If you haven’t already, please check out my post from yesterday explaining everything about #Johnuary.

This was certainly an interesting introduction to John Carpenter. Very much what some would call a student film. Very low budget, no recognisable actors and some pretty poor effects. But this was from 1974 after all, and it was his first ever film, so you can’t be too hard on him.

Interestingly it actually had the same writer as Alien and several special effects people who went on to work on Star Wars.

There are several things I like about this film as it reminds me in many ways of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and also Red Dwarf, with the lost in space theme and quirky robots/aliens etc. It’s even a cross between Doctor Who and Monty Python in places, particularly with the alien that looks (quite literally) like a beach ball. It basically is ‘hippies in space’.

Here are some of my other thoughts in no particular order:-

  • Interestingly the base at the beginning is in Antarctica which is obviously a place he would revisit at least once later in The Thing
  • I felt it had a very ominous electronic keyboard soundtrack. This is when I first learned about John Carpenter’s other role, scoring most of his movies
  • Some of the effects were very poor indeed, but I had to remind myself that this was on a very low budget and it was also even earlier than Star Wars (although still 6 years after 2001: A Space Odyssey)
  • The production quality really does seem to look much more like TV then movie quality. Perhaps it was shot on video? I’d be surprised if that was the case though
  • There are several references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, including the poster which calls it a ‘Spaced out Odyssey’
  • One of the characters does the knife hand trick (where you put the knife in-between your fingers really fast) which is generally referred to as being from Aliens but this predates Alien. I wonder where it first appeared? Probably in some western? I’ll have to investigate that (expect a future blog post about that one day)
  • I liked the part where the two artificial intelligence systems are arguing with each other. Don’t think I’ve seen that before anywhere
  • One very cool bit was when the recording machine automatically deletes offensive language and gestures. I thought that was clever and funny for its time
  • The notion of giving a bomb artificial intelligence seems a very bad idea
  • It had a genuinely exciting ending with the bomb about to explode on their ship. Clever bit about teaching the AI to learn. I loved the bit when the guy is talking to the bomb. Almost felt like teaching the Joshua program in WarGames.

Dark Star 1

Dark Star 2

Dark Star 3

Dark Star 4

Dark Star 5

Images from Blu-Ray.com

Despite the poor effects it does actually touch on some very interesting and realistic space issues such as colonisation, which I can’t imagine would have been a mainstream conversation topic back in the early 70s. And the film also uses some terms such as ‘red dwarf’ which must have been pretty uncommon back then. In fact the film was probably ahead of it’s time in many ways. Some of the plot points may seem common now but it’s probably because of things like Hitchhikers and Red Dwarf which must derive a lot of influence from Dark Star.

All in all I enjoyed this film but it lagged in places and I had to get past the poor effects. I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea but it’s definitely a must for anyone who wants to go back through Carpenter’s work.