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Film Review – Dark Star (1974)

Dark Star is a Sci-Fi film from 1974, written by Dan O’Bannon (who later wrote Alien amongst other things) and directed by John Carpenter (who also co-wrote, produced and did some of the music). It’s widely lauded as a cult classic and it inspired many future film and television writers, most obviously the guys behind Red Dwarf. It was made on a very tight budget, and contains some innovative effects – some of which have stood the test of time better than others.

In a nutshell, it’s a few beardy guys from the 1970’s in a spaceship with a sentient computer that talks to them. Their mission is to bomb unstable planets to allow their neighbours to be colonised, for which they have sentient ‘smart bombs’. Also on board is an alien that one of the crew decided to bring on board as a pet, which looks like a giant beachball with claws – quite possibly because it IS a giant beachball with claws.

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I watched this film the other night, having been recommended to me as a classic. It was one of those odd ones – on the surface, it’s a fairly terrible film. The acting isn’t great, the plot is nothing special, the pacing is pretty slow… and yet… something about it kept me watching. I think it reminded me of films I used to watch back when I was a kid, or perhaps old computer games. We knew they were rubbish, and that the effects looked nothing like they would in real life, but we suspended disbelief and just got on with it. Dark Star felt a little like that for me – it wasn’t a great film, but it did perform the miraculous feat of making me feel like I was in the future like it used to be in the past. Without that nostalgia though, I suspect a modern audience would be nonplussed.

Space comedy has been done much better since this was made, and Red Dwarf is a prime example of that – similar themes, similar production ethos, just better jokes and tighter pacing from the TV format. Still, worth a watch if you’re an old git like I am or you’re a fan of bearded men in overalls listening to country music in a tin can – let’s face it, who isn’t?

Dark Star [1974] [DVD]


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