Director John Carpenter's first feature, begun when he was a film student, has become a cult favourite. Seen as a parody of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey', the film tells the story of four space-weary astronauts - Lt. Doolittle (Brian Narelle), Sgt. Pinback (Dan O'Bannon), Boiler (Carl Kuniholm) and Talby (Dre Pahich) - on an extended mission to blow up unstable planets. An electronic forcefield, however, has altered the programming of their bomb and the four must somehow find a way to reset it before it blows them up.
is absurd, surreal and very funny. John Carpenter once described it as "Waiting for Godot
in space." (It's also, surely, one of the primary inspirations for Red Dwarf
.) Made at a cost of practically nothing, the film's effects are nevertheless impressive and, along with the number of ideas crammed into its 83 minutes, ought to shame makers of science fiction films costing hundreds of times more.
The story concerns the Dark Star's crew who are on a 20-year mission to destroy unstable planets and make way for future colonisation. The smart bombs they use to effect this zoom off cheerfully to do their duty. But unlike Star Trek, in which order prevails, the nerves of this crew are becoming increasingly frayed to the point of psychosis. Their captain has been killed by a radiation leak that also destroyed their toilet paper. "Don't give me any of that 'Intelligent Life' stuff," says Commander Doolittle when presented with the possibility of alien life. "Find me something I can blow up." When an asteroid storm causes a malfunction, Bomb Number 20 (the most cheerful character in the film) has to be repeatedly talked out of exploding prematurely, each time becoming more and more peevish, until they have to teach him phenomenology to make him doubt his existence. And the film's apocalyptic ending, lifted almost wholly from Ray Bradbury's story "Kaleidoscope", has the remaining crew drifting away from each other in space, each to a suitably absurd end. --Jim Gay
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