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Imaginative Sci-Fi – DARK STAR

DARK STAR is a classic sci-fi comedy with a fun low-budget sensibility.

In 1974 John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon made the cult classic Dark Star – essentially Waiting for Godot in space – predating Star Wars by 3 years and introducing many of the plot elements that O’Bannon would later employ to serious effect when writing Ridley Scott‘s Alien. Ostensibly the story of a spaceship crew on a 20 year mission to blow up ‘unstable’ planets for a mining company while a creepy computer named ‘Mother’ watches them, Dark Star is essentially a slice of metaphysical Absurdism, and a portrait of boredom in space. The crew members (one of whom, Pinback, is portrayed by O’Bannon himself) fill their time with pointless distractions – such as building musical instruments, playing practical jokes, dealing with ridiculous malfunction after ridiculous malfunction, and of course, slowly losing their minds. This was John Carpenter’s student film, later padded with more footage by legendary producer Jack H. Harris, with whom Carpenter did not get along (an on-screen monitor famously reads “Fuck You Harris” as retaliation for the producer’s demands). As far as DIY inventiveness goes, Dark Star can’t be beaten – never has more been done with less: beach balls with goofy reptilian feet double as aliens, minute-long takes of static matte paintings dominate entire scenes, and many subplots involve men either staring into space or sitting frozen in suspended animation. And though casual fans will probably tire of the film’s pace, Dark Star is required viewing for serious fans of science fiction, as well as anyone interested in making low-budget films. Like a fever-dream mash-up of 2001, Solaris, and a host of other films, this movie’s influence can be felt in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels, the classic BBC comedy series Red Dwarf, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and almost everything else that followed it. Anyone curious to see the seeds that would later grow into the Alien series – and into John Carpenter’s amazing body of work – should definitely seek it out.

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