Dark Star (1974) – John Carpenter

The 101 Sci-Fi Movies brings us some John Carpenter (and my fave ones are coming up a little later in the list as well!). Dark Star is an odd little film, featuring discussions of philosophy with self-aware bombs, attacks by an alien that is literally a beach ball with feet, and some really goofy effects.

Dan O’Bannon (who also plays Pinback in the film), who would later go on to help create the world of Alien introduces us to some working class guys, who don’t seem to like each other very much, and are all in need of a shave.

The crew of the ship, Dark Star are on an extended cruise through the universe seeking out and destroying unstable planets, leaving the stable ones behind for safe colonization. They feel like they’ve been out there for ever, they work in cramped spaces, share cramped quarters, and only Talby (Dre Pahich) seems at ease, keeping himself to himself at his station on the ships observation bubble.

For those expecting the awesomeness of The Thing, or the sheer enjoyment of Big Trouble In Little China, you’ll be sorely disappointed. There is a sense of humor running through it, but it’s not quite the eccentric style Carpenter later perfected.

Dark-Star-1974-006Pinback isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he misses their dead (but not quite) Captain, and is easily outwitted by a beach ball alien, and gets stuck in an elevator. Doolittle (Brian Narelle) lives up to his name, although he’s now the de facto leader of the mission he’d rather be surfing. Boiler (Cal Kuniholm) just seems anti-social, and like break the rules when he can.

The ship is falling apart, and a tumble through an asteroid field short circuits part of the command system. This starts a whole chain of events with Bomb 20, who insists he has his orders and wants to carry them out.

Things quickly fall apart as they romp across the universe, and Doolittle is forced to have a long talk about life, consciousness and perception of reality with Bomb 20 to talk it out of detonating, as the release clamps aren’t working, and will take the ship and the crew with it in the explosion.

darkstar4The film has been referred to The Space Oddity, a riff on 2001, and that is what it is. An oddity. The effects are put together on a shoe-string budget, it started as a student film, but there’s something to it. Even now, after having just watched it, I’m toying with the idea of going back and re-watching it. There’s a lot of wit in the script, as well as a lot of silly humor.

Over the years it has garnered a huge cult following, and you can see the crew of the Dark Star as relatives to the ill-fated crew of the Nostromo.

As mentioned it’s not my fave Carpenter film, but it is an interesting take on the sci-fi comedy, no more so than the film’s climax, where Doolittle realizes one of his dreams, as does Talby…

Just odd.

What did you think?



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