You know, I don't quite get it. Everybody says that I need to do a certain John Carpenter film on this day. It's an iconic film that he made about thirty years ago. My first and only option is this: Dark Star. I don't quite see the connection, but, I'll roll with it. This is Carpenter's first real film and is often forgotten amongst his classics like Ghosts of Mars and Memoirs of an Invisible Man. I think he made a film about Autumn Solstice too, but I could be wrong. What's impressive about the movie is just how much it de-constructs an entire genre. The other thing is that this is one of the few real sci-fi films he has done (not counting Starman). Why not do more when you can do it so well for so little money. Enough praise without substance, let's float on into...
The movie begins by explaining the simple premise to you: a ship called Dark Star has been sent out on a mission. What the movie does is filter in real science amongst all the fake stuff. The ship's mission is to destroy any planets that might pose a problem to outer space colonization. Here is the problem: the trip has taken them over 20 years! About six years later, Galaxina would use this same premise for laughs and a much different message. Can you imagine riding in a ship with the same people for over twenty years?!? Take a rough, week-long drive across several states and then multiply it times 1,040! On top of that, all they ever see for days on end is black, empty space. It's like traveling through the logic portion of Ben Stein's mind! On top of everything else, the Commander has recently died and is kept in cryonic suspension. So, the crew has 'cabin fever,' hates each other AND has no leader. Maybe if they were sent out with more clear of a mission or cryonic freeze chambers for the long stints (a la Planet of the Apes), this would be easier. Then again, as Apes taught us, at least one pod always malfunctions (see the first two films for proof). Yes, this is in fact by the same guy who wrote Assault on Precinct 13.
How much you love the middle portion of the film will be based entirely on whether or not you care about these characters. As simply-written as they are, the group has an interesting dynamic. One of them has an identity crisis to resolve, while another one has pretty much given up on companionship, preferring to spend all of their time in the ship's dome. This portion is also where we get some of the comedy aspects, which involve an alien 'mascot' for the ship. This little creature is a silly effect (very reminiscent of the balloon eggs from Contamination), but works as part of the movie. If this movie were to be made now, the thing would be all CG, rap and be voiced by Jerry Seinfeld. Here, it simply jumps around, messes with the food and does not play nice. Enough about that though, let's talk about...the bomb!
The whole thing builds up to the ship's approach of a planet deemed to be a threat. The crew finally snaps out of their prolonged stupor and tries to act. Their smart bomb is prepared to be dropped, but is actually too smart. The damn thing wants to blow up the ship instead! This sets up one of the most oddly-serious scenes in cinematic history as a crew member has a philosophical discussion with a talking bomb! They eventually manage to talk the thing into returning to its base unit and reconsidering things. Hurray! Everyone is saved! Oh wait, the bomb suddenly thinks that it is a God and blows itself up, killing all on board. So much for them, huh? The End.
*This movie is very good, but definitely not for everyone. The whole idea was to take the entire mystique out of space travel and make it what man makes everything: a job. The realism works well to throw you off, even when compared to the obvious inspiration (2001: A Space Odyssey). Think about this movie as the anti-Star Wars and it will really be enjoyable. I admire films that can actually deconstruct an entire film genre in around 90 minutes. Maybe that's why I'm one of the few people that is not a gore-hound, but still loves Cannibal Holocaust (full review later). For fans of flashy sci-fi, this is not for you. If you ever thought that 2001 was a bit too 'in love with itself' (be honest now). Watch it on a double-bill with Galaxina to see how a similar idea can be done so differently. And yes, this is the inspiration for a good majority of the big scenes in Alien (it's co-written by the same guy).
Did you really want me to to do Halloween? I mean, what else could I say about them that you don't already know?
*Up next, we return to my random format. What better way to do that than with a British sex comedy...that features a mummy. Stay tuned...