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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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May 23, 2011   2 Comments

Great Polish Sci Fi – SEXMISSION

SEXMISSION is a testament to what you can do with a clever concept tailored to your budget.

Seksmisja, or Sexmission (1984), is a cult Polish comedy that tells the tale of two bumbling scientists who volunteer to be hibernated for a 3 year experiment only to awaken 50 years in the future, after a mysterious nuclear war has wiped out the world’s male population. Finding themselves prisoners in an underground society run by women, their best-case scenario turns worst-case when the ruling matriarch judges that they are to be either killed or “naturalized” through castration. This nowadays-familiar plot (courtesy of Futurama among others) feels fresh in the hands of director Juliusz Machulski, who explores universal themes of totalitarianism and blind obedience in a subversive criticism of the Polish regime of the time. In tone and production values the movie recalls John Carpenter’s Dark Star, Woody Allen’s Sleeper, and the BBC series Red Dwarf, and fans of those works and of dystopian fiction in general will find it a rewarding experience. There’s plenty of humor, ample nudity, a fantastic twist in the third act, and a final freeze-frame that rivals the 400 Blows for the most memorable in film history. And curiously enough, though the only on-line trailer I could find has audio issues, a simple search will yield the entire film, complete with English subs!

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June 18, 2010   No Comments

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