Plot: What’s it about?
As mankind reaches the middle of the 21rst century the need for interstellar colonization and exploration is great, but with all the abandon planets and junk floating around how are folks supposed to know which places are safe to establish colonies? That’s where the crew of Dark Star comes in and as the scout ship travels through space it locates unstable planets and such, then blasts them into the outer reaches of the cosmos. The idea of destroying an entire planet might seem like a chore to some, but with exponential thermostellar bombs as weapons there’s never a problem. But on a routine mission to inspect a potentially unstable planet, something does go wrong and the crew finds themselves in serious danger. It seems as though one of the super powered bombs has become stuck in the deployment area and is threatening the lives of the entire crew. The bomb threatens the crew in a strange fashion, as it talks to them and the crew knows the bomb is smart so they don’t attempt to cross it. How will this interstellar pickle become solved?
When it comes to low budget cosmic comedies, it just doesn’t get much better than this early effort from John Carpenter and Ed O’Bannon. While both went on to bigger and better things in the realm of cinema, fans will always hold a special place in their hearts for this hilarious flick. This was supposed to be a 68 minute student film, but a producer managed to persuade the pair to extend the movie to full length for a theatrical run. But years later Carpenter and O’Bannon reissued the film in their original vision, which was of course much shorter than the theatrical version. This disc contains both versions of the film, so now we can all choose which cut we prefer without purchasing multiple copies. As for the film itself, this is a low budget space based comedy and though the financial issue shows, it still turns out to be entertaining effort. Some of the writing is downright hilarious and the characters deliver their lines to perfection, which means dry and monotone for the most part. If you’re a science-fiction nut who’s looking for a change for pace this would serve the purpose well, but I have to recommend a rental before you buy because this certainly isn’t for everyone.
This film was directed by John Carpenter, who of course went on to direct a plethora of successful science-fiction/horror films. This movie seems far removed from his later works, but his sense of humor and overall presence are still found in even this very early work. Carpenter’s knack for science-fiction is obvious in this film and even though he spoofs many conventions of the genre, it seems to be all in good fun. This is much of a comedy than we’re used to from Carpenter, but at all times the humor appears smooth and never forced or hollow. Aside from the shock of a non 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this is very much a John Carpenter movie from top to bottom. If you want to see more of Carpenter’s movies I recommend Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, In The Mouth Of Madness, Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, and Assault On Precinct 13. Carpenter also helped write this screenplay along with Dan O’Bannon, who went on to write some superb screenplays after this project. O’Bannon also penned the stories or screenplays for Alien, Total Recall, Lifeforce, Screamers, and Bleeders. O’Bannon serves as an actor as well and is joined by a decent cast, given the nature of this film. The cast includes Cal Kuniholm, Brian Narelle, and Dre Pahich.
Video: How does it look?
Dark Star is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, which is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. Given the nature of this movie this is a very nice looking transfer, but some problems still emerge at times. The image has some faded sequences, some of that fuzziness we expect from older low budget pictures, and other source material issues, but on the whole this is about the best the fans of this film have seen it look. The colors seem bright and show little softness, while flesh tones appear warm and consistent. The contrast, though soft in a few scenes comes across well and I never noticed serious problems with shadow depth or detail level. This isn’t a perfect transfer, but fans of the movie will be quite pleased.
Audio: How does it sound?
This release contains a newly minted Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but you’d never know it by listening to this disc. The rear channels see very little action and this seems to be little more than a stereo track with some directional use. But that’s not to say it sounds bad because it doesn’t, I just expected more of a full surround experience. The music sounds good and shows no distortion, while the hilarious sound effects are crisp and clear also. The dialogue is the main focus though and it sounds good, with no volume hassles or other issues.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As I mentioned above this release contains both versions of the film which I consider to be an excellent bonus, but you’ll also find some talent files and the theatrical trailer.