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Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) and drones Dewey and Huey tend to a space garden in SILENT RUNNING

Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) and drones Dewey and Huey tend to a space garden in SILENT RUNNING

SILENT RUNNING (Douglas Trumbull, 1972)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Sunday, June 28, free with museum admission of $12, 7:00
Series continues through July 12

Special effects master Douglas Trumbull, who worked on such sci-fi classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner, made his feature directorial debut with the environmentally prescient Silent Running. Bruce Dern stars as Freeman Lowell, one of four men stationed on the space terrarium Valley Forge, which is charged with protecting forests that can no longer grow on Earth. While it’s just another assignment for John Keenan (Cliff Potts), Marty Barker (Ron Rifkin), and Andy Wolf (Jesse Vint), it’s become an obsession for Lowell, who sleeps under a “Conservation Pledge” on the wall next to his bed and only eats food from his massive garden. But when the captain of the Berkshire (voiced by Joseph Campanella) informs them that the forests must be destroyed and they are to return home, Lowell takes matters into his own hands, fighting to protect what he has helped create. Soon he is alone on the Valley Forge, tending to the forest with drones Huey (Cheryl Sparks) and Dewey (Mark Persons), as Louie (Steven Brown) is no longer with them. At first Lowell thinks he is in his own private paradise, but extreme loneliness awaits him, along with some other shocks. Written by Deric Washburn and Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) and Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law), the low-budget Silent Running is a deserving cult classic, a worthy influence on such films and television shows as WALL-E, Moon, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Red Dwarf. Emerging from the late-1960s Flower Power movement, the film’s ecological theme is boosted by environmentally friendly folk songs sung by Joan Baez, with overly melodramatic music by Peter Schickele. Dern gives a beautifully nuanced performance as Lowell, going from calm and meditative to distressed and angry in a heartbeat, and his paternal relationship with Huey and Dewey is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. A film that could only be made in the 1970s, with bright, bold colors and cheesy futuristic sets, Silent Running is screening June 28 at 7:00 as part of the Museum of the Moving Image’s “See It Big! Science Fiction (Part Two)” series, which continues through July 12 with such other sci-fi flicks as Alain Resnais’s Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm, and Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!

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