most people, I first came across Silent Running
during an unheralded TV broadcast; while aware of the film through
passing mentions in books and magazines, I had few expectations
of it, and so was surprised at just how good it was. The very
definition of a cult movie – i.e. one that gradually found
a devoted audience years after initial release – the film
is now much loved, and deservedly so.
Bruce Dern plays Freeman Lowell, an astronaut botanist who is
in charge of vast greenhouse domes that hold the only surviving
plant life from earth, now orbiting space awaiting the call to
return and refoliate the planet. Lowell’s fellow crewmembers
are less dedicated to the cause, and when the orders come to destroy
the domes and go home, they are overjoyed. But Lowell isn’t
about to give up on his dream, and after a series of violent encounters,
he finds himself alone – apart from three robot drones who
he re-christens Huey, Dewey and Louie.
Although 40 years old, Silent Running feels remarkably
fresh. Not only has the eco-warrior theme become more timely as
the years have passed, but Douglas Trumbull’s special effects
still hold up remarkably well – a few moments suffer under
the glare of HD, but on the whole, this still looks very modern.
The Joan Baez songs are, admittedly, an acquired taste and probably
date the film more than anything on screen, but her plaintive
hippy-folk warbling do seem somehow appropriate, if a little strident.
who has to carry much of the film single-handed, is excellent
as the obsessive, slightly crazy but ultimately sympathetic Lowell,
and his relationship with the drones – small, boxy robots
with no human elements at all – is remarkably touching,
a credit to both Dern and the amputee actors inside the drone
suits. Science fiction is rarely noted for its warmth or emotional
impact, but if the final moments of this film don’t bring
a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye, you’re probably
This Blu-ray release has been much anticipated, and doesn’t
disappoint. The transfer is – a couple of brief moments
aside – excellent, and the extras fulsome – as well
as commentary from Dern and Trumbull, there’s a 1972 50
minute documentary about the making of the film, and more recent
interviews with the star and director – the icing on an
already tasty cake.
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