Science fiction movies rarely age well because advances in special effects and set decoration make the necessary willing suspension of disbelief harder to maintain for the viewer. This could perhaps be said about Dark Star, the cult sci-fi comedy student film by John Carpenter (the many Halloween films, Ghosts of Mars, Memoirs of an Invisible Man) and Dan O'Bannon (Aliens, Total Recall, Return of the Living Dead). Still, this comic science-fiction film has survived the years pretty well and has done so as more than a simple curiosity.
Before the magic of being discovered at Sundance and other film festivals, you had to be a pretty good writer or director to have your student project noticed by some biggie in Hollywood. This is what happened to Carpenter and O'Bannon. They were asked to extend their 68-minute low-budget student film to 83 minutes, the minimum requirement for theatrical release. Dark Star soon became a cult classic and was a very difficult movie to find until VCI Entertainment released both the original version and the extended version on DVD.
The story is basically simple. Four guys are in the Dark Star Spaceship and their now going on twenty year mission is to go around blowing up unstable planets to make human colonization possible in a given star system. To accomplish this mission they use smart bombs called Exponential Thermostellar Bombs which look like a freight container with extra doodads. Through some weird incident (which is unclear if you watch the 68-minute version but clear if you watch the longer version) one of the bombs malfunctions and refuses to turn itself off, endangering the crew until one of them has a phenomenological discussion with it (as in I think therefore I am, to be or not to be, how do you know reality is real and not just your imagination, and so on). This is not the only moment where you get a certain 2001 A Space Odyssey feel in this movie.
The laughs in this movie come from the fact these astronauts are basically inept, have been together for twenty years in very cramped quarters, and some of the directing and writing decisions that you just have to see to appreciate. Funny moments also come when the alien they let on board (a.k.a. a beach ball with legs) turns on one of the crew and tries to escape. These are also the horror movie moments of this very weird movie. You know it is a low-budget epic when a crew member enters a part of the ship and walks right by a light switch only to turn on his flashlight.
Considering the age and original source of this movie, the DVD version is almost excellent picture wise. The sound quality suffers a bit, partly because the actors tend to mumble a lot of their lines, so subtitles would have been nice. More difficult to explain is the menu choices where the expanded 83 minute version is called the special edition cut and the 68-minute version is the uncut version (shouldn't it be the other way around or at least somewhat clearer?). Still, chapter selection allows you to view the added scenes (obvious and not particularly useful aside from adding a few laughs) separately.
Fans of science fiction movies, John Carpenter, and Dan O'Bannon, as well as Aliens and Halloween will want to add this cult classic to their collection