Silent Running appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the DVD provided a quite positive presentation.
Sharpness seemed adequate to good throughout most of the film. At times, I felt the picture seemed slightly too soft, but those occasions occurred infrequently. For the most part, the movie remained reasonably distinct and well defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. As for print flaws, I noticed light grain at times and saw a moderate number of speckles. Both issues appeared more frequently during the film’s first half; they seemed somewhat problematic during that part, but the film cleaned up noticeably as it progressed.
Colors looked pretty solid. The movie displayed a warm and fairly natural palette that the DVD replicated reasonably well. At times the image seemed a bit drab, but that mainly resulted from the film stock used; Running looked a lot like many other flicks from the era. In any case, colors usually were nicely vivid and lively. Black levels appeared acceptably deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Neither area excelled, but both seemed fine. Ultimately, I found that despite a few problems, Silent Running provided a good image, especially considering its age.
As for the monaural soundtrack of Silent Running, it seemed fairly average for the era. Dialogue appeared somewhat flat, but the lines always remained acceptably distinct, and they lacked any problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Unfortunately, effects didn’t succeed quite as well. Though generally clear, those elements showed some crackling and could sound moderately shrill at times. However, the effects did boast some decent bass response, as explosions and a few other loud noises displayed nice low-end. Music seemed adequate but no better; the score and songs lacked much range, but they appeared clear and listenable. Most of the track was clean, but some hiss crept through at times. In the end, this felt like a very average track for its day.
Though it seems like a fairly obscure flick, Silent Running enjoys a full special edition release on DVD, as this set offers surprising slew of extras. First we find an audio commentary from director Douglas Trumbull and actor Bruce Dern. Both were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Overall, this appeared to be an erratic but generally interesting track. Actually, it was most compelling when the two discussed projects other than Running. For example, Trumbull offered some intriguing notes about Stanley Kubrick, while Dern gave us nice remarks about Alfred Hitchcock. In addition, Trumbull added a compelling discussion of the problems he faced in the industry. The two also provided a reasonable amount of decent material on Running itself, as we heard a mix of production information. However, they frequently spent too much of their time in praise mode, as both participants told us how great each other and everyone else was. As a whole, the commentary remained interesting enough to merit a listen, but it didn’t seem like a great track.
For reasons unknown, it took a while for this commentary to see the light of day. At the start, Trumbull notes the recording date: October 16, 2000. It seems odd that it took more than a year and a half after that for the disc to reach the market.
After the commentary, we find a slew of other materials. First we discover The Making of Silent Running, a 49-minute and 15-second documentary that comes from the time period of the film’s creation. In addition to movie snippets and behind the scenes footage, we hear interviews with producer Mike Gruskoff, director Trumbull, actors Bruce Dern and Cheryl Sparks, drone builder Paul Kraus, director of photography Charles Wheeler, assistant director Marty Hornstein, editor Aaron Stell, composer Peter Schickele, and makeup artist Dick Dawson. (I may have missed some others - the program doesn’t identify everyone well.)
The period documentary provides a pretty decent look at the movie. It covers different technical and acting elements while it promotes the film. That means it includes more movie clips than I’d like, but it also features a lot of good material from the set. The behind the scenes material easily seems the most interesting, as those snippets reveal a lot of nice images. We even get to watch Joan Baez record the movie’s miserable songs! This isn’t a great program, but it works pretty well.
Next we locate ”Silent Running” By Douglas Trumbull. This 30-minute and five-second piece provides a new documentary about the movie. It shows movie clips, production art, stills and other materials, and recent interviews with Trumbull. He covers the film from inception through production and offers a lot of information about the shoot and the project. The material seems good, but unfortunately, much of it appears redundant if you’ve listened to the audio commentary. Trumbull manages to provide a reasonable amount of new details, but the many duplications make it less valuable that it otherwise might be.
A Conversation With Bruce Dern lasts 10 minutes and 55 seconds and provides what its title describes: a modern chat with the actor. It shows some period stills and film clips interspersed with the usual “talking head” shots of Dern. He covers his early career and the manner he got involved with Running. He also converses about Trumbull and his experiences on the film. As with the Trumbull piece, “Dern” becomes somewhat redundant for anyone who listened to the audio commentary, and the longer documentary also includes some common components. Still, it’s not a bad featurette for someone who wants a quick overview of the actor’s perspective.
In Douglas Trumbull: Then and Now, we get a four-minute and 50-second update on the force behind Silent Running. It follows his career after Running. Again, much of this appears in the audio commentary and seems redundant here, though Trumbull expands upon the topic to a moderate degree, and I enjoyed his look at the Back to the Future ride on which he worked.
A few text extras round out the DVD. Cast and Filmmakers adds the standard biographies for some principals. We find listings for Trumbull plus actors Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin and Jesse Vint. The discussions amount mostly to annotated filmographies, but they offer decent coverage. In addition, Production Notes provides a quick but useful synopsis of the project.
Admirable in spirit but dull in execution, Silent Running told a cautionary tale that almost totally failed to engage me. The plodding piece possessed some intriguing concepts, but the result seemed lifeless and bland. On the other hand, the DVD offered good picture with sound that appeared acceptable for its era. It also included a wealth of decent extras. While I disliked Silent Running too much to recommend it to neophytes, I can strongly urge established fans to pick up the disc; that audience should be very pleased with it.