Silent Running Blu-ray Review
Eureka's UK Blu-ray is region B-locked.
Akin to how Criterion provide details about the transfer undertaken, Eureka inform us of the restoration process that Silent Running has undergone. The results of their work, courtesy of an AVC encode, should please fans of the film.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 frame, Doug Trumball's elaborate production doesn't look all brand new sparkling and clean, and does not betray any glaring evidence of nasty processing. I had no problems with edge enhancement, smearing or aliasing. A fine layer of grain helps to ensure that the image retains something of a film-like texture. But the image has had a lot of dirt and noise removal as part of its emphatic clean-up. Not horribly so, I should add, and the picture reveals lots of detail that has been obscured on home video before now, but there are times when faces in the middle-ground lose definition and appear a touch too clean and smooth. Dern's face looks incredibly detailed. Those blue eyes shine with obsession, skin texture is proudly held up for scrutiny, there is separation in his straggly hair, and you can clearly see pores and even the spittle on his chin. Close-ups are, indeed, very good.
Elsewhere, the models and miniatures appear a touch softer, but this is down to the original photographic techniques. Costumes and sets are highly detailed as well, and it is often terrific to see how the leaves and needles on the spruces and the pines are revealed. Finite shots of the flora and fauna, notably during the almost microscopic titles montage, is great, with clean and vibrant imagery and crisp, organic colours. The palette, overall, is quite keen. Costumes, hair and patterning on the drones, the sides of the spacecraft, the fabulous badges and patches all over Lowell's jumpsuit, and upon the sets boast bright primaries that can look a touch boosted, although this is probably just down to how clear the print looks. They look well-saturated and vivid. There are a few little spots and flecks here and there, but nothing that is going to catch the eye.
Contrast is good, possibly a bit high. But blacks and midnight blues fare well. The shadows look nice and deep and delineation appears keen. I doubt that any crushing is taking place. Occasionally, the blacker portions can fade and flicker. One such shot occurs quite early, as Lowell goes for a solitary walk in the garden after hearing the shocking news that they will have to be destroyed – the upper right corner of the image, depicting the star-field, becomes filtered and noisy-looking. The final pull-back from the ship exhibits some vertical banding with faded black portions. Other FX shots also exhibit some of the same, but this is not at all distracting, I don't think, especially given the age of the print. There are some superbly rendered bright flashes of the exploding domes as they burn out the starry sky that we see through the wall behind Lowell, as he tends the last garden. These are mini-nuclear white-outs that the disc does well with.
Overall, it is hard not to be impressed with this transfer. The film looks “of its time”, but it yields plenty of visual rewards with this hi-def makeover.
Eureka don't muck around with the film's audio track and deliver a solid and faithful-sounding DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix that keeps the original elements in-check without any unnecessary boosting or wraparound extension.
Dialogue is perfectly clear and discernible. Dern, of course, has got a rather distinctive accent, and he has a tendency to speak quite quietly and to mumble a little bit. You can actually hear his words crawling over his teeth, can't you? The disc's audio has no problem with this. Voices emanating from over the ship-to-ship communicators are also appropriately clear and clean. We can even clearly the little bleeps and whoops that the drones occasionally make. The score is the other major component that is lovingly presented. Separation is fine and Baez's voice floats with power and grace, backed by a warm presentation of the music, itself. The metronomic pulsing of certain cues comes over with a solid, atmospheric throb. Bass is appropriately handled in terms of the exploding bolts and grips on the domes, the odd impact and the roaring passage through the rings of Saturn and, of course, the big booms that, really speaking, we shouldn't be able to hear in space. The breaking of a character's neck is also quite audible.
Subtle effects such as the flicking of switches, the clacking of the pool balls and the clicking of the metallic bomb cannisters are treated with clarity and sound natural. We can even enjoy some birdsong and the rustling of leaves in the garden.
This is a great transfer of what is really quite a modest sound design that makes no errors and doesn't attempt to do anything silly with the original audio source.
We get to hear from Doug Trumball and Bruce Dern as they reminisce about making the movie. Recorded for the DVD back in October 2000, this a great and very detailed and informative chat. Naturally, it skews towards the more technical side of things, but we get to hear a lot about the sort of films that were being made by Universal back then, and the creative freedom that they had for this run of pictures – others in the $1million range of productions included Easy Rider and American Graffiti. Dern mentions that he was also up for the other big 70's socio/ecological SF movie Soylent Green, but then goes on to cite that Richard Fleischer's 1973 film was a “too simplistic” when compared to Trumball's. Well, I'm afraid that pretty rich. Silent Running is one of the most simplistic SF movies that I've ever seen. Trumball discusses how his original idea was to have had Lowell encountering aliens, and that this notion was ditched because it really wouldn't have fitted into what was supposed to be just a “simple” story. I think was a wise decision. Overall, this is a really good chat-track and one that will reward fans no end.
The Making of Silent Running
Lasting for 50 minutes, this is a vintage on-set documentary charting the production of the film and, of course, focussing on the effects work and the unique set construction and design. We hear from Trumball, young and inspired, and from others involved as they inform us of the importance of what they are doing. We see scenes being set up and shot and get to look at productions drawing and effects creation. Considering inanely Universal marketed the film – or rather how they didn't market the film – it is quite miraculous how something as comprehensive as this documentary even got made. Good, old school stuff, folks.
Douglas Trumball – we get two interviews with the movie-making visionary.
Silent Running by Douglas Trumball lasts for 31 minutes and focusses upon his recollections of making the movie and how it was received. Lots of footage and photographs help to illustrate this, and the piece becomes quite an in-depth chronicle.
Douglas Trumball then and now is a 5-minute examination of how he started out and how his career has evolved with the ideas of pushing the cinematic medium. He does come across, quite justifiably, as a little bit peeved at the lack of recognition he has received for his Back To The Future Ride, which really explored the nature of viewer participation in a movie. As he says, it is not just a funfair ride.
A Conversation with Bruce Dern is precisely that. We get to hear from the character actor in an 11-minute interview in which he recalls coming aboard Silent Running and working opposite non-actors in the form of the drones.
Isolated Music and FX audio track
This is a nice touch that allows you to enjoy Peter Schickele's haunting score and the ballads from Joan Baez in isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0.
Lavish 48-page collector booklet
This contains a nice overview of the design-work and the music and is furnished with photos and concept artwork.
Space hippy goes nutso in an attempt to save the trees! Cute little robots cheat at poker! In space, everyone can still hear Joan Baez sing! Douglas Trumball makes one of the most overtly sermonised SF movies in history … but proves to be hugely influential to the genre. Universal wisely stepped aside and let the pioneering visual FX artist behind 2001: A Space Odyssey just get on with his directorial debut with complete creative freedom, and the results, whilst glaringly flawed, went on to become a cult gem. Sitting alongside the likes of the aforementioned Kubrick film, Schaffner's original Planet Of The Apes, Soylent Green, The Omega Man and The Andromeda Strain, Trumball's trundling cosmic fable is one of the great concept flicks of the period. Bruce Dern delivers a rare leading role performance that is full of his typically twitchy, made eyed paranoia and just about manages to keep from being upstaged by three lovable robots. The visual effects are splendid and groundbreaking for the time the film was made, and a lot of them still hold up well today. The theme is poignant and well worth applauding even if the science is built on some seriously shaky foundations, and the message that the film seeks to deliver is just as relevant today as it was back in 1972.
I've got a lot of love for Silent Running but I still struggle with its many illogicalities, and although this possibly goes against a lot of fanboy acclaim, I cannot hold it in as high esteem as any of those previously cited classics of the genre, no matter how much it clearly yearns to be.
Eureka do the film justice with a reliable transfer that spruces up the image and nurtures the audio with clarity. The extra features are well worth your time and effort too. A great retro fly-on-the-wall making-of is complemented by a fine commentary track, and the illustrated booklet is a nice little bonus.
So pack a space-suit, a deck of cards and a garden trowel and let's go Silent Running.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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