Dark Star (1974)
Written by: John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon
Directed by: John Carpenter
After a hilarious and bittersweet crawl written by Mr. Dan O’Bannon at the start of VCI Entertainment’s Hyperdrive Edition of Dark Star (releasing on Oct 26), I was stricken all over by the fact that we’ll never have another film by this amazingly talented renaissance man. Just realizing all the hats he wore not only on this production, but many of his other iconic works, made me realize just what a loss we’ve suffered with his recent passing. It’s with a heavy heart I once again revisit an old favorite.
Paying respect to O’Bannon and his first brilliant film (the directorial debut of fellow icon John Carpenter) on its 36 1/2 year anniversary, VCI Entertainment has unleashed a monstrous Dark Star DVD. The attentive folks at VCI have put together an impressive collection of interviews, documentaries, and other assorted features and treats to go along with a full digital restoration of Dark Star’s 35mm transfer, and man, does it look swell. Lifelong fans of Dark Star such as myself will remember many murky VHS editions that dulled the flashy colors of the film. Now, we’re able to fully appreciate the explosion of color and light that permeates with lush red, green, and blue tones. We’re finally able to experience the asteroid storm to its full effect. When planets are blown up, we are awash in the fiery debris. The soundtrack, featuring John Carpenter’s electrifying score and the various bloops, bleeps, whooshes, and alien screams of the sound design have also been digitally enhanced for a very well-rounded viewing experience.
The product of budding USC film students John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon, Dark Star is a romp of a science fiction action movie. However, I wouldn’t quite call it a parody. It is clearly a funny film, but taken with the utmost seriousness for the genre and audience. Sure, it has many of the usual goofiness of ultra low budget films, but there’s something endearing about the entire thing that the viewer can forgive a little shaky acting and “thrifty” set pieces.
We are on a journey through the deepest of deep space with the crew of Dark Star, the scout ship housing the Advanced Exploration Corps who travel through space to eradicate “unstable planets” using an arsenal of intelligent bombs. The crew consists of daydreaming surfer Pinback, Lt. “don’t give me intelligent life, give me something to blow up” Doolittle, laser targeting obsessed Boiler, loner Talby, and the dead, cryogenically frozen Commander Powell, a motley team of space travelers, each dealing with their own issues in the confined space of the Dark Star. Having been on their mission for many years, they each have their own ways of dealing with boredom while staving off outright space madness. There’s a hitch in the mission when their computer begins malfunctioning, a dangerous alien escapes from confinement, and they must deal with Thermostellar Bomb #20, a bomb that mistakes itself for god.
Despite the limitations of an extremely small budget, Dark Star triumphs as a science fiction film that can stand toe-to-toe against films with many times its budget. The innovation of the crew and special effects artists pushes it beyond just being a goofy sci-fi flick and into territory where the audience can really be wowed by the images on display. It’s a testament to the visual and special effects teams supervised by Dan O’Bannon that the film still stands up with some impressive visuals. It’s really quite fascinating to see what they accomplished on spare change and elbow grease, particularly after the insight from the making-of featurettes. Making a beach ball menacing is no easy feat, after all.
All in all, Dark Star is an intelligent, funny, and yes, thought-provoking movie produced during an era when mavericks still snuck into buildings to shoot last minute scenes or built sets from junk sitting around the house. There’s a reason why people still seek out Dark Star after all these years. Just wanted to again mention the plethora of great features including the feature length documentary “Let There Be Light”, a 3D animated tour of the Dark Star ship, the original and extended versions of the film, interviews with Brian Narelle, author Alan Dean Foster, and most special of all, Dan O’Bannon’s final interview. With three hours of bonuses and the care put into them, this is one of the essential DVD's of 2010.