Rewatched May 16, 2008
Rian Miller’s review:
Dark Star is the first feature length film ever directed by John Carpenter back during his film school days. The film stars and was co-written by Carpenter's fellow classmate Dan O'Bannon, who later went on to write Ridley Scott's film Alien with the help of Ron Shussett. After twenty years of soaring around space blowing up unstable planets to protect the solar system, a human error causes one of the "smart bombs" aboard the Dark Star spaceship to malfunction. It's up to the four living (and one dead) over-worked, under-enthusiastic crew members of the ship to find a way to stop the bomb from blowing up and killing them all before it's too late.
That's the general plot of Dark Star, but those events don't really come into play until the last act of the film. Up until that point, the plot (if you want to call it that) simply focuses on the day-to-day lives of worn out astronauts Doolittle, Boiler, Talby, and Pinback (O'Bannon himself) as they float around the universe. The term "low budget" is an understatement in reference to this film. There is a segment involving an alien creature which is obviously just a beach ball with some designs painted on it and a pair of fake rubber feet, as well as a sequence which takes place in an elevator shaft during which the shaft is merely a hallway shot from a skewed angle and the elevator itself is obviously being pushed back and forth on a dolly. Regardless, the effects in the film are ingenuitive, interesting to look at, and impressive for the time, place, and circumstances under which they were achieved.
There are many intriguing science fiction concepts at play in Dark Star such as the dead captain of the ship who the crew can communicate with in the afterlife via the use of some electronic equipment. Ideas like that one manage to keep Dark Star entertaining and interesting despite it's cheap visual nature. The plot and characters are all very tongue-in-cheek and a few moments did inspire laughter when I re-watched it, but I wouldn't readily classify Dark Star as a comedy, which is what it was intended to be. I prefer just to think of this film as a dark, sarcastic look at science fiction cinema, and in that regard I think it's a fairly successful early effort from it's creators.