglas Trumbull
Ron RifkinBruce DernJesse Vint
English [CC]
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Supporting actors
Cliff Potts
NBC Universal
G (General Audience)
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4.5 out of 5 stars

2664 global ratings

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MoonjumperReviewed in the United States on January 13, 2020
4.0 out of 5 stars
A visual masterpiece that’s surprisingly NOT boring!
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This movie was completed a year before I was born. It began production in 1969 and finished shooting in 1970—and it does try to capitalize on the whole flower child sentiment, accentuated by Joan Baez screeching through some terrible songs, with over the top verbroto that’s slightly off key in far too many places, to produce an lovely, artsy soundtrack that sounds akin to nails on a chalkboard. And today in a era when then the radical left has so completely hijacked a once noble environmental movement for their own ulterior motives (i.e. it’s more about putting government in charge of every aspect of our lives—and putting THEM in charge of that government— than anything actually having to do with preserving the environment. These self-appointmented elites want to flight-shame you into remaining as non-mobile as possible (easier to control you that way) while they fly on their private jets on their way to the microphones to lecture you about it (well, because they are the important people that need to be in charge of us deplorable little people, so they have no choice, you see), so yeah, it’s understandable why this environmentalist film might seem off-putting because, in 2020, we’re just sick of it. We’re sick of the lecturing, we’re sick of the hypocrisy—we’re sick of the lying. No rational thinking person truly believes that Earth will be uninhabitable within twelve years—unless you are so young and easily brainwashed, simply because you haven’t been around long enough to know what the rest of us already do—that they’ve been saying “we only have ten years left” for decades and decades and decades, and they haven’t been right yet. Even this classic, rather lovely, sci-fi film is guilty of that to a degree. It advocates that by the year 2000 (the year this film is set), Earth will be completely devoid of all vegetation—and last I checked, as of 2020, that hasn’t happened yet. So, it’s perfectly understandable why this film might seem off-putting in our current political environment, and why most of us (myself included) cheered seeing Ricky Garvais tell a bunch of self centered, jet hopping, limousine riding, mansion dwelling, self appointed Hollywood elites that that they “are in no position to lecture the public on anything!” Thank you!! All that said...

To appreciate this rather amazing film, you have to be willing to take a step back, take a breath, and examine it from a historical, dramatic, and filmmaking perspective. Remastered for blu-ray, this film is visually gorgeous. As I’m not quite old enough to have seen this in the theater, I had only seen bits of this movie on old fashioned, standard definition, square 4:3 TV—and it looked moderately okay, but not amazing. It was just...okay. Not terrible, but okay. Boy, did the ol’ square TV not do it justice! Typically, I’m not someone who is that overly impressed by sensational labels of “DIGITALLY REMASTERED!!” and “FULL HD!!” and now “4K ULTRA HD!!” (which to the human eye looks identical to regular 1080 HD, except for 4K TVs making all your older disks and broadcast TV look like crap). I always laugh at these sensational ads on DVDs (which are in old fashioned SD; DVDs are NOT HD) that try to convince you how terrible the DVD you’re watching looks compared to this awesome new thing we call blu-ray that we want you to buy (which is HD), and they do this with a split-screen of an image that looks awful juxtaposed with an image that looks great because it’s in “HD!!” Uh, no it’s not. It’s playing on the same standard definition DVD that you’re playing right now—and it still looks great, LOL! I’m not saying that there’s NO perceptible difference between SD and HD, but the sharpness of a picture has less to do with the sheer number of pixals than it does with the utilizing the proper medium it was intended to be shown on. For example, you can watch an old TV show on DVD on your old square TV which you still have upstairs (which doesn’t need as many pixels to have a sharp image as your HDTV requires) and that old show looks fantastic on your old TV with a sharp clear picture, whereas it might not look as sharp on your HDTV which requires more pixels, otherwise it looks soft and blurry. That show was captured and stored on standard definition equipment (i.e. video tape), compressed for broadcast, and meant to be shown on a standard definition television—and converting (remastering) it in HD might even make it look terrible, especially if it’s a sci-fi show with special effects in which its visual flaws are now more exposed, whereas they looked great before—on television. However, “Silent Running” was a theatrical film shot with movie quality lenses on 35 mm film, using miniatures that were crafted with far more detail than would have been required on television at the time. It’s original film source was ALREADY in “HD” (every tiny detail captured on that film via light, not pixels reinterpreted on video tape) and meant to be shown on a wide format, theatrical screen. Today, a 16:9 HD television displaying in 1080p is the closest thing we have to recreating that theatrical medium at home. This film represents an example of when remastering a film in high definition actually matters. An old square, low pixel TV simply cannot do it justice. “Silent Running” looks INCREDIBLE on blu-ray. On blu-ray, its 1970 visual effects absolutely hold up today.

Yes, young folks, a highly detailed, practical model that is well crafted, well designed, and captured with the right kind of lens and skilled lighting simply looks far more real than any CG image—because it IS real. No, it’s not a real spaceship, but it is a real object photographed on real film with real light. Yes, I know “real” may look strange to you when are only used to seeing video game-like imagery, which conditions you into believing that fake looks real and real looks fake. Well, this movie seen in its proper full glory is a visual masterpiece, demonstrating what a well crafted practical effect should actually look like. You totally buy these space-faring greenhouse freighters as real—both exterior and interior. Artificial gravity notwithstanding, the Valley Forge looks like a vessel which could actually be built in orbit with today’s technology. I was also extremely impressed with how authentic the interior sets of the American Airlines Space Freighter Valley Forge actually were. That’s because it was filmed aboard the REAL USS Valley Forge—a World War II aircraft carrier resently retired prior to filming. Its interiors were redressed with modern and futuristic paint, decor, and furnishings to give it an extremely authentic look (well, for a space freighter with artificial gravity in the year 2000.) And even the 70’s idea of a computerized bridge doesn’t look all that off-base from NASA’s space shuttle cockpit, which was designed in the 1970’s and was STILL FLYING in the year 2000, the same year this movie is set. So, no, it does NOT look all that dated—other than maybe the clothing and hairstyles—but even those are generic enough to be passable. The little droids are adorable—and also come off as sufficiently plausible. This film, beautifully modeled, beautifully set-dec’ed, and beautifully photographed is gorgeous to behold on blu-ray. Absolutely gorgeous.

Dramatically speaking, “Silent Running” isn’t nearly as preachy—or boring—as I was expecting it to be. The inept marketing of this film has never done it any favors, a complaint its director has in the behind-the-scenes interviews found in the Special Features. Universal spent almost nothing to promote it, believing that its pure visual spectical and a new “hit single” from Joan Baez (cringe) was all that was needed to bring people in by word of mouth. Didn’t happen. And the promotional blurbs about it that continue to be used to this day (i.e. the blurb on the back of this very blu-ray) would have you believe that this must be the dullest sci-fi movie ever made—basically implying that it’s two hours of watching a lonely guy talking to his plants and two droids who can’t even talk back. He’s just hippie environmentalist, living by himself in space and that’s it. Who would want to watch that?But that’s not what this film is at all. On the contrary, this movie is a dark, disturbing, Alfred Hitchcock style thriller. Shortened, this easily could have been an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, or even The Twilight Zone, minus any paranormal aspects.

Mild spoilers... Bruce Durn portrays a disturbly obsessed sociopath (Freeman Lowell) who kind of gives true, well meaning environmentalists a bad name—by MURDERING his entire crew, who were completely innocent. I never got the sense that the filmmakers or the actor were making him out to be a hero for doing so. With wild, psychotic eyes, Lowell goes out of his way to cover up his crime and justify the unjustifiable—while the crew of another ship is busy risking their lives trying to rescue him, while he lies to them making them believe that he and his crewmates are the victims of some tragic mishap that sent the Valley Forge off course. But, no, this psycho is a calculating Hitchcockian killer with an agenda. He’s kind of a Batman villain. Some of the best Batman villains are those whose motivations have kernals of nobility, but whose methods are so psychotic and destructive, Batman has to stop them. That’s kind of what happens here, only instead of Batman taking him out, he actually grows remorseful enough to take himself out. While the film is sympathetic to his his initial grievance (the protection of his greenhouse domes), it doesn’t make him out to be anything other than a nut who needs to be brought to justice. It’s actually a very engrossing and very sad tragedy—and even a cautionary tale to those who think as extremely as he does. (Unfortunately, they probably miss the whole point and see him as a hero!)

The movie does have its lapses in logic. I already mentioned that Earth supposedly has no vegetation left, but somehow supports a human population that sounds like a rather Star Trek-y utopia where there is no war, no desease, and no unemployment—and our lefty environmental protagonist doesn’t much care about that, because there aren’t enough trees left. He’s fine with murder and mayhem as long as there’s trees! But my point is, if ALL vegetation is gone on Earth, how is there any oxygen to breathe? You could rationalize some mechanical means of producing a breathable atmosphere and the film’s claim that the entire planet is a perfect 75 degrees no matter where you are would seem to imply that—but it’s a stretch to say the least. But just as strange, there seems to be no logical reason for this fleet of greenhouse ships to be cruising around Saturn! There’s no mention of colonies out this way (that would make sense then), but they are just cruising around the outer edges of the solar system for...reasons. I assume there are colonies out there, because these are cargo freighters taking cargo somewhere, but it’s never made clear. When the ships are recalled, they are ordered to release their greenhouse domes and nuke them for...reasons. Assuming you wouldn’t want to bring them back to Earth for harvesting, why nuke them? Maybe a fuel versus mass thing? Regardless, just release them. What’s the point of nuking them? And the dumbest thing of all is this expert bontanist can’t figure out why his plants are dying as he takes this ship farther and farther away from the sun! It occurs to him towards the end of the movie (I’ve been yelling at my TV screen for the past forty five minutes that you need the SUN!) He finally figures it out shortly before he offs himself. He caused their deterioration himself by steeling the ship and taking it beyond the sunlight’s reach. Yet another cautionary tale about those self-appointed elite who presume to know more than the rest of us—and don’t.

Still, you have to look at this film in historical terms. At the time this film was made, there were legitimate environmental issues that needed to be addressed. Any young folks who have been brainwashed into believing that it’s worse than it’s ever been (and the United States is to blame) are being deliberately lied to. In 1970, American cities had terrible problems with constant smog, filthy rivers and lakes. There are NO environmental problems in the UNITED STATES today that come anywhere close to what was happening fifty years ago. Companies WERE dumping filth into rivers and pumping huge noxious smoke stacks into the air completely unchecked. Rampant deforestation without replanting WAS taking place. So, at the time, these WERE issues that reasonable people were rightfully concerned about. And you know what? For the most part, we fixed them—in the United States. You know where it hasn’t been fixed? In leftist “utopias” such as the People’s Republic of China—where, yes, it is worse than it’s ever been. Dare I mention People’s Republic of San Francisco where the lack of sanitation is approaching third world status? But this country overall is far cleaner, far less poluted than it was in 1970. That’s simply a fact. Thus, the environmental concerns of 1970 were legitimate and made for good science fiction fodder.

But as I said, this movie isn’t trying to get in your face so much as it’s seeking to use the issue as a springboard to pull you into a creepy, psychological thriller—and character study. And on that level, it mostly succeeds. Meanwhile, on a visual level—it’s an absolute work of art—on a surprisingly low budget.

It’s worth a look.
93 people found this helpful
David LuceroReviewed in the United States on September 21, 2017
4.0 out of 5 stars
A Class B-Movie SciFi Film
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An enjoyable B-Movie classic made with what I saw as an inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

An astronaut / environmentalist has cared for 3 space domes filled with the last remnants of a forest. Apparently in the future the Earth has become so polluted that plant life cannot exist there. The idea is to grow these forests in space and return them to earth when the planet has stabilized. But the program is cancelled and the domes are ordered to be destroyed. With the help of 3 robots, the scientist takes over the spaceship, determined to save his forests from destruction, and possibly Earth itself.

This was one of Bruce Dern's early movies (he gained notoriety for killing John Wayne in a movie called The Cowboys) Fortunately that scene didn't kill his career. The film was made on an aircraft carrier to give viewers the effect of a ship, and it works well. The special effects are great for its time, but nothing like compared today. The direct worked on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick, where I believe he found his inspiration to make this movie. It's highly enjoyable.
30 people found this helpful
Allen Garfield's #1 fan.Reviewed in the United States on July 9, 2021
5.0 out of 5 stars
Arrow bluray
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A favorite of a generation of fans who saw it when they were young, Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running didn’t fare well in 1972 due to a lack of publicity. Trumbull had worked with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey and wanted to make a science fiction film of his own utilizing the same level of great special effects, but also brought in writers like Michael Cimino and Steven Bochco to help him write it. And while the effects are to certainly be praised, more important is the performance of Bruce Dern. Essentially a one-man show, the empathy for his character, regardless of his actions, is off the charts because of the pathos he brings to it. As such, the film explores themes of morality and ecological disaster, but does so masterfully. It also utilizes a score provided by Peter Schickele and songs performed by Joan Baez, both of which are highly unusual for a sci-fi film from this era. Films like Moon would build upon and modernize its ideas, but Silent Running stands today as unique science fiction—made at a time when studios were more willing to gamble on filmmakers with new ideas and fresh approaches.

Sometime in the future, the Earth has become uninhabitable, meaning that plants and animals can no longer survive there. The solution: preserve what’s left by putting it on a spaceship and nurtuing it over an extended period of time. Chosen to oversee this is Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), an ecologist hellbent on the belief that humans have lost their way and that appreciating nature is the most valuable thing left. His three crewmen, Keenan (Cliff Potts), Barker (Ron Rifkin), and Wolf (Jesse Vint), do not share in his views and see plant life as unnecessary. One day Earth contacts the crew and, without warning, orders them to destroy the domes housing the vegetation and come home. Unwilling to go along with this, Lowell sabotages and kills his crewmen, left alone to float in space with his three service robots and avoid rescue.

Arrow Video brings Silent Running to Blu-ray for a second time utilizing a new 2K restoration taken from a 4K scan of the original 35 mm camera negative and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The final color grade was approved by Douglas Trumbull. The previous Universal disc was plagued by heavy grain and leftover damage, both of which have been addressed here. The grain is fairly well-resolved, aside from opticals, and detail has improved, particularly for skin textures and clothing. The color palette remains mostly the same, which lacks a vibrancy that the film just doesn’t offer, though the uses of blue, red, and green have obvious potency. Blacks are deep and brightness and contrast levels are ideal. It’s a stable presentation as well, and easily the best the film has ever looked on home video.

The audio is included in English mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The film was also released in 70 mm with 6 track audio, but that doesn’t appear to have been utilized here. The mono track handles the various elements admirably, including the score and music selection. Dialogue is prioritized well, even Bruce Dern’s quiet murmurings, though sound effects don’t always have the level of heft that they should. It’s a satisfactory mix without any leftover instances of hiss, crackle, dropouts, or distortion to speak of.

The following extras are also included, all in HD:

Audio Commentary by Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw
Audio Commentary by Douglas Trumbull and Bruce Dern
Isolated Music and Effects Track
No Turning Back (13:48)
First Run: The Evolution of Silent Running’s Screenplay (14:03)
The Making of Silent Running (49:17)
Silent Running by Director Douglas Trumbull (30:09)
Douglas Trumbull: Then and Now (4:52)
Silent Running: A Discussion with Bruce Dern “Lowell Freeman” (10:57)
Theatrical Trailer (2:58)
Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (635 in all – 105:56)
In the new audio commentary, authors and film historians Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw discuss the reasons why the film didn’t do well at the box office, the casting of Bruce Dern, the film’s similarities to and differences from science fiction stories of the era, the use of sound and music in the film, its ecological message, the impact of Star Wars on science fiction, the differently abled being cast in films, and Douglas Trumbull’s attention to technology, among other subjects. The older audio commentary with Trumbull and Bruce Dern was recorded in 2000 and features the two men in discussion about the making of the film, commenting upon it as they watch it together—though Trumbull does most of the talking. The isolated music and effects track is presented 2.0 LPCM. No Turning Back features a new audio interview with music historian Jeff Bond speaking about the film’s music and song selection. First Run is a new video essay by writer and filmmaker Jon Spira about the evolution of the film’s screenplay using illustrations and voice actors. The Making of Silent Running is a vintage 1972 documentary made concurrently with the film’s production. Silent Running by Director Douglas Trumbull and Douglas Trumbull: Then and Now features an interview with the director about the film in retrospect. In A Discussion with Bruce Dern, the actor discusses his career, how he got the main role, working with Douglas Trumbull, and his retrospective feelings on the film. The Behind-the-Scenes Gallery contains a whopping 635 full color and black white production stills.

Also included is a 32-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, Silent Running: Douglas Trumbull’s Visions of Nature by Barry Forshaw, Silent Running: Bruce Dern’s Star Turn Among the Stars by Peter Tonguette, and restoration information. Everything is housed in a clear amaray case with reversible artwork—new artwork on one side and the original theatrical poster on the other—within a slipcover featuring the same new artwork. All that’s missing from this release is the German Super 8 version of the film found on the Koch Media Blu-ray release, and the Trailers from Hell commentary featuring Edgar Wright.

Arrow Video certainly ups the ante here, giving us a presentation of Silent Running that’s been given careful attention. With a quality transfer and extras, it’s definitely the kind of treatment that a film of its calibre deserves. Highly recommended.
6 people found this helpful
Dav MarReviewed in the United States on May 1, 2017
4.0 out of 5 stars
Think it couldn't happen?
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This movie made a big impression on me when it was originally released. After lo these many years it was fun to refresh my memory of the plot. Bruce Dern has always been one of my favorites and this is a very early film appearance of his acting. The SFX still hold up quite well given the passage of time. The plot essentially follows the path of a classic Greek tragic drama, I won't say more to avoid a spoiler. A viewer favorite are the robotic drones Hewey and Dewey, given animation by paraplegics, one of whom was the brother of the director, Douglas Trumbull, who was also the SFX director of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Given the current atmosphere (no pun intended) of environmental decline the plot details are surprisingly contemporary.
31 people found this helpful
TheWaldoReviewed in the United States on April 29, 2017
3.0 out of 5 stars
Old sci-fi classic from years ago. Dated but enjoyable.
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I have mixed emotions about this film. Of course, based upon the age of the movie the special effects are somewhat lacking by today's standards. But overall it is a decent movie. It attempts to make its political statement that it was made to project and does it in a manner without being overly tedious. I am not a usual fan of political statement movies. If I want to view something along that line I will buy some type of documentary movie but I despise movies that portray themselves as action, etc. and then is little more than the director's effort to shove his political statement down my throat. This movie only does that in moderation and at an acceptable level without actually ruining the movie.

Outdated but still enjoyable. Certainly not one that will be watched repeatedly but maybe again down the road somewhere. For the price it is acceptable.
20 people found this helpful
James RowellReviewed in the United States on June 13, 2017
3.0 out of 5 stars
It's both a good and bad film at the same time, edging towards good, but not quite there.
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It's safe to say that this film is a sci-fi classic, it has many redeeming features including the special effects and production quality. The problems with this film aren't that we're jaded now, spoiled by limitless CG-FX money-shots, the problem with this film is the story itself.

On the plus side of the story, the performance by Bruce Dern is solid - he brings his character to life and makes him believable in that world, you care about him and can relate to him. The three Drones are also special and we grow to care for them far more that the three dorks who were killed at the beginning of the film.

When I was a kid the following stuff didn't bother me in the slightest and my memory of this film was that it was near flawless, but now I can't get past the following sorts of issues:

1) How is it even remotely possible that ALL vegetation, forest etc have been destroyed on Earth, and that humanity can somehow still thrive there? There is no indication of this level of technical mastery reflected in the ship design etc. to suggest that humanity has this ability. It's an absurd premise.

2) Why send ships whose sole purpose is to house some forest way the heck out to Saturn!? Why not keep them close to earth, it's not like space is that cluttered that we need to park them way out by Saturn. Seriously? A budget sensitive corporation blows cash sending forests to Saturn?

3) Why grow forests? Have we somehow forgotten about seeds? Seeds are all you need to reproduce a forest.

4) What's the point of blowing up the pods? That just creates massive amounts of space junk to interfere with your flight paths etc. WAY better to just leave them intact even if you want to ditch them. It's not like an atom bomb just vaporizes everything down to the level of atoms, it would be a huge mess and way more costly to deal with, not to mention wasting atom bombs.

5) You'd be lucky (ok, unlucky) to hit one pebble flying through Saturn's rings, it wouldn't be a trippy windy light show.

6) Ummm - gravity on the ships? How did that happen?

7) Those storage containers, yikes. Form over function, they look all space age and like something from the future, but damn, what a dumb design. Sorry, cubes stack better, no reason for funky awkward shapes that tip over easily.

...anyway, I could go on, but there is a superficiality in the design of the ship/sets etc. or implausible things happen simply to move the story forward, with the result that my suspension of disbelief was tried one too many times for me to really enjoy the film properly (like I did when I was a kid.)

Mind you, there are great moments with Dern and the robots, planting the tree, surgery, playing poker - those give the film heart and make it worth watching.
12 people found this helpful
Christopher S CopelandReviewed in the United States on June 15, 2020
3.0 out of 5 stars
Great movie, mediocre blu-ray.
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Always liked this 70’s cult science fiction movie, mainly because of Bruce Dern’s performance and the lovable drones, so I was pretty excited to pick this up on blu-ray. The movie still holds up well, but the blu-ray is pretty “meh”. It’s obvious Universal did no restoration on the film for the blu-ray release, the print used obviously had a LOT of wear and damage. Upconverted to 4K, it looks slightly better than the previous SE DVD upconverted, but not much. No new extras either, all the extras are ported over from the SE, in standard definition. If you don’t own the SE DVD, it’s worth getting for $10, it’s got serviceable picture and sound, and the extras are good. But if you do already own it you might want to pass on this one. Hopefully someone like Arrow or Criterion will do a serious restoration and remaster one day.
3 people found this helpful
G. EdmonsonReviewed in the United States on May 17, 2015
4.0 out of 5 stars
Ecological sci-fi film...
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"Silent Running" (1972) was directed by Douglas Trumbull who was the special effects supervisor on "2001: A Space Odyssey". The film is about a group of workers on board a space craft which contains the last specimens of plant life from Earth. Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is one of the caretakers of the forests located in the greenhouse-like geodesic domes. When the message comes across that they are to to destroy the greenhouses and return the freighters to commercial service Freeman turns on his fellow workers who are detonating the greenhouses. Lowell escapes with one freighter and a greenhouse into outer space with his only companions being three maintenance robots. Lowell gradually descends into insanity as the freighter drifts out into space. This ecologically minded film was made on a shoestring budget of one million dollars but looks surprisingly accomplished with most of the filming taking place on board an old aircraft carrier.

The blu-ray looks fine though there are numerous specks of dust throughout that haven't been cleaned up. Special features include a 49 minute making of featurette, a conversation with Bruce Dern, and a couple of Douglas Trumbull vignettes about Silent Running and his time in the film industry.
24 people found this helpful
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