Dark Star (1974)

DARK STAR (1974)
Article 1926 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-23-2006
Posting Date: 11-20-2006
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahich

A group of space travellers are travelling throughout the universe, destroying planets with unstable orbits so that the solar systems will be safe for colonization. However, they’ve been in space so long, they’ve become careless, clumsy and hostile to each other.

At the time of this writing, this is my favorite John Carpenter movie. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that I am by no means well versed in his oeuvre; for example, I’ve never seen HALLOWEEN, largely due to the role it played in kicking off the whole slasher genre, a trend for which I have little affection. However, I’ve been intrigued about this movie ever since I read about it in Danny Peary’s Cult Movie books, and once I managed to catch it on TV one evening, I’ve been a big fan of it ever since.

The movie is extremely cheap, somewhat off-putting, a little dullish at times, the acting is inconsistent, but it also had me doubled over with laughter for a good stretch of its running time. In particular, the two main comic set-pieces of this movie are classics. The first involves an attempt by one of the crew members to force a now-hated alien-turned-pet (“When I brought you on board, I thought you were cute!”) back into his room, a quest that lands the crew member into hilarious peril in an elevator shaft. Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the script and plays the part of the hapless crew member Pinback, would later retool some of these concepts for his script for ALIEN . The other scene involves the crew trying to contend with the fact that one of their sentient planet-destroying bombs, primed and ready to explode, cannot be dropped from the bomb bay due to a computer malfunction and is preparing to destroy them all. I won’t give away the details of how this crisis was handled other than to say that there are times when a solid grounding on philosophical concepts can save your life. Beyond that, my favorite scene involves the playback of Pinback’s video diary (which looks suspiciously like an eight-track). The theme song is a bizarre little country song called “Benson, Arizona”, and music from “The Marriage of Figaro” is also used to great comic effect. The ending of the movie owes more than a little to Ray Bradbury’s short story, “Kaleidoscope”; in fact, the similarities are so startling, that I do find myself wondering whether they were purposefully lifted from the story. Nonetheless, this is my favorite science fiction comedy. It also makes the best use of a beach ball I’ve ever seen in a movie.


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