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Dark Star

(1971) rated: G

Director: John Carpenter

Starring: Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahich, and Dan O'Bannon.

Synopsis: Welcome aboard the Dark Star, a ship sent into deep space on a seemingly endless mission to destroy unstable planets. The ship itself is falling apart as are the crew as they deal with such nonsense as a runaway alien and a "smart" bomb that thinks it should explode when it shouldn't.

Review: John Carpenter's goofy sci-fi debut is a charming and unusual experience that presents a comical look at the future of mankind. John Carpenter co-wrote the story with Dan O'Bannon, who would go on to write the classic Alien. Dark Star is a precursor to Alien in many ways; both films demystify the glorious and adventurous aspects of space travel in favor of the desolate, rotting agony of everyday life in space. In these films, the protagonists are not brave explorers of the vast expanses of space; they are just normal people with a job for a huge corporation whose only concern is money.

Despite its low budget origins, the movie has become a cult classic and is frequently viewed between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00 AM. This isn't a brilliant social commentary, but it manages to pull a few strings that make it an enjoyable experience. The first hour or so of the film wanders around without any discernable point and though there are a few glimpses of Carpenter's future ability to create suspense, there really isn't much going on. That is a bit misleading, however, because the film is not boring or uninteresting. For example, at one point the ships acting commander, Doolittle, reports back to earth that: "Storage Area Nine self destructed last week and destroyed the ship's entire supply of toilet paper." The "smart" bombs and the ship's computer have a bubbly personality that is quite unnerving (a clever jab at HAL 9000 from 2001). Absurd things like this are the strength of this movie. ( I also love the scene where the computer informs Pinback that he has to feed the alien, which comes in the form of a beach ball, because he thought the ship could use a cute mascot. LOL!)

The ending of the film in which the crew attempts to talk a malfunctioning "smart" bomb out of exploding while stuck on the ship was the best part of the film. This scene somehow managed to be humorous, philosophical and suspenseful. This is yet another example of the absurd in this movie. However, once the film ended, I felt just like I did while I was watching most of the film: indifferent. The funny thing is, I think that was what Carpenter and O'Bannon were going for. Not terribly moving, but still enjoyable.

• "Sorry to hear about the radiation leak on the ship and real sorry to hear about the death of Commander Powell." - Mission Control
• "Sorry to interrupt your recreation fellows, but it is time for Sergeant Pinback to feed the alien." - Ship's Computer
Bomb #20: "Detonation will occur at the programmed time."
Pinback: "Wouldn't you consider another course of action, for example: just waiting around a while so we can disarm you?"
Bomb #20: "No."

• Will space travel be as monotonous as it is portrayed in the film?
• What would you do without toilet paper?
• Was the bomb's logic correct (at the end of the film)? (See the "Conversation with bomb 20" link below for the transcript and answer).

Conversation with Bomb 20: Transcript of the conversation with bomb 20 and commentary on the philosophical aspects. review: With lots of multimedia from the film and some funny commentary.
Dark Star - IMDB page

2001: A Space Odyssey
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

The Store:
Dark Star (DVD)
Dark Star (VHS)
Dark Star (VHS Widescreen)

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