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DVD Review

DVD cover

Dark Star
...Hyperdrive Edition


Starring: Dan O'Bannon, Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm and Dre Pahich
Fabulous Films
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: PG
Available 28 February 2011

Bombed out in space with a spaced out bomb! Talby, Doolittle, Pinback and Boiler comprises the remaining crew of the Dark Star, a deep space craft which clears the way for human colonisation. The mission is to blow-up unstable planets with ‘smart bombs’, of which there are twenty. The men have been together for so long that they are unkempt and pretty much uncaring. Talby dreams of seeing the ultra-rare Phoenix Asteroid, Doolittle misses his surfboard, and Pinback is actually an imposter. When an asteroid storm causes damage to the automated systems, the intelligent Bomb 20 arms itself and begins a countdown to disaster. The answer might lie with Commander Powell, but Commander Powell is dead and in the cryogenic freezer after his seat mechanism exploded. Time is fast running out, but Powell’s memory isn’t what it was when he was alive...

In 2004 the 30th Anniversary Special Edition emerged, nicely packaged and presented on a single disc, but with very little extras. Seven years has passed since then, and so an updated version of Dark Star is well overdue. This release is over two discs, and incorporates more than three hours of additional features. The film has been sourced from a new 16 x 9 35mm transfer, with frame by frame digital restoration of the video master to vastly improve the resulting picture. The soundtrack has also been digitally enhanced and restored to Dolby 5.1.

Sticking with the extras, disc 2 is entirely taken up by Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of Dark Star, an almost 2-hour length documentary which explores the four year journey from conception to theatrical release. With John Carpenter’s main partner on this project, Dan O’Bannon, sadly no longer with us, you would expect there to be a lot of Carpenter material. Although the documentary is very thorough, the vast majority of the reminiscenses and anecdotes are told by O’Bannon’s widow and Brian Narelle, who played Lt Doolittle. There are audio recordings from an old Carpenter interview, but there are no accompanying pictures of the man himself, and the recording is subtitled due to the sub-standard quality. Dark Star was first released in 1974, 37 years ago, so I suppose like any old film it becomes increasingly difficult to find people to dig for recollections. Plus the fact that some people just don’t want to be reminded of their past.

The biggest disappointment, extras-wise, is that there is no audio commentary to accompany the film by John Carpenter. For a huge Carpenter fan like myself this is a major oversight. I find his other film commentaries highly entertaining He is not afraid to be self-deprecating and tell his audience what didn’t work, and there is normally a great deal of insight and information surrounding the process of filmmaking. They really should have made it worth JC’s time, as it would have rounded off an almost perfect release. Having said that, there is a plethora of other extras crammed on to disc 1: A lengthy interview with Brian Narelle (Doolittle); the final interview with Dan O’Bannon; a commentary by super fan Andrew Gilchrist; a 3-D guide to the Dark Star ship; a written intro by Dan O’Bannon; Trivia; the original film trailer; and the highlight for me, a lengthy interview with SF writer Alan Dean Foster. Foster novelised Dark Star whilst still a new writer. He is my personal favourite SF writer, and I have read nearly all of his books. It’s nice to hear him recount how he was invited to the premier of the film, and had a burger across the road afterward with John Carpenter, sharing dreams of success which were literally just around the corner.

And now to the film itself. This should be on every Carpenter/O’Bannon fan or historical film collector’s shopping list. As far as the casual mainstream viewer (or even SF fan) goes, you’ll be sorely disappointed if you’re expecting a big Hollywood production with spectacular stunts and special effects. This began as a student project while John Carpenter was still at film school. With help he was determined to see it through to a theatrical release. Even then it took four years, primarily because he kept running out of money. Consequentially, it was released on a shoestring budget. The film has been described as a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but present day parodies are blatant comedies. This is closer to dark humour; it’s quirky but there are no laugh-out-loud moments, except perhaps the celebrated feeding the alien sequence. I tend to regard this as a valuable piece of nostalgia. It’s highly entertaining without being exciting. Of course John Carpenter went on to great things, such as Halloween, Escape From New York, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, and many others. But let’s not forget where he came from.

This is the most comprehensive release of Dark Star thus far. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the packaging because I didn’t receive a retail copy, and for that I have dropped a point.


Ty Power

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