Dark Star

Starring: Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, et al. 
Director: John Carpenter
Edition Details: Region 2 encoding (Europe, Middle East & Japan only)
Widescreen, PAL


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 doubtful.

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 . . .



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