Logline: Things go terribly wrong for a small crew of astronauts traveling through the far reaches of space.
Dark Star is a solid debut from John Carpenter, who wrote the film with Dan O’Bannon while they were students at the University of Southern California. Originally a student film, Dark Star was seen by producer Jack H. Harris, who obtained the rights. After additional footage was shot, Dark Star was released theatrically in April, 1974 to a mixed reception. It has since become a cosmic cult classic.
Dark Star signaled the arrival of two new talents – John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon. Carpenter would go on to direct such classics as Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982) and O’Bannon would go on to write such films as Alien (1979) and Total Recall (1990). Carpenter directed, produced, and scored Dark Star while O’Bannon edited and starred in the film as Sgt. Pinback. He also acted as a production designer and visual effects supervisor.
Dark Star is crude and a little rough around the edges but has a certain charm. The film is a comedy that subverts long established sci-fi tropes. Instead of the clean-cut action heroes seen in sci-fi films of the 1950s and 60s, the characters in Dark Star are bearded hippies. These blue-collar astronauts are not unlike the crew of the Nostromo in Alien. It is easy to see how Dark Star served as the prototype for Alien, especially during a sequence in which Pinback chases after the infamous “beachball” alien.
The film is quite funny at times. In one exceptionally funny scene, Pinback replays clips from his video diary in which he complains about his other crew members. There are also elements that parody Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that work remarkably well.
Despite its simplicity, Dark Star is a solid film in its own right. It launched the career of one of genre cinema’s most talented auteurs – John Carpenter and had a huge influence on science fiction films in the years to come.
Rating (out of ****): ***