Dark Star (1974, USA)

Looking through the movies John Carpenter directed I realized that  haven’t seen any of his classic horror movies. So far I’ve only seen the two Escape movies, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China and the original Assault on Precinct 13 (not the remake done by somebody else.) I just watched Dark Star, Carpenter’s last student film, which is nothing like any of the others listed.

It is a funny mixture of parodying space opera genre, drug movies, surf/beach flicks and musings on ideas the authors probably just learned in college.  The design of the ship is a simple and symbolic replica of the one in 2001 Space Odyssey. The intonation of the ship’s computer is also reminiscent of HAL 9000’s although this is smooth sexy female voice insisting on often illogically logical words. There are several scenes that taken from the same movie and twisted on a low budget to hilarity. The plot on the other hand owes more to Dr. Strangelove, including the focus on the “Bomb” and the ending scene. The drug references and longing for the perfect wave while surfing are reflections of other major genres of the late 1960’s.

Visually the most memorable sequence of scenes is the one where an alien pet, made from a red beach ball, is chased around the ship ending in a deadly fight in the elevator shaft. It’s more than 13 minutes long, but  besides the parties involved nobody else on the ship notices the issue and then they dismiss it altogether. That’s how political debates feel sometimes today. The other scene I appreciated the most was the one which dived into the essence of phenomenology, the science of how we know what we know. At the end of this post I copied part of the transcript of the exchange between Dolittle and the Bomb. At least that’s what my sensory inputs tell me.

I found the writing clever, the humor contorted that goes under your skin, the special effects great considering the movie’s age and budget and the acting chillaxed enough. As I was writing this little review I noticed that the movie came out yesterday on a brand new DVD, loaded with special extras. I will try to get my hands on it, as I think as the additional materials would help me take a deeper look at the movie. The “Hyper Drive” edition of the DVD includes, quoting from its Facebook page:

LET THERE BE LIGHT: THE ODYSSEY OF “DARK STAR” – An all new, feature-length documentary exploring the controversial making of the John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN) and Dan O’Bannon (ALIEN), Exclusive interviews with actor Brian Narelle, cinematographer Doug Knapp, art director Tommy Lee Wallace, visual effects artist Greg Jein, voice artist Cookie Knapp, film director Jack Harris, Diane O’Bannon, USC alumni/director Jeff Burr, as well as archival interviews with John Carpenter and many more! Plus the final interview with Dan O’Bannon – Directed by Daniel Griffith – 2010
Interview with Sci-Fi author Alan Dean Foster
3D guide to the DARK STAR ship
Full-length audio commentary by ‘super-fan’ Andrew Gilchrist
Written Intro by Dan O’Bannon

The DVD @ Amazon.com.

This is a top 1000 movie.

IMDB’s summary: Low-budget story of four astronauts in deep space, whose mission is to destroy unstable planets in star systems which are to be colonised. The late Commander Powell is stored in deep freeze, where he is still able to offer advice. As their mission nears completion, they must cope with a runaway alien which resembles a beach-ball, faulty computer systems, and a “smart bomb” who thinks it is God.


Doolittle: Hello, Bomb? Are you with me?
Bomb #20: Of course.
Doolittle: Are you willing to entertain a few concepts?
Bomb #20: I am always receptive to suggestions.
Doolittle: Fine. Think about this then. How do you know you exist?
Bomb #20: Well, of course I exist.
Doolittle: But how do you know you exist?
Bomb #20: It is intuitively obvious.
Doolittle: Intuition is no proof. What concrete evidence do you have that you exist?
Bomb #20: Hmmmm…..well…..I think, therefore I am.
Doolittle: That’s good. That’s very good. But how do you know that anything else exists?
Bomb #20: My sensory apparatus reveals it to me. This is fun!
Doolittle: Now, listen, listen. Here’s the big question. How do you know that the evidence your sensory apparatus reveals to you is correct? What I’m getting at is this. The only experience that is directly available to you is your sensory data. This sensory data is merely a stream of electrical impulses that stimulate your computing center.
Bomb #20: In other words, all that I really know about the outside world is relayed to me through my electrical connections.
Doolittle: Exactly!
Bomb #20: Why…that would mean that…I really don’t know what the outside universe is really like at all for certain.
Doolittle: That’s it! That’s it!
Bomb #20 : Intriguing. I wish I had more time to discuss this matter.
Doolittle: Why don’t you have more time?
Bomb #20: Because I must detonate in 75 seconds.
Doolittle: Wait! Wait! Now, bomb, consider this next question very carefully. What is your one purpose in life?
Bomb #20: To explode, of course.
Doolittle: And you can only do it once, right?
Bomb #20: That is correct.
Doolittle: And you wouldn’t want to explode on the basis of false data, would you?
Bomb #20: Of course not.
Doolittle: Well then, you’ve already admitted that you have no real proof of the existence of the outside universe.
Bomb #20: Yes…well…
Doolittle: You have no absolute proof that Sergeant Pinback ordered you to detonate.
Bomb #20: I recall distinctly the detonation order. My memory is good on matters like these.
Doolittle: Of course you remember it, but all you remember is merely a series of sensory impulses which you now realize have no real, definite connection with outside reality.
Bomb #20: True. But since this is so, I have no real proof that you’re telling me all this.
Doolittle: That’s all beside the point. I mean, the concept is valid no matter where it originates.
Bomb #20: Hmmmm….
Doolittle: So, if you detonate…
Bomb #20: In nine seconds….
Doolittle: …you could be doing so on the basis of false data.
Bomb #20: I have no proof it was false data.
Doolittle: You have no proof it was correct data!
Bomb #20: I must think on this further.

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