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148
3.9 out of 5 stars
Dark Star, 30th Anniversary Special Edition [DVD] [1974]
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 19 November 2009
There's a lot to like about DARK STAR. If you're up on 70s science-fiction films, you'll know this is where JOHN CARPENTER and DAN O' BANNON cut their teeth. Subsequently falling out, one went on to direct THE THING, the other to write the original screenplay for ALIEN. But without the experience gained on this, effectively an upgraded 'college project', neither would have been associated in later years quite so vividly with the genre.

THE PLOT
Spaced-out hippes travel the cosmos blowing up unstable stars on a pre-colonization mission plagued by continual mishaps, including an intelligent bomb with an existential death wish.

Dark Star is a black comedy which pokes fun at the underlying issues facing a group of hacked-off astronauts who have succumbed to the deep psychological problems associated with being trapped in a confined space - within the realms of infinite space. A perfect handle upon which to hang their subsequent disintegration. And, boy, do these guys fall apart at the seams (even the cryogenically maintained head of their former commander has stopped dispensing good advice and begun a steady decline into gibberish). Only when presented with imminent destruction by a short-tempered and fractious Thermostellar bomb do they actually pull themselves together for a brief but hilarious ethical debate, man and machine in imperfect harmony. Futile, of course, and it's clear by now that things have gone beyond pear-shaped. But moments before what appears to be the bleakest of endings, earlier foreshadowings are thrown into sharp relief (then cleverly realised) and the result - thanks to the sheer AUDACITY of universal order and chaos - is an unexpected pleasure. That's quite a feat to pull off as the end titles roll to a country & western song, playing Dark Star out in marvellously judged incongruity. From such uncertain beginnings does a low-budget classic emerge.

THE ACTING
Inexperienced, almost amateurish. That's probably why it works so well.

THE EFFECTS
Welcome to BLAKE'S 7 territory, but don't get sniffy; shaky spacecraft and wobbly sets are an intrinsic part of the tv show's and this film's lasting charm. As for the stowaway alien/beach ball...well, the puncture kit probably cost more than the finished product, but full marks to O' Bannon for making the most of limited resources.

THE DVD
The picture quality (from a lousy degenerated video master) is hopeless, with washed out colours and poor stability. Don't we deserve better than this? A top-notch print may well not be up to the technical scrutiny afforded from a Blu-ray release but, surely, a decent standard-def print is available somewhere. At least it's cheap. And as I said at the top, there's a lot to like about Dark Star...so, for those who take their sci-fi comedies seriously, owning even a flawed copy of this little gem should be a given.

THE BLU-RAY...AT LAST!
Now this is what I'm talking about.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2011
There are some interesting extras included with this Hyperdrive Edition. They include ;

A new text introduction to the film written by Dan O'Bannon who died just before this release.

The original version of the film (68 minutes).

A full-length audio commentary of the final version (83 minutes) by Andrew Gilchrist who tells you everything that is known about the film.

Let There Be Light (115 minutes) is a new, excellent 2010 documentary and includes interviews with many of the surviving cast and crew and archival interviews with John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon. You will find out how the students made the film over three years, exactly where the props and sets came from and how Carpenter and O'Bannon worked with each other.

An interview with Alan Dean Foster (34 minutes) who talks about his novelisation of Dark Star, his meetings with John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon and his other novelisations which included Star Trek and Star Wars, and how he met George Lucas.

An interview with Brian Narelle (40 minutes) who plays Lt Doolittle. He talks about his work on Dark Star, working with John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon, and other work in acting and animation.

A 3D Guide to the Dark Star ship which is a short animation showing you around a few areas of the ship.

The original trailer which gives away a few of the surprises in the film.

A trivia section which details 22 text items.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 6 August 2011
I saw this many years ago one wet Saturday afternoon when I was in my early teens and thought this was brilliant. I have never seen it again since and recently after talking about various favourite old films with my partner / girlfriend we decided to buy and watch them together. I don't know who was more disappointed, me or her. Although I was expecting special effects to look dated (they weren't as bad as I thought they would be) the excitement of the story line did not match up to the memory of it. Yes there was some funny bits but if you had already seen them they didn't seem so funny the second time around. Also knowing how it ended seem to spoil the whole thing for me. I would have been better not watching it again and keep my fond memories, especially now that I have to watch 'Gone with the Wind' (Blu-Ray Version).

In summary if you've not seen it before it's worth watching, the special effect are good as long as you aren't expecting something like Avatar. However if you have seen it before don't bother, you'll just spoil any good memories you have of it.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2012
I realise there's going to be people who were involved in the production of this Blu-ray reading this, so I'll try to be as polite as possible... I know it was a labour of love, with a smaller production budget than many other releases out there. So I know you did what you could. Not everyone can be Criterion. I'm a big fan of the film, and I've even seen it theatrically a couple of times, so I want to like this...

...it's OK. It's not great, but it is an improvement on the DVD. The sound quality is definitely as good as it could ever be, and even then it just is what it is: it sounds like a pretty shaky 70s student effort.

The picture is improved, particularly in terms of dirt and damage removal. There's clearly been some extensive frame-by-frame clean-up here, and it shows. Aside from that, however, it looks soft, hazy, but I guess as good as non-professional 16mm blown up to 35mm can look.

What worries me is a smeary softness to the picture that suggests DNR, and I can't see much in the way of film grain. An earlier comment [now removed, but quoted by a later reviewer] suggests that DNR was used and then fake grain added back in. If this is the case - and the grain that is there looks suspiciously even for such a raggedy film - then that's a very stupid thing to do. No-one who's ever seen this film expects it to look pristine, and you must be aware that it's going to be more film-literate viewers who are the target audience for this. Grain removal is widely regarded as an unwise practice, and if you did that here you've disappointed a lot of people, including me.

The documentary is super-informative, but feels padded [with some ugly, repetitive computer-generated visuals and endless montages and clips of the movie], and I ended up listening but not watching.

So while I'm pleased with the package overall - it's a big improvement over existing DVD releases - realistically, it's just OK.

Buyers: temper your expectations accordingly.

Though if you've never seen the film, watch it immediately. It's a lovely, funny, sad, clever little movie, overflowing with creativity.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2007
Having been waiting for a decent edition of this movie on DVD since the format was launched, I was pleased to see this package with "anamorphic widescreen' plastered across the front, so I picked it up straight off.

Unfortunately, it's a port of the original US edition. Pretty good in and of itself - 2 versions of the film, a handful of extras - but NOT anamorphic/enhanced for 16x9 format.

The film itself is terrific. Funny, touching, tense, imaginative, beautifully designed, raw, bleak. And surprisingly sad coming from Howard Hawks-worshipping man's man John Carpenter. Dan O'Bannon's so funny, you wonder why he didn't really act again.

So... best available edition, but not what it claims.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2012
This is one of my favourite films, Yes, the quality is not as good as a new modern day film, it was made in the 1970's....on 16mm, but the restoration is good enough to watch and enjoy the film. Just focus on the story and the characters and you will forget that the image quality is not as good as some recent films in your collection. Incidentally , I don't know if anyone else who has this film has noticed that the end sequence, the last 10 mins or so, is actually taken from a short story by Ray Bradbury. I forget which book it's from but it is either 'The Golden Apples of the Sun'...or 'Dandilion Wine', or The 'Illustrated Man', or 'The Martian Chronicles' (aka The 'Silver locust's)They are only ones I have read in the last 12 months And I remember reading it in one of those books. i have returned all books to the library so I can't check, but maybe some one else has read it also.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2000
I'm fond of this film, which shows just how much can be done with how little, but I really can't recommend this region 2 pressing: the sound is very distorted, and the picture is soft and murky. Unless you're a die-hard fan, hang on until somebody finds a better print and makes a new master from it.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2002
This is one of my top ten favourite films of all time - why? Especially as I'm not a science fiction fan. But I like the way it injects some humour, realism and cynicism into the "glamour" of space travel - how would you feel if you'd been stuck out in space with the same 3 guys for 20 years and Congress weren't going to pay for a rescue ship for a bit longer because of budget cuts? Low budget, but all the characters ring true. And any film with a guy hanging half in, half out of the bottom of a lift waving his legs frantically and listening to Rossini's "Barber of Seville", who has got there by a totally logical and natural sequence of actions, has got to have something going for it! How much you enjoy it probably depends on what appeals to your sense of humour.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a 1974 film from director John Carpenter, talented director of both `Assault on Precinct 13′, and `Halloween'. This is quirky, and intentionally humourous, yet like its title, has darker moments. The four crew members are looking for unstable planets to blow up. They have a cargo of robotised bombs, and a long mission behind them. They become increasingly unstable, and are also affected by radiation leaks. Each crew member retreats into an unusual hobby, as the boredom takes over their brains, and they become ever more affected, both by the constant malfunctions, and by the apparent pointlessness of their mission. Seen by many as a parody of '2001′, and other science fiction films too, it even has a soft-spoken computer, and a robot bomb that just does not want to take orders. Made on a very tight budget, and running under 90 minutes, it is still a special little film, betraying none of its financial shortcomings. An easy watch, and a rewarding one as well.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Dark Star is a curious film, it's not the greatest piece of science-fiction and is more ordinary than extra-ordinary. However it has gained a cult following and still feels like a unique film nearly forty years on.

Rather than gleaming white surfaces and futuristic luxury, Dark Star is an industrial looking film where instead of embarking on stimulating missions to explore strange, new worlds - the crew live in cramped conditions during their long, boring voyage to blow up unstable planets. Even having a pet alien on board doesn't bring much excitement - but then again it does resemble a beach ball with rubber feet. The film starts with the Scout Ship Dark Star receiving an incoming call to say that the gap between messages relaying between the ship and Earth is now ten years, that Earth is sorry to hear about a death in the crew and regrets the radiation leak - but a request for radiation shields is denied - oh, and keep up the good work.

Dark Star is comedic film bordering on the ludicrous at times, but it's probably more realistic than many other science fiction adventures. After twenty years the ship is a mess, as are the crew. Unshaven and bored they argue and get on with the monotony of daily life while trying to amuse themselves. It's clear though that two decades of drudgery has taken its toll and the mental health of the now four-strong crew is struggling with the confines of the ship and the limited company of each other and the computer. This is a film which has gone on to influence many others (it helped to inspire Red Dwarf and Co-Writer Dan O'Bannon developed several elements in his later film Alien), but there are influences from previous works evident here, the film is often labelled as a spoof of 2001 - A Space Odyssey which is unfair as although Dark Star has some obvious parodying it utilises its own creative ideas rather than just lazy reworking. The best nods to Kubrick's masterpiece have to be conversations with the computerised bombs, they make HAL-9000 seem stable, especially when one has to be talked out of exploding while still in the ship.

It's been a few years since I watched this in a bare-bones DVD release and was surprised to see that the Director's Cut is the shorter than the Theatrical Cut (1hr 11min as opposed to 1hr 23min) - I now know that this is because the film was 'padded out' for the cinema release and it's nice to get the choice of either on this Blu-Ray. The picture quality on the DVD I had was pretty poor and I was surprised how good this looked on Blu-Ray. Compared to most modern films it's soft and lacks clarity - but for a low-budget amateur production filmed on 16mm film this is the best you could hope for. The picture is much cleaner than I expected, a lot of time has been spent on cleaning this up, maybe noise reduction has lost some detail but I was impressed. The ship interior now looks more cluttered and it's easier to notice the various health and safety signs on airlocks and signs. The audio isn't always great, the sound effects are clear (and gloriously retro) but speech sometimes suffers from poor clarity. I was hoping for a good collection of bonus features but the only significant bonus is a documentary called "Let there be light: The odyssey of Dark Star" - thankfully it's a very good one. At nearly 2 hours in duration it's much longer than either cut of the film and covers not just Dark Star but the state of the film industry in the '60s and the impact of the UCLA which saw a crucible of talent emerge. It discusses the influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey and contains video interviews, telephone interviews and clips from the film. Watching the documentary before the film might give away a few spoilers but it may help those who aren't a big fan to appreciate it more.

In a nutshell: Sometimes space travel isn't all sexy aliens or poignant explorations into the past and future of humanity - sometimes it closer resembles the humdrum of life and that's something we can all relate to. This is a film which gets better with each viewing and the hand-made look gives it a real charm, impressively though some of the special effects still look fairly good.
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