The crew aboard the spaceship Valley Forge can’t keep off Lowell Freeman’s grass. Lowell (Bruce Dern) should be smoking it, not growing it inside the ship’s biospheres. Lowell is a hippie so it’s natural that he’s a little too connected to Mother Earth’s trees. It’s on the Valley Forge that Lowell tends to the “last forests of our once beautiful nation, in the hope that they will one day return and grace our foul earth.” When his three cocky space companions are inexplicably ordered to nuke the forests, Lowell fights back, strangling one crewmember and jettisoning two others into outer space aboard a biosphere. As he listlessly sails the Valley Forge into the rings of Saturn, Lowell kills time via card games with the ship’s robot drones, affectionately renamed Huey and Dewey by the bored Lowell. (Louie lost his leg on a reconnaissance mission and is now floating in outer space.) Lowell nourishes what remains of his wilting forest, chooses suicide for himself and a broken Huey and leaves Dewey to play gardener aboard the remaining biosphere. The hippie songs by Joan Baez are a hoot yet they’re indicative of the film’s otherwise simple-minded, preposterous obsession with environmental carelessness. While the drones are still cuter than Ewoks, Lowell remains a cloying representation of a ‘70s acid freak shoving his save-the-trees mantra down your throat. Silent Running definitely shows its age.
This is Universal's second DVD release of Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running and while you'll never mistake this film for another 2001, it's unlikely that you'll ever see the film look as good as it does here. Colors are vibrant, blacks rock solid and skin tones warm. Despite the preponderance of spaceship beeps and blips, Silent Running remains a rather flat sounding film. The sound of the Dobly Digital monaural audio is most notable when Peter Schickele's score and Joan Baez's songs take center stage.
Charles L. Barbee's 50-minute making-of Silent Running documentary is perhaps the most notable feature on this unusually meaty edition of the Douglas Trumbull's über-sci-fi classic. Go behind-the-scenes and see how Trumbull modernized the ocean liner Valley Forge and created the film's environmentally sound spaceship. On the film's commentary track, Trumbull and Dern discuss Soylent Green, Hitckcock, Kubrick, Dern's motivation (he imagined being stranded in the Sierras with three dogs to get into the Lowell role) and his five o'clock shadow. On "A Conversation with Bruce Dern," the actor acknowledges Trumbull's talents and remembers when the astronauts-turned-advisors from the miniseries "Space" asked him how it felt to be aboard the Silent Running biospheres. The incisive, 30-minute "Silent Running by Douglas Trumbull" delves into the Universal independent streak of the Easy Rider era, the autobiographical nature of Lowell's character and who exactly was walking inside the film's drones. Also included here is a here-and-now featurette on Trumbull, the film's theatrical trailer, production notes and cast and crew filmographies.
Trumbull is no Kubrick but fans of his campy Silent Running will applaud Universal's generous DVD treatment.