Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 5/4/99
1974 (1999) Jack H. Harris
Enterprises (Magic Lantern/VCI/Roan)
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/C/C+
Specs and Features
68 or 83 mins (both versions on disc), G, letterboxed widescreen
(approx. 1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case
packaging, film-themed menu screens, theatrical trailer, cast and
crew bios, production notes, scene access (18 chapters), languages:
English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none
In the far future,
mankind is spreading out in the galaxy, in great colony ships. But
before a region of space can be settled, it must first be made safe
from the scurge of "unstable planets". So a new breed of
space men is required to destroy them. The crew of the space cruiser
Dark Star, are just such men - hardy, dedicated... bored. They've
been on their mission for over a year now, and they're getting a
little frazzled around the edges. Plus, their ship isn't exactly in
top working condition. Oh... and their commander was killed when his
seat exploded during hyperspace. They're also out of toilet paper.
Did I mention there's a mischievous alien on board?
How does one describe this film? Try 10% Alien,
10% 2001, and 80% Hitchhikers
Guide to the Galaxy - I think that about covers it. This
is low-budget, guerilla film making at its finest. This twisted tale
is wrought with humor, and in-jokes. Pinback's '8-track' video dairy
is hilarious. That funny object on the front of the space suits IS a
muffin tin. The goofy-looking alien IS a beach ball. The ending of
the film is a nice nod to writer Ray Bradbury's short story Kaleidoscope.
And you might notice the THX 1138
toilet tank that floats by (at exactly 1:20:41) after the ship
explodes. Oops, I gave away the ending. Well, trust me... after
about 5 minutes, you'll pretty much guess that that's where it's all
leading anyway. As Doolittle says in the film, "Don't give me
any of that intelligent life crap - find me something I can blow up!"
Dark Star began life as a UCLA
student film, written by Dan O'Bannon (who later wrote Alien,
although his script for that film was almost completely rewritten),
and directed by the infamous John Carpenter (Halloween,
The Thing, Vampires).
Carpenter also edited the film, and composed the music as well, and
O'Bannon stars as Sgt. Pinback. When independent producer Jack
Harris saw the project, he funded the filming of 15 additional
minutes of footage, and eventually released the special edition
version theatrically in 1983. The film bombed, but won a couple of
awards, and has since gone on to become a cult classic, and a
favorite of sci-fi fans.
The new DVD version, from VCI's Magic Lantern Entertainment,
presents the film in the best quality available, which admittedly
isn't up to reference standards. The video master is analog tape,
probably 3/4" or Betacam (you can see a brief tape hit during
the opening sequence). Shot on 16mm film, the detail and color
aren't exactly stellar. Still, the disc is completely watchable, and
features a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which is mostly
oddly-mixed electronic sound effects, panned around the various
channels. This ain't Skywalker Sound, but it is completely in
keeping with the spirit of the film. Best of all, the DVD includes
several pages of cast & crew biographies and filmographies, some
production notes, and a theatrical trailer. And, via the magic of "almost
seamless branching", you can choose to view either the 68
minute original version, or the 83 minutes theatrical version. When
the new scenes are played, you get only a very brief pause in the
playback, similar to an RSDL layer switch - it's very minor, and is
a very nice touch to the disc.
If you're a fan of science fiction films, or John Carpenter's work,
you definitely don't want to miss Dark
Star. It certainly isn't for everyone, but if you've got
a slightly bent sense of humor, you'll dig it. Now if I could just
get the tune from Benson, Arizona
out of my head...! Find a good price, buy and enjoy.