238. Dark Star (US 1974)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahich, Dan O'Bannon
Cinematography: Douglas Knapp
Original Music: Carpenter
Bit Part: Nick Castle (Carpenter’s screenwriting collaborator on Escape From New York) as Beach Ball Alien.
FACT: O’Bannon went on to write Alien: Carpenter went on to direct Ghosts of Mars – one of the worst science fiction films ever made.
Dooliittle, Boiler, Talby and Pinback cruise the outer fringes of the universe looking for unstable planets to destroy. It is the 22nd century and technological advances have allowed such areas to be colonised.
Star is now into the twentieth year of its mission. Its original commander is
dead, although he is occasionally revived from his cryogenic stasis when the
situation demands. The other four astronauts are bored of their routine. Boiler
is the uncommunicative bully; Doolittle, the reluctant new leader of the mission
wants to get home to his surfboard; Talby is a dreamer who sits in his
observation bubble watching the stars and waiting for the reappearance of the
crew of Dark Star use ‘exponential thermostellar bombs’ to destroy the unstable
planets. When a communications laser malfunctions, it sets off a chain of
reactions which leads to ‘Bomb Number 20’ refusing to return to its bomb bay
or to deviate from its planned mission of exploding.
walks in space and follows the dead Commander Powell’s advice to use
‘phenomenology’ to convince the bomb to think for itself and refuse
the erroneous command.
Doolittle’s teaching is ironically successful.
hippie riposte to 2001 has lots to admire, but it’s a film that thinks itself
a little cleverer than it actually is. The film started off as a student project
- and often it shows. The effects were tarted up and half an hour of action was
added to beef it up to theatrical release length.
film’s title is an obvious clue to its director’s early leanings and
influences – as well as being an astronomical phenomenon, Dark Star was a
crowd pleasing favourite of the ultimate horrible hippie band The Grateful Dead.
Dark Star’s crew are long haired beardies obsessed with the dead (Commander
Powell); the mystic nature of the universe (especially the ‘far out’ light
patterns of the
(Kuniholm) is more the bullying jock than the peaceful hippie of modern folklore
and Pinback (O’Bannon) is the comedy Shakespearian lower-order foil, but
Doolittle, Talby and even the dead Commander Powell are the genuine articles.
lot of the comedy in Dark Star wasn’t that good to start off with and thus has
aged even more pronouncedly than the threadbare special effects. There are
terrible longeurs throughout the film and O’Bannon is not just unfunny, but
often plain embarrassing. Nobody offered O’Bannon any more comedy roles after
seeing his ‘Pinback’. The ‘classic’ beach ball alien encounter is
equally turgid and must have seemed hilarious to the guys at the time.
has its moments, though. The encounters with the cryogenically frozen
Powell are genuinely eerie and Carpenter’s use of minimalist electronica to
evoke the vastness, loneliness and scariness of space are often very effective.
The planet destroying sequence and the ship’s hyperspace escape (mainly
created by flashing coloured lights) are unusually effective and there are a
number of excellent exchanges of dialogue (particularly between Doolittle and
Talby) about the essential sadness of the human condition which make up for some
of the lamer comedy sequences.
ending’s an homage/rip-off of Kubricks’s Doctor
Strangelove, as Doolittle
finally gets his chance to return to his surfer origins.
Not the most satisfactory of films, but enjoyable in parts and it does make you think about how Carpenter, an advocate of hippie ideals, became the staunch advocate of non-PC nonsense as is evidenced in his later films.