Dark Star is an entertaining science trip to mid 21st century space, with some interesting characters who have serious communication problems. Not everybody might have a taste for the film though, since it’s a low budget sci-fi with a humorous angle.
A spaceship from Earth named Dark Star is on a mission to blow up all planets they find that seem to be unstable, possibly meaning having life that could threaten humans, in order to prepare for possible living condition within each system.
The crew contains 8 key members; a malfunctioning A.I. of a mother computer, an A.I. bomb having existential crisis, the dead Commander Powell, an alien, and four other astronauts: the restless Boiler (Cal Cuniholm), the universe admirer Talby (Dre Palhich), the stowaway Pinback (Dan O’Bannon) who became a crewmember anyway, and Dolittle (Brian Narelle), the reluctant captain of the ship
There are basically two stories within the movie worth telling: Pinback’s battle with the alien, and Dolittle’s existential discussion with Bomb # 20. Dolittle is very tired of life inside a spaceship, and dreams about the times he used to surf the Malibu waves. Pinback, however, is a technician that accidentally wandered into the wrong spot at the wrong time, and was mistaken as a commander of the ship. He tries to explain it to the crew, but nobody cares.
The crew members are tired of each other’s company, they don’t care much for each other, which causes serious communication problems between them. Their intelligence seems also to be insufficient for the tasks at hand. The slightest problems will cause even greater problems simply because the crew doesn’t function well.
For your information, the special effects in Dark Star are by no means special by today’s standard. The spaceship moves like a clay-mation figure through space, and all the technical stuff looks dated. What’s impressive however, is the dialog and character development, which brings the story closer to the audience. The alien is the scariest looking beach ball I’ve ever seen.
There is a great scene where Pinback fights with an alien he brought on the ship as a pet. He gets into exciting perils while chasing it through an elevator shaft. This scene was truly well done. Another scene later reused by a certain extent in Alien is where Dolittle communicates with the dead Commander of the ship in an unorthodox manner. Yet another excellent scene is where Dolittle attempts to make Bomb # 20 have independent thoughts by discussing phenomenology with it.
All the characters have gone a little crazy, after being in that cramped spaceship for years. Wouldn’t you?
While passing through an electric space storm, there is a serious malfunction on board that activates Bomb # 20. The mother computer orders the bomb not to blow, so it reluctantly goes back into the ship. The alien activates the bomb for a second time, but it goes back into the ship after the mother computer orders it to do so, even more reluctantly before. When bomb # 20 is triggered for the third time, and malfunctions, it refuses to return back to bay and cancel its operation. It simply wants to blow up, which creates a serious problem for the crew members.
The alien story was later re-hatched by Dan O’Bannon, since he was the brain behind the Alien (1979) franchise, and the A.I. story is basically a humorous turn on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
How would you feel, being trapped in a spaceship for four years with companions you didn’t like a bit?
Trivia from IMDB:
Dark Star was John Carpenter’s student project, before he became a big name as a movie director. It was Dan O’Bannon’s first work as well, before he created Alien with Ridley Scott.
1. Can computers think?
2. What is thinking?
3. Can artificial intelligence develop into real intelligence by being faced with philosophical paradoxes?
4. Who cares about finding intelligent life anywhere else in the universe?
5. What has intelligence brought human beings that’s so special it needs to be found on other planets?
6. Would we actually send a group of people to make a highway through the universe by blowing up planets, if we could see an opportunity of living in another solar system?
Doolittle: Hello, Bomb? Are you with me?
Bomb #20: Of course.
Doolittle: Are you willing to entertain a few concepts?
Bomb #20: I am always receptive to suggestions.
Doolittle: Fine. Think about this then. How do you know you exist?
Bomb #20: Well, of course I exist.
Doolittle: But how do you know you exist?
Bomb #20: It is intuitively obvious.
Doolittle: Intuition is no proof. What concrete evidence do you have that you exist?
Bomb #20: Hmmmm… well… I think, therefore I am.
Doolittle: That’s good. That’s very good. But how do you know that anything else exists?
Bomb #20: My sensory apparatus reveals it to me. This is fun.
Director: John Carpenter
Jonathan K. King