Three astronauts trapped for the past twenty years inside the metallic skin of Dark Star have become as unstable as the planets they destroy. Director John Carpenter and writer Dan O'Bannon turn their student thesis into a theatrical release, a conflated parody of Kubrick's pretentious masterpiece while under the influence of Philip K Dick. The results are uneven but interesting, as DARK STAR has itself birthed such classic science fiction shows as Grant and Naylor's RED DWARF and Douglas Adams HITCHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.
The unfocused plot involves a group of four astronauts (The Commander recently died in a radiation leak) whose mission is to destroy unstable planets by dropping "smart bombs" into their atmosphere. The ramblings capture the boredom and routine of deep space travel where most time is spent between missions. The astronauts have devolved into hebephrenic habits and have become emotionally isolated and depressed, looking more like Hippies than scientists (though one is only a fuel technician). The ship's artificially intelligent computer has a sultry feminine voice contrasting the gently reflexive tenor of the HAL 9000. The conflicts involve fighting amongst the crew, an alien beach-ball, and finally a computer malfunction that enables a bomb to discuss its conscious perceptions and develop a god complex.
DARK STAR is light on science and comedy but heavy with concepts, ideas, and visuals. The sequence when Pinback chases the gaseous mascot through the air ducts eerily foreshadows events in O’Bannon’s ALIEN, as does the computer control room. The direction and editing of the theatrical version is clumsy though serviceable, padding the runtime without any visual flare or style. The synthetic score is a bit monotonous and redundant but the country song Benson, Arizona that bookends the film is classic, evoking the satire of Slim Pickens’ Major Kong from DR. STRANGELOVE.
Finally, the bomb discards all sensory input and realizes it is the only consciousness in an empty cosmos, and creates a universe with these fateful words: let there be light.
Final Grade: (B-)