For his first feature as director, Douglas Trumbull applied the state-of-the-art special effects he helped develop for 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Andromeda Strain to bring an impassioned ecological parable to life. Bruce Dern oscillates between hostility and gentleness in his portrayal of Freeman Lowell, a botanist—and lone idealist—overseeing a group of greenhouse spaceships carrying Earth’s last remaining vegetation. His three colleagues merely want to go home, and they gladly accept an order from Earth to destroy their green cargo, but Lowell—along with his robot companions Huey, Dewey, and Louie—takes matters into his own hands. Technically sublime, from the sumptuous garden imagery of its opening credits to its views of Saturn looming over botanic geodesic domes, the film provides a vivid expression of the need to preserve vegetable life at all costs. Trumbull achieved a budget-conscious authenticity by filming on slightly remodeled sections of a retired aircraft carrier and using a variety of front projection screens for windows. Inspired by performers in Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932), Trumbull cast four bilateral amputee actors to play the squat, two-legged robots that waddle around assisting Lowell. Their cute design and human-inflected movements are clear forerunners to later movie droids.
Bing Theater | Included with admission to Phase IV ; $5 for Silent Running only | Tickets: 323 857-6010 or purchase online.