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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/4/99

Dark Star
1974 (1999) Jack H. Harris Enterprises (Magic Lantern/VCI/Roan)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Dark Star Film Rating: B

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.

Bill Hunt
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