When Disney and Pixar released their movie Wall–E back in 2008, it was lauded by audiences and critics alike, even receiving a score of 95 from Rotten Tomatoes. All of the accolades that the movie received are prime examples of how easily audiences really do forget the past. The movie is a clear lifting of MGM’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as ruminations by the late great scientist Isaac Asimov. On another level, it is also a lifting from another well-known sci-fi flick by the name of Silent Running. As a matter of fact, one could argue that Wall–E pulls more from that movie than from 2001: A Space Odyssey with its overly preachy content. That would go to show the influence of the latter, decidedly nihilistic flick, which in fact received the Blu-ray re-issue treatment last month thanks to Arrow Video. Re-issued Nov. 17, the 1972 cult favorite sci-fi flick will appeal equally to its longtime fans and sci-fi fans who might be less familiar with the movie. That is due in part to the movie’s central story, which will be discussed shortly. While the story is certain to keep viewers engaged throughout the movie’s roughly 90-minute run time, the re-issue’s presentation does suffer from at least one concern, its production. Most notably, the audio production proves somewhat problematic and will be addressed a little later. The bonus content that accompanies the re-issue adds to the presentation’s appeal and together with the story, makes for even more appeal. The two items together make up for the concerns raised by the audio production and make the movie’s re-issue worth watching at least occasionally by the most devoted science fiction fans and of Silent Running.
Arrow Video’s recent Blu-ray re-issue of Universal Pictures’ 1972 sci-fi statement flick Silent Running is a presentation that will appeal to the most devoted of the movie’s fans. It will also appeal to the most devoted science fiction fans. That is due in part to the movie’s story. The story in question centers on Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern – The Burbs, Nebraska, The Hateful Eight) as he makes his way into space to (he thinks) protect a forest that he oversees in a bio-dome structure attached to his ship, the Valley Forge. The flight happens after an order from Earth for all ships orbiting Earth to destroy their biodomes, which contain the last plant and animal life from Earth. While no reason is ever given for the order, the script does manage to explain that by having one of Freeman’s soon-to-be deceased crewmates note that he did not understand the order either. In a way, that lack of explanation is a sort of commentary about the oftentimes mind boggling actions of any government body. Lowell’s development as the story progresses is really what makes the story engaging. His focus on protecting the forest gradually declines as he increasingly falls victim to the psychological effect of isolation. He eventually comes to the realization that being alone, there is no reason to keep trying to save the forest, leading to the story’s disturbing finale. This critic will not reveal that finale here for those who have yet to see the story. What can be said is that it will leave audiences unsettled, to say the very least.
On another note, there is one notable plot hole to this story that almost completely negates the whole thing. That plot hole comes early on as one of Lowell’s crewmates makes mention that the Earth at the time was 75-degrees. The companion booklet that comes with the movie’s recent re-issue points out that the degrees measure in question is Celsius, not Fahrenheit. That Celsius measure equals to 167-degrees in Fahrenheit. So it leaves one scratching one’s head that Lowell’s crew mates talk about returning to Earth when no human, let alone plant and animal, could survive such temperatures. Humans even now struggle when summer temperatures in the real world get to the 100s, so there is no way humans could even begin to survive at a temperature of nearly 200-degrees year-round. Audiences who can overlook this massive Earth-size plot hole will find themselves able to stay engaged. However in hindsight, that noted realization detracts from the story’s enjoyment quite a bit. The plot hole pointed out in the re-issue’s companion booklet is just one aspect of the bonus content that will be pointed out later. It is also just one of the problems from which the movie itself suffers. The audio production presented in the movie is another concern.
Throughout the course of Silent Running’s 90-minute run time, its audio levels are problematic. The dialogue plays out at a low volume while the music, crafted and performed by folk singer Joan Baez and composer Peter Schickele, is far too loud whenever it is used. Whether that was the result of work done on the movie’s re-mastering or if it was originally like that is anyone’s guess. It was not discussed in any of the movie’s bonus content. Again, the bonus content will be discussed later. Regardless, the constant volume adjustments that audiences will find themselves having to make as they take in the movie will become bothersome to say the least. At least the video quality is worth its share of applause. It makes up at least to a point for the problems posed by the problematic audio production.
For all of the problems posed by Silent Running’s story and its audio production, its re-issue does come with at least one undeniable positive, its bonus content. As has already been noted, the movie’s bonus content makes for plenty of engagement and entertainment. The companion booklet that comes with the re-issue is just one of the noted extras worth addressing. Journalist Peter Tonguette points out on page 21 of the booklet, “In the screenplay by Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino, and Steven Bocho, the temperature of the Earth has eached 75-degrees Celsius, apparently rendering it inhospitable to a wide assortment of plants and animals.” A check of those credits on IMDB.com certifies they crafted the movie’s script. Again referencing this, 75-degrees Celsius is equal to 165-degrees Fahrenheit. How that would even be hospitable to any life is confusing. Humans in reality can barely handle temperatures in excess of 100-degrees. So for Lowell’s crew mate to be excited that the planet’s year-round temperature is 75-degrees leaves one wondering how humans have adapted to such high temperature. It creates a massive plot hole about the size of the ships that orbit Earth. It is just one of the interesting aspects pointed out in the movie’s companion booklet. Audiences also learn from journalist Barry Forshaw, that director Douglas Trumbull’s turn helming Silent Running was not his first jaunt into space so to speak. Forshaw points out in his essay, that Trumbull worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey prior to taking on Silent Running, and that it was his stint on the prior that led to the latter. On an equally interesting note, Wall–E – as already noted – lifts liberally from both movies for its story. Additionally, Forshaw points out in page 11 of the booklet, that famed Star Wars director George Lucas was so impressed by Trumbull’s use of sound in the open space scenes, that he was moved to incorporate the use of sound for space scenes, rather than just leave the outer space scenes outside the ships quiet. That is quite the statement for Trumbull to have had such impact. Between all of this and so much more noted in the booklet, it alone more than proves the importance of the movie’s bonus content. It is just one part of the bonus content that is worth addressing.
The bonus content that is presented on disc ensures viewers’ engagement and entertainment in that it does not just rehash the bonus content featured in the movie’s 2015 re-issue, its then most recent re-issue. That content is featured here, but is joined by even more new content, such as a discussion on the movie’s soundtrack. As is revealed in that discussion, Schickele’s turn on Silent Running was in fact his first time scoring a big screen feature. Music historian Jeff Bond, who narrates the feature, points out that Schickele’s work with Baez stemmed oddly enough from Baez’s intent to work on a holiday music compilation of all things. Additionally, Bond discusses the attention that Schickele paid to each scene, to ensure every note of every scene made for the utmost emotional impact on audiences.
“First Run,” another of the new bonuses featured in this re-issue, takes audiences through a look at the initial first scenes of Silent Running. The comparison of those early scenes to the final product makes for more appreciation for that final product.
The archived “Making of” featurette joins with the newer content to make for even more engagement and entertainment. Audiences learn firsthand from Dern in the vintage extra, that he ran “200 miles” on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Valley Forge (which was used for most of the movie’s principal shooting) during down time as a means to stay healthy. That is a lot of running. Audiences also learn in this extra that Trumbull did not even initially want to direct the movie, but do other things on the film. Audiences will be left to learn that whole story for themselves. Between this story, the other items noted here and the rest of the features extensive information, it and the rest of the equally extensive list of bonus content does much to entertain and engage audiences. If for no other reason than the bonus content, audiences will find the movie worth watching at least once. Audiences who can overlook the aforementioned plot hole involving the planet’s temperature in the story will find the rest of the movie’s ecologically-minded story worth watching, too. The two items together give audiences reason to watch this movie at least occasionally.
Arrow Video’s recent Blu-ray re-issue of Universal Pictures’ 1972 sci-fi eco/space drama Silent Running is a presentation that will find enjoyment among the most devoted sci-fi fans and those of the movie. That is due in part to the movie’s story. The story, which does suffer from one massive plot hole, follows a botanist – Lowell — who goes rogue after being told that the forest for which he cared was going to be destroyed. As a result of his actions, Lowell falls into a slow spiral of depression and despair, leading to the movie’s rather depressing finale. That the movie’s script never addresses its one major plot hole greatly detracts from its presentation. Audiences who can overlook that problem will find the movie engaging at least to a point. The video quality of the movie’s re-issue is a positive in its own right, but the audio production proves problematic in its own right, as audiences will find themselves having to raise and lower the volume throughout the movie. The extensive bonus content featured with the movie’s re-issue is its primary saving grace. If for no other reason than that content, audiences will find the re-issue worth watching. Even with that in mind, that content is more worth watching than the movie itself. To that end, the movie in whole is going to find the most appeal among the movie’s most devoted audiences and sci-fi fans than general sci-fi fans and other audiences. Silent Running is available now.
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