Starring Brian Narelle, Dan O’Bannon, Cal Kuniholm Dre Pahich
It’s the 22nd Century, and the hapless crew of Dark Star are tasked with blowing up unstable planets that might prove hazardous to future colonisation. As well as asteroid storms, an impish alien and a philosophical bomb, the crew members have to fend off mind-crushing boredom…
Dark Star is the antithesis of epic, event-filled space opera. The story hones in on the minutiae of everyday life aboard the titular spaceship – repetitive chicken dinners, slowly deteriorating mental faculties, petty squabbles between crew members, the tedium of downtime. Even the most celebrated sequences – Pinback’s conflict with a mischievous beach ball-shaped alien (which Dan O’Bannon later reworked in more serious fashion with Alien) and Lt Doolittle’s attempts to reason with a bomb – are resolutely lo-fi, as you’d expect from a feature that’s been expanded from a student film.
In place of elaborate space battles and cutting-edge effects, it’s the irritable banter, the wonderfully deadpan cast and the story’s clever blend of the surreal and mundane that make an impact here. Saying that, the effects hold up pretty well considering the tiny budget – the sets and costumes may consist of Hoover tubes, polystyrene and packing tape, but Carpenter’s energy and visual flair ensure you don’t notice.
If you don’t own it already, this blu-ray edition is well worth picking up. The highlight is a new documentary entitled Let There Be Light. Carpenter doesn’t appear in person unfortunately (though tape recordings are played over shots of the frozen Commander Powell), but other key cast and crew are on hand to offer recollections about the movie’s difficult genesis.
VERDICT: A hilarious and unforgettable space-com classic. Every viewing throws up new rewards. 9/10