Monday, September 26, 2016
Directed and scored by John Carpenter and written by Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon, Dark Star is the story of four astronauts going on a space mission in the 22nd Century where they’re tasked to destroy unstable planets while dealing with an alien on the run. The film is an offbeat sci-fi comedy that play into the ideas of space exploration as well as the attempts to try and create a new world in outer space. Starring Dan O’Bannon, Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, and Dre Pahich. Dark Star is a witty and whimsical film from John Carpenter.
Set in the middle of the 22nd Century during a twenty-mission year mission to destroy unstable planets around the galaxy, the film revolves around four astronauts who are part of a mission where they live and work inside a spaceship that is already falling apart as its captain had died during a mission where they’re dealing with a malfunction and other things in the ship. Among them is an alien they’ve captured and bombs with artificial intelligence as it play into an environment that is stifling and tedious that later becomes unruly. The film’s screenplay by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon, as the latter plays the role of ship bombadier Sgt. Pinback, explores not just that sense of boredom in doing a duty that goes on for 20 years but also a sense of discord between four men who have to work together but really can’t stand each other. One of which in the target specialist Talby (Dre Pahich, with the voice of John Carpenter) often sits inside an observation dome just to gaze into the universe.
With the mission led by Lt. Doolittle (Brian Narelle) as he, Sgt. Pinback, and navigator Corporal Boiler (Cal Kuniholm) are often in the ship dropping bombs on unstable planets to prevent it from future colonization. Whenever they’re not working, they do things to contend their boredom as Boiler would shoot at things while Doolittle would converse with Talby as he’s the only person that he can have a friendly chat with. Sgt. Pinback would have a moment in the story as he is tasked to feed an alien as it lead to trouble but also more problems for the already fragile spaceship as it’s dealing with all sorts of malfunctions. Especially as the third act is about an attempt to fix this malfunction where all hell breaks loose.
Carpenter’s direction is definitely stylish where it isn’t afraid to play into its low-budget aesthetics for the fact that the film is almost set entirely inside the spaceship. The sense of intimacy would play into that air of claustrophobia in the scenes where three of the four men are manning the control boards where Carpenter would use some medium shots and some extreme close-ups to play into that cramped space. It adds to some of the drama and humor that is prevalent into the film as well as this very funny sequence where Sgt. Pinback tries to go after this alien which is a beach ball with feet as it’s Carpenter showing what he had to use with the low budget he has to work with. There are moments where Carpenter would play into air of suspense as well as infuse it with bits of dark humor. Also serving as the film’s music composer, Carpenter provides an eerie yet effective electronic-based score created by synthesizers to play into some of the darker elements of the film as well as provide some offbeat music such as a country song the crew would sometimes listen to. The third act as it relates to malfunctioning section of the ship and a bomb about to detonate where the crew is trying to sort everything but also comprehend everything they’ve been doing. Overall, Carpenter creates a gripping yet offbeat film about a space crew dealing with the chaos inside of their fragile spaceship.
Cinematographer Douglas Knapp does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it is shot with grainy film stock while using some unique lighting for the look of the different rooms. Editor/production designer/visual effects supervisor Dan O’Bannon does incredible work with the many contributions with the film from the stylized yet offbeat approach to the editing with its rhythmic cuts to the look of the many interiors in the spaceship and its rooms as well as the look of the universe and its low-budget effects which are quite imaginative. The sound work of Nina Kleinberg is fantastic as it has some cool sound effects in the way the spaceship sounds as well as some of the objects in and around the spaceship.
The film’s superb cast include some notable small roles from Nick Castle as the voice of the alien, Alan Sheretz and Adam Beckenbaugh as the voices of the bombs, Cookie Knapp as the voice of the ship’s computer, Mile Watkins as the mission control commander, and Joe Saunders as the ship’s original commander in the mysterious Commander Powell. Dre Pahich is terrific as the target specialist Talby who has become fascinated by the universe as he prefers to stay away from everyone with only Lt. Doolittle as his only friend with John Carpenter doing the dubbing for Talby’s voice. Cal Kuniholm is excellent as the navigator Cpl. Boiler as he is this weird guy that is more concerned with shooting lasers at things and trimming his beard rather than do his duty. Brian Narelle is brilliant as Lt. Doolittle as the ship’s second-in-command who tries to maintain order while lamenting about wanting to return home and go back to his life as a surfer. Finally, there’s Dan O’Bannon in an amazing performance as Sgt. Pinback as this weird bombadier that gets himself into trouble with an alien while having a nice back story about how he became part of this crew.
Dark Star is a marvelous film from John Carpenter. Featuring an excellent cast, dazzling visuals, and some inventive special effects that isn’t afraid to play up its low-budget aesthetics. It’s a sci-fi film that plays into the ideas of space exploration and travel as well as some of its downside in a humorous way. In the end, Dark Star is a remarkable film from John Carpenter.
John Carpenter Films: Assault on Precinct 13 - Halloween - Someone’s Watching Me! - Elvis - The Fog - Escape from New York - The Thing - Christine - Starman - Big Trouble in Little China - Prince of Darkness - They Live - Memoirs of an Invisible Man - Body Bags - In the Mouth of Madness - Village of the Damned (1995 film) - Escape from L.A. - Vampires - Ghosts of Mars - The Ward
The Auteurs #60: John Carpenter Part 1 - Part 2
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