The Dark Star is a scout ship, sent out with its remaining crew of four – Doolittle (Brian Narelle), Pinback (Dan O’Bannon), Boiler (Cal Kuniholm), and Talby (Dre Pahich) – to ready the universe for human colonization. That is achieved by blowing up unstable planets that could get in the way, something that they’ve been doing for 20 years now. But time hasn’t been kind neither to them, nor their sanity nor their equipment, and so things are really starting to go to shit.
Dark Star was fantastically absurd. It’s a wonderfully strange and absolutely funny film – and the only one of the Carpenter movies I saw that gives In the Mouth of Madness serious competition for the position of my personal favorite. I loved it.
Dark Star is the first feature of both Carpenter and O’Bannon, a student project for both of them that was later reworked to become a little longer so it would cross the magic 80 minute mark, turning it officially into a feature and not a short film. Some of that is pretty notable in the film: parts of it feel drawn out unnecessarily, the small budget is obvious (although well-handled), and there are some rookie mistakes in the filmmaking. And of course, it wouldn’t have hurt at all if at least one of the crew members had been female or anything other than white.
But nevertheless, it’s a fantastic film. Where it isn’t actually good, you can still see a whole lot of potential. And it has been a while that I laughed about a film that much. The alien alone that Pinback captures to be their mascot and that terrorizes him afterwards is brilliant – from design to its antics. And I simply loved everything that involved Bomb #20.
The film proves that you don’t need much to tell a creative story and to make it work. It works particularly well when the people involved put some passion into it. And that is the feeling I got from Dark Star: they had fun doing it and they were passionate about it.
While the film does poke fun at many genre conventions and 2001 in its entirety, it obviously comes from a place of love for the genre and is never mean-spirited about it. Plus, its humor doesn’t hinge on it being a parody, which is in itself quite the achievement and makes the film great, even if you aren’t that well-versed in space operas etc. I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t make you laugh at some point.