Dark Star (1974)
By: David Michael Brown on November 17, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 2.0. 83 minutes
The Movie
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahlch, Dan O' Bannon
Screenplay: John Carpenter, Dan O' Bannon
Country: USA
External Links
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John Carpenter will always be known as a master of suspense. He may have blotted his copy book of late with the woeful likes of Escape from LA and Village of the Damned but back in the good old days he do no wrong. From the moment he assaulted Precinct 13 to his chilling remake of Howard Hawks The Thing From Another World, he created the template for the modern horror film and with Halloween he directed one of the most successful independent films of all time.

It all started with a little student film called Dark Star. Four drugged out astronauts are floating in space on a mission to destroy unstable planets from outer galaxies using intelligent bombs. After a collision with a meteorite field their ship is invaded by a strange alien being and things start to go wrong as the already fragile psyches of the space travellers begin to unravel under the pressures of being in zero gravity for decades.

Co-written and starring Dan O' Bannon, one of the creative force behind Ridley Scott's Alien, this stoners in space comedy shows little of the virtuoso storytelling of Carpenter's later work but is an intriguing glimpse into what was to come. The film may lack the prosthetic mayhem of Rob Bottin or the prowling camerawork of Dean Cundey, but many of the hallmark characteristics of Carpenters later work can be seen in a somewhat embryonic state. Despite the low budget (this was a student film) the film holds up remarkably well. Yes, the acting is poor and the special effects are anything but, yet there is something about the film that works.

The talking, malfunctioning bombs and the seductive voice of the ships central computer are obvious homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, while Kubrick's was stately but sterile and ultra realistic vision, Carpenters has to settle for grungy space chic on a shoestring. The alien in particular is delightfully simplistic affair resembling a space hopper on steroids falling somewhere between a giant beachball and an over ripe extra from The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

The score is one area where Carpenter has always excelled; the music for his early repertoire like Assault on Precinct 13, Escape From New York and Halloween still resonate today and with Dark Star, you can see the sonic inspiration is on its way without quite hitting the notes of his next few projects. Dark Star is a fascinating and important glimpse into the fledgling mind of an independent great.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting anything in terms of a high quality visual presentation and therefore I was not disappointed. Let's face it, this originated as a student film, the budget was below low budget. The image is grainy and not particularly sharp but is colourful and watchable, which isn't a bad outcome, all things considered.  
Again, at this level of filmmaking we're lucky that the stereo was recorded at all. It easy noisy, distorted and full of hiss with next to no effort made to clean it up.
Extra Features
The delightfully designed menu's lead the viewer to two different versions of the film; the extended 83 minute directors cut and Carpenter's original 73 minute student film. The two cuts are joined by cast and crew profiles and the theatrical trailer.
The Verdict
For its place in fantasy cinema history and an example of the fledgling director John Carpenter's early talent, Dark Star is a fascinating snapshot of what is to come. Funnily enough after Carpenter's recent, less than fantastic track record, it's actually way better than some of his big budget Hollywood forays.
Movie Score
Disc Score
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