Saturday, September 04, 2010

Film Critique- "Dark Star"

I had high hopes for this one. Seriously. To say I was let down is an understatement. But considering the circumstances, maybe I was a bit harsh, but I calls 'em as I sees 'em.
From the archives at and Operation Orca, I present 1974's Dark Star.
Enjoy. I didn't.

Dark Star (1974)
starring: Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahich, Dan O'Bannon
written by: John Carpenter & Dan O'Bannon
directed by: John Carpenter

My respect for John Carpenter as a director, and Dan O'Bannon as a screenwriter was elevated to new heights after viewing 1974's Dark Star. It's not that this unfunny attempt at a 2001: A Space Odyssey parody is any good, but I came to the realization that the most acclaimed of film makers, no matter how impressive their body of work may be, at one point in their careers they are human enough to go through growing pains.

Squeak Toys from Outer Space

The 5 intrepid astronauts aboard the scout ship Dark Star are on the senseless mission of trekking across the galaxy destroying "unstable planets" (?). The "whys" are not explained to the audience, but apparently Earthlings have a problem with planets breaking their orbits and crashing into their respective suns, causing supernovas millions of light years away from Earth (!) So much in fact, that these men have been in space doing this for twenty years, although according to the dialogue, they have only aged three years (!). What? Well...

"Set masturbators on stun."

What campy sci-fi would be complete without the obligatory computer malfunctions? Don't worry, Dark Star has oodles of them, the only difference is, none of the crew members show any cause for concern that planet-destroying bombs have nearly exploded (!), or that a "communication laser" (?) has been damaged throughout the film's running time. The chaos and lack of standard operating procedures can be understood though, for the crew of five is has actually been reduced to a crew of four before the movie even starts. Apparently, the Commander was killed due to a radiation leak some time ago (another one of those pesky "malfunctions").

"Sir, sensors are detecting heavy traces of nostril."

Why don't they call for help, or fly home to dry dock and get some repairs? Those are good questions, and they are answered before you get the chance to ask, in the film's prologue; a message from Earth's antarctic communications base saying they were happy to receive the message, and were "real sad" to hear of the Commander's death, but since it takes ten years for a message to go one way (!) there's no way they can send help. So good luck, and carry on, as it were.

So let's recap. They've been in space for twenty years and in that time, the commander has been killed, there have been exactly two messages sent, and this ship is falling apart while hauling god-awful amounts of explosives (enough to blow up multiple planets. You do the math, because apparently neither Carpenter nor O'Bannon bothered to).

"Personal log, Day 717: We set the masturbators on stun, agaaaain. I really wanna try it on the 'kill' setting."

Um, if I were in charge, I think I would turn this bird around and go home, cutting whatever losses I've had to a minimum. But it's not my call. We all must defer to Lieutenant Doolittle (Brian Narelle), who is just concerned with blowing up planets. Doolittle doesn't care about the inconsequential computer malfunctions, until too much proverbial poo-poo hits the fan, and he finds himself overwhelmed. What does he do? He opens the freezer and tries to get advice from the long-dead and frozen corpse of the old commander (!) Oddly, the dead man answers (!!) in Jesus-like riddles, not being much help, but hey, considering the man was dead to begin with, we get a whole lot more than we should have expected. What? Well...

Not quite collectible, is it?

Let's fast forward now. Due to yet another computer malfunction, Bomb #20 is unable to launch and blow up it's target planet because, well, it just won't launch. But Bomb #20 is still going to explode, because, well, that's what Bomb #20 is supposed to do. You see, Bomb #20 is this wise-cracking, super smart computer that controls the actual bomb, and it's sick and tired of constantly being called on to blow up, and then aborting because of some computer malfunction. Don't bother trying to re-read that last part, let's just say that Bomb #20 is Dark Star's HAL, and he's gonna blow the ship to pieces. Otherwise, there would be no drama, right?

The funniest thing about the bomb is the caution sticker. Other than that, it's unfunny.

Fast forward a little more. For some reason, Doolittle goes outside the ship to try and talk Bomb #20 out of blowing up the ship (!). Somehow, another crew member gets blown out into space and Doolittle goes off to rescue him. This is when Bomb #20 decides to say, "f*ck it" and blows Dark Star to bits along with crewmen Boiler (Cal Kuniholm) and Pinback (co-scribe Dan O'Bannon himself!). So Doolittle and Talby (Dre Pahich) are floating around space, wondering what to do. What happens next is... well I don't know.

Surprisingly, no Beach Boys song was on the soundtrack during this scene.

My rental disc, courtesy of Netflix was damaged and stopped right here. So let's just say that they float around until they die. Roll credits.

Dark Star is listed as "classic sci-fi comedy" but it's not funny. Not at all. I cannot recommend this film for any reason, including fun, campy goodness. There's none of that, and there's not much of a plot, or likable characters, or clever, witty computers.

Well, there is an alien, a plastic ball with feet that the crew brought onboard as a mascot, but they kill it (?) because it turns out it was just a pest(!).

Yeah, it's cute. But you laugh at it, not with it.

What? Well...

Guardian of the Universe Gamera says, "A month since your last post and you cut & paste from the archives? You are really bad at this Internet thing, Turz!"

Internet addict Pornocat says, "At least the screencaps with captions are new. They're pretty funny. Very good review. Now do another porno movie, please? Meow!"

The impatient ghost of Robert Shaw says, "Stop summoning me to read your bloody blogs!"