Made in 1974 as a student project on a practically non-existent budget, Dark
Star went on to garner a minor cult following as the years passed by.
Its distributors saw its potential, but didn't exactly know what to do with
it and so Dark Star disappeared upon its initial release. However,
with time it became one of the cult sci-fi items. Forget
"cult" favorites such as Blade Runner
or 2001: A Space Odyssey, the true litmus test of
the uber sci-fi geek is whether he or she owns Dark Star. (Another
mid-'Seventies sci-fi oddity for the uber-geek: A Boy
and His Dog.)
A skit on the pretentiousness of Kubrick's 2001, the movie's title
refers to the name of a spaceship whose crew of bored surfer dudes has been
destroying unstable planets for the past twenty years or so. Because of the
distances involved (as Carl Sagan once famously intoned "space is very
big") space travel would be a long-winded and tiresome process because
of the distances involved. Forget about zipping around the galaxy like in Star
Trek - in reality space travel would be a tedious and boring prospect. Dark
Star is one of the few movies to brilliantly illustrate this. The film
is comic in tone instead of trying to be laugh-out loud funny. Only one
sequence involving an unlikely alien mascot had me laughing out aloud.
The two major creative forces behind the movie went on to bigger things.
Director John Carpenter went on to produce a huge hit with Halloween.
He also made cult favorites such as Escape from
New York, The Thing, Starman
and They Live as well as dreck such as Ghosts
of Mars, a dismal remake of Village of the
Damned and Memoirs of an Invisible Man.
Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon recycled elements from Dark Star for his
script for the seminal Alien (1979) movie,
before writing the likes of Total Recall and Screamers.
Made for very very cheap, the film's special effects sequences may
have been very inventive for its time, but today Dark Star's aching
cheapness is very apparent. It's a bad movie at heart, sure, but it is also
very funny and clever. However, whether today's clean cut Hitler youth
weaned on slick entertainment such as The Matrix
and its ilk will appreciate the 'Seventies college humor is seriously
I first saw Dark Star back in the days when the VHS and Betamax
video formats were battling it out (I just gave away my age there, didn't
I?). Back then I had to view the movie at a friend's who had Betamax since I
couldn't find a copy of it on VHS. Since then I couldn't find a copy of it
anywhere in South Africa (where I live) and only recently got some relatives
who visit the UK regularly to buy me a copy. Somehow I just doubt that your
local Blockbusters would stock this one.
THE DISC: To be honest there is really no point to viewing or owning Dark
Star on DVD. By this I am not saying that it is a bad movie or anything,
but that it isn't particularly suited to the medium as such. The movie,
never quite featuring spiffy production values, has poor sound. At times
ambient noise drowned out the dialogue and I had a tough time making out
some dialogue. Also, the print used is very poor. It is quite scratched and
there is a lot of visual "noise."
Let's be honest: you might as
well buy the movie on VHS (heh-heh) and save yourself a lot of money because
of this. The only additional features are a misleading trailer (no wonder no
one bothered watching it upon its first release!) and some skimpy production
notes on Carpenter and O'Bannon. (Strangely enough this is a letterboxed
version while the film was originally full-screen. Go figure.)
WORTH IT? Not really.
RECOMMENDATION: Dark Star doesn't look or sound
particularly good on DVD. While I suppose that this was the best that could
be done under the circumstances (for a student movie shot on 16mm over 25
years ago) one might as well buy the cheaper VHS tape. But this "Waiting
for Godot in space" as its director aptly dubbed it, is essential
viewing for the true sci-fi geek . . .