Title: Dark Star
Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy
Director: John Carpenter
Music: John Carpenter
Cinematography: Douglas Knapp
DARK STAR is John Carpenter’s debut feature morphed from his student project and cobbled together with a flyweight budget of $60,000.
The time-line is the mid-22nd century, a scout-ship named “Dark Star” has been carrying its mission of obliterating “unstable” planets in the galaxy for over 20 years, a preliminary step for mankind’s space colonization (a hobbyhorse persists against time), whereas the remaining four crew members have aged only 3 years (their captain died of a seat panel malfunction during hyperdrive, his body is preserved in a cryogenic state with his mind still alive and kicking to spread wisdom when the crunch comes) and inured to the journey’s built-in boredom and incessant, pesky mechanical hiccups.
Shot in conspicuously iridescent back-projections and matte technique with shoddy props to trump up proto-analogue space environs, the film strides ebulliently in its tongue-in-cheek mockery of the loneliness and nihilism bred out of a monotonous space odyssey, a hearty episode of Sg. Pinback (O’Bannon, a jack-of-all-trade who would get his fa me as a co-creator of ALIEN franchise) trying to lay his hands on the beachball-like alien pet within the ship’s two-by-four interior comes off as a sidebar lark playing with optical illusions, but also manifests his crashing tedium and angst of being under-appreciated by his fellows, not to mention he is not even the real Sg. Pinback, his name is Bill Froug, a fuel specialist mistakenly takes Pinback’s place, meanwhile, Lt. Doolittle (Narelle) and Astronaut Talby (Pahich) engage a melancholic convo redolent of bland nostalgia and self-absorption which doesn’t go anywhere.
This version of director’s cut runs a concise 71 minutes, and what leavens this psychotronic incipient work to something of a cult classic is Carpenter and co-writer O’Bannon’s innovative idea holds sway the latter part of their project, sending up an existential crisis of a talking bomb in a time-ticking fashion, only jocosely but fatally boomerangs on the entire crew’s undoing, with no recourse to money-aided visual grandeur, it is the hippie ethos of its time charms us and makes us giggling, slack-jawed and adequately thrilled by its cockamamie payoff. Overall, it is a commendable labor-of-love from a semi-professional teamwork, quirky, spacey and not without coruscating brainwaves.
referential points: Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968, 9.8/10); Fred M. Wilcox’s FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956, 7.2/10); George Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971, 5.4/10).