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Dark Star (1975) Thermostellar Edition - Blu-ray Review

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Dark Star - Blu-ray Review

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3 stars

Dan O’Bannon and John Carpenter’s crudely crafted science fiction comedy gets new life this month on blu-ray thanks to the archival efforts of VCI Entertainment.  Amazing that this film began its life as a student film project all those years ago and, while it’s rough around the edges, it certainly fires to full effect in the comic Twilight Zone.

Okay, so Dark Star is not the best looking picture to ever grace the HD format but, come on, this is Grade A gonzo filmmaking at its wildest and, at times, most bizarre.  I’ll be the first to admit that the film is not for everyone, but the goofy nerd-talk of its madness renders it as one of the purest cult films out there.

Intended as a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Carpenter’s Dark Star tells the story of a hapless space shuttle crew at war with itself and a malfunctioning computer-guided missile in the far, far galaxy.  The script was penned by O’Bannon and, as it also deals with an escaped alien being, serves as the warm up he needed to his original Alien screenplay.

Sometime in the future of space exploration, Dark Star, with its five member crew - Dollittle (Brian Narelle), Boiler (Cal Kuniholm), Talby (Dre Pahich), Pinback (Dan O'Bannon) and the cryogenically frozen corpse of ship's Commander Powell – cruises through space destroying unstable planets with missiles guided by artificial intelligence.

Twenty years out, their ship is a hunk of junk and needs repairs that Earth cannot give it.  The crew members are losing patience with each other and the piece of shit space patroller they are stuck in.   With each malfunction or lapse in judgment, the crew is that much closer to the end of their lives.  But is it a blessing or a curse?

Executed with sharp wit and a nasty sense of itself, this cult classic has enough dry humor to dry up one of the Great Lakes.  It’s dark in tone and in its nature and – being a product of a very limited budget smack dab in the middle of the 1970s – is very much a product of its time.  The acting is poor but the loopy acting serves the dialogue and the situations well.  Some of the edits are slow and, other times (like the space elevator scene), there’s a glimmer of the Carpenter genius (which is almost nonexistent now).

Dark Star echoes the same political concerns of the era and, with a focus on a broke government, seems to know there’s a timelessness quality to the humor that sees a man beating an alien being (looking very much like a beach ball with rubber feet) as a very, very funny thing.  And it is.  It’s consistently amateurish and seems to revel in that fact with a goofy good time vibe that permeates the film without the mellowed out lows of a buzz kill.

Dark Star is warp speed insane.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Dark Star - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: G for general audiences.
Runtime:
83 mins.
Director
: John Carpenter
Writer
: John Carpenter; Dan O'Bannon
Cast:
Brian Narelle; Cal Kuniholm; Dre Pahich; Dan O'Bannon
Genre: Sci-fi | Comedy
Tagline:
What would you be like after 20 years aboard DARK STAR the spaced-out spaceship. The ultimate cosmic comedy!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up"
Distributor:
Jack H. Harris Eneterprises
Official Site:
April, 1974
Release Date:
August 20, 2010
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
November 6, 2012

Synopsis: In the far reaches of space, a small crew, 20 years into their solitary mission, find things beginning to go hilariously wrong.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Dark Star - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
3 stars

3 stars



Blu-ray Experience
3 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - November 6, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English; Spanish
Audio:
English: LPCM 2.0; English: LPCM 5.1
Discs:
25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

Crashing to home theatres with a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer sourced from the original 16mm print.  Soft around the edges, the film does not and should not be judged on its ability to present fine detail.  It’s just not there.  With details missing, note that the colors are pretty reasonable and while they do change slightly from scene to scene, one must blame to quality of the original shoot and not the transfer itself.  The picture, at times, flickers and some DNR has been applied to the transfer.  Heavy grain is present throughout.  Flesh tones are pale and shadows darken the edges of some of the close-ups.  The sound is presented in two formats.  The first is an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 track.  The second is an "enhanced" LPCM 5.1 surround track. The 5.1 track tends to swing Carpenter’s score to the side channels as it tries to beef up the immersive quality of the track but – as it is widely inconsistent – is more a distraction than a positive inclusion.  Keep it simple for this release.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Provided by a self-proclaimed super fan of the movie, Andrew Gilchrist’s commentary is an atypical failure. He’s more concerned with long-winded explanations of some of the more geeky terms in space exploration rather than supplying tidbits about the movie itself. He’s knowledgeable for sure but this experiment is a bit flat.

Special Features:

The supplemental material, complete with 3D look at the interior of the ship, is incredibly geeked-out but - with no participation from John Carpenter (he declined) – it’s a bit disappointing, too.  Up first is a feature-length retrospective which covers the making of the film, Carpenter’s notoriously strained relationship with the powers that be over at USC, and features interviews with cast and crew members. There’s a written intro by O’Bannon that plays before the film discussing the look and restoration of the film.  You get about 4 minutes of mindless trivia on one special feature and an interview with science fiction writer Alan Dean Foster in another.

  • Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of "Dark Star" (120 min)
  • Interview with Sci-Fi Author Alan Dean Foster (35 min)
  • Interview with Brian Narelle (40 min)
  • Written Intro by Dan O'Bannon (1 min)

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