STARRING: Brian Narelle, Andreijah Pahich, Carl Duniholm, Dan O'Bannon

1974, 83 Minutes, Directed by: John Carpenter

Description: The Dark Star's crew is on a 20-year mission to destroy unstable planets and make way for future colonization. The smart bombs they use to effect this zoom off cheerfully to do their duty. But unlike Star Trek, in which order prevails, the nerves of this crew are becoming increasingly frayed to the point of psychosis.

The making of Dark Star is pure movie legend by now: how it was made by the young John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon while still film school students at USC Film School for a mere $60 000 in the early-1970s. In case you were wondering: even back then it was next to nothing. How they wangled financing and used everyday household objects (such as tin containers) in their costumes, etc.

Both Carpenter and O'Bannon went on to bigger things and mainstream Hollywood: later Carpenter would make the unexpected Halloween hit and didn't have to beg for money to make his movies anymore and O'Bannon went on to write the script for Alien.

The plot is something only film school students making an independent film could get away with: the Dark Star in question is a star ship that floats around endlessly in space looking for unstable planets to demolish. If they find one, they hover over it and drop a bomb on it, blowing the planet to smithereens. But mostly they float around aimlessly. The captain is dead and kept in cryogenic suspension, while the acting commander does nothing else than stare at the stars all day long. Lots of jokes about existentialism, Albert Camus and surfing.

Things come to a head when a bomb is activated while still in the bombing bay, threatening to explode, taking the ship and its crew with it. ("I think I'm going to explode," it says at one stage.) It's up to a hapless crew member to convince it not to and they engage in a conversation al á Descartes on whether the bomb actually exists and its instructions to explode are actually valid. It is a sharply written scene worthy of any piece of absurdist theatre.

Exploding, being after all its reason d'etre, the bomb does go off, and the two crew members are sent scattering through space - one of which takes the opportunity before they die to think of it as an opportunity to surf - a scene reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's sci-fi short story "Kaleidoscope" about a group of astronauts floating away from each other in space after their ship has exploded.

O'Bannon would later employ elements from this early movie in his Alien script - the Nostromo acting as a double for the Dark Star.


Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick: Made by cult director John (Escape from New York, The Thing) Carpenter while still a film school student, Dark Star runs like a mixture between French absurdist theatre and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The effects are surprisingly good for such a cheaply made movie.


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