A low-budget, sci-fi satire that focuses on a group of scientists whose mission is to destroy unstable planets. 20 years into their mission, they have battle their alien mascot, that resembles a beach ball, as well as a "sensitive" and intelligent bombing device that starts to question the meaning of its existence.
ActorsStarring: Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahich, Adam Beckenbaugh, Nick Castle, Joe Saunders, Cookie Knapp, Alan Sheretz, Dan O'Bannon
Dark Star was a film John Carpenter made while still a student at USC Film School. It was co-written with fellow student Dan O’Bannon, who also stars in the film as Sergeant Pinback, and was made for $60,000, which even in the 1970s was very low-budget. The deep space explorer Dark Star, with an original crew of five, has the task of finding unstable planets in alien star systems and destroying them to make way for later colonisation. It is a black comedy, the crew having been cooped up together for twenty years and clearly at the end of their respective tethers in assorted ways. The original captain is in stasis, having been all but killed in an earlier explosion, though he can on occasion be woken for brief consultations. The acting captain, Dolittle, reminisces about his surfing days, while another crew member, Talbi, spends most of his time in the observation pod staring out at the stars. Boiler is a redneck and dislikes Pinback, an oddball who is only on the mission by mistake and is looked down upon by the rest of the crew. The uncredited extra character is the ship’s computer, whose soothing voice was provided by the wife of the producer.
Given the minuscule budget this is no Star Wars, and much of the film is spent with the crew discussing the boredom of their jobs, stuck with each other in deep space. Fortunately the script is sharp, with some genuinely funny lines to lift the film out of the potentially tedious situation. Pinback has brought on board an alien creature as a pet, and his pursuit of it when it escapes was the basis for the script for the very different film Alien, which O’Bannon later wrote. The boredom of the voyage is rapidly ended when one of the sentient bombs used to destroy unstable planets malfunctions, and the crew have to try and prevent it exploding while it is still attached to the ship.
Dark Star could easily be very dull indeed, and in places it does drag a touch, but not for long. It is rescued by some genuinely funny dialogue and likeable performances by the actors, with some of the best lines going to the computer and the sentient bomb rather than the humans. John Carpenter wrote all the music for the film (as indeed he did for most of his career) and the score provides additional humour at times. Dark Star is not perfect but it has considerable charm, and is a real achievement given its tiny budget.