Dark Star (1974)

This film, directed by John Carpenter, has all of the elements of an exquisitely-made, cheesy, outer space, science fiction film. It really reinforces the notion that just about ANYBODY can make a film, with pretty much any prop they have lying around the house, and have that film be distributed and cultified throughout the generations.

I’m a big fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey (the film and the series of books), and this parody of 2001 was a real treat. But the term parody is used quite loosely because the part of Dark Star that was trying to imitate 2001 was a very short segment that ended quite differently than the Kubrick/Clarke endeavor. 2001 had the super computer, Hal. Dark Star had, I guess we could call them, ‘smart bombs.’  The crewmen would talk to the bombs (they were interstellar detonation devices), ask how they were doing, and ask them to arm themselves. Of course, one bomb developed a sort of self-awareness (due to none other than a human mistake) and ended up blasting the ship to bits along with one of the crewmen (oh, wait, two of the crewmen: one was in cryo-freeze).

Speaking of cryo-freeze, John Carpenter also capitalized on another theme from another SF great: Philip K. Dick’s 1969 novel, Ubik, in which talking to individuals in cryo-freeze was part of the narrative.

The absolute best part of the entire film, besides Lt. Doolittle surfing into the atmosphere of the planet they were going to blow up ontop of a surfboard of spacecraft debris, was the gas-bag alien that Sgt. Pinback had an extended scene with.

This gas-bag alien was just an orange beach ball, probably 2 feet in diameter, that someone airbrushed a bunch of brown spots onto, and attached monster feet to. The gas-bag alien was unusually nimble and dextrous, able to move around quickly and in tight quarters. It also was quite smart and led Sgt. Pinback almost to his own death.

It is props like this that make the not-so-special effects in this film remarkable. It’s pure. It’s unadulterated. It’s silly. It’s brilliant. It’s simple.

There isn’t much to say analytically about this film other than to point out that Carpenter appropriated elements from other successful SF texts into this one. As far as the plot and dialogue goes, it was a relatively simple film. But it induced a lot of laughs and stupefied moments of perplexity.

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