Dir. John Carpenter, 1974
83 min, USA
Much like Dennis Muren's almighty EQUINOX, DARK STAR was first made as a 68 minute 16mm student film by John Carpenter - with writing assistance from Dan O'Bannon, who also stars as Sergeant Pinback. Not long after, DARK STAR was scooped by Harris and, having funding the filming of an additional 15 minutes of footage and a 35mm transfer, unleashed on an unsuspecting public. The film cost a mere $60,000; in addition to gaining cult status and a seat at the throne of midnight movies, it would also launch the careers of Carpenter (VAMPIRES, GHOSTS OF MARS, THE WARD) and O'Bannon (DEAD & BURIED), alongside heavyweights like Ron Cobb (Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY) and Greg Jein (who won an Academy Award for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND) lending their visual and effects talents.
Only five years after DARK STAR, O'Bannon would reuse many of the ideas in what would become the sci-fi juggernaut ALIEN - including a restless game of mumbly peg, a face hugging extraterrestrial, and a claustrophobic chase scene through the air shafts.
While often tossed off as a stoner-grade spoof of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Carpenter's film is at its core about loneliness. After spending two decades blowing up unstable planets together, this shaggy crew have grown to loathe each other, even forgetting each others' first names. Beyond one another and the ship's computer, their lone conversationalists are the smart bombs aboard the ship prior to their release.
Despite the cramped space and lack of real sleeping quarters after a collision with an astroid, they each manage to find isolation in their own ways. Talby retreats to the observation dome atop the ship after the death of Commander Powell, preferring the vast emptiness of space to his human companions. Lt. Doolittle slinks off to a secret nook to hone his craft on a makeshift organ of sort comprised of bottles pitched with water. Boiler takes great pleasure in bullying and antagonizing Sgt. Pinback - whose constant attempts at revelry and (albeit forced) camaraderie only serve to make him the resident scapegoat. Even the late Commander Powell, encased in ice below the hull, remarks to Doolittle (via telepathy) that it's been so long since someone came to visit him. The film certainly has moments of humor, but even these are often solely for the amusement of the viewer, with the events happening to isolated individuals only to be relayed to the group after the fact. Everyone has stopped listening to one another, with phrases lazily repeated back and forth over tubes of liquid ham. In a rare moment at breakfast between Talby and Doolittle the men bond over their two opposite desires. Talby longs to see the fabled "Phoenix Astroids" deep within the Veil Nebula, while Doolittle pines for the California surf back on Earth. Not long after Talby is pulled into space from of the malfunctioning airlock and Doolittle fails to dissuade a bomb from detonating aboard the ship: in a perfect cacophony of celebration and sorrow, both men get what they want as the credits roll. For us DARK STAR comes as the bittersweet end of our humble tribute to a cinematic giant.
This series would not have been possible without the help of Judy Harris and Danielle Sinay. Special thanks to Jon Abrams, Daily Grindhouse and, of course, our audience.
SPECTACLE THEATER (View)
124 South 3rd Street
Brooklyn, NY 11249
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