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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Comedy > Satire > Counterculture > Independent > John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974/Sci-Fi/Comedy/VCI/DVD-Video)

John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974/Sci-Fi/Comedy/VCI/DVD-Video)


Picture: C     Sound: C     Extras: C     Film: B-



The creators of Dark Star, director John Carpenter and writer Dan O’Bannon have sadly never teamed again since this film, which had initially been created as a film school project.  Producer Jack Harris, who asked for new footage to be created for it, soon picked it up.  Once this had been accomplished, the film was released theatrically and launched the young men’s careers and sent the movie itself onward to become something of a buried cult classic.


Most people treat John Carpenter’s film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) as his first foray into feature-length production.  While that movie is far more taut and suspenseful, as many of his later films would be, you can see how essential Dark Star was in honing his sensibilities.  It’s definitely something more loose and unpredictable, with substantially more dialogue than most other Carpenter films I can draw to memory.  If anything, it’s best companion in his film catalogue would be The Fog, which, like this movie, also bears several strong EC Comic touches and has a vaguely similar flair.


For the most part, however, it carries the hallmarks of what would come to be O’Bannon’s own film style, with its overtly camp flavor.  With this in mind, it’s doubtful that much at all had been changed from his original script - something that can’t be said of the later Ridley Scott film, Alien, which O’Bannon also wrote.  That movie feels like a truly different animal, set apart from the rest of O’Bannon’s cinematic output - something I‘m sure that he would agree to.  Here though, with he and Carpenter sharing the reigns, there is a harmony in place that I’m not sure could have worked again in another film had they attempted such a move later in their careers.


The picture is letterboxed and presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The quality of the print and transfer is consistent between the original footage and the optional bit of film that was later added to beef the running time up.  Sadly, the print isn’t in pristine shape here, and there is surely more restoration that could be done, but this is an early DVD release.  As it is, the picture is acceptable and will do until new restoration work can be brought about sometime in the future.  The sound has been remixed into a fairly lackluster 5.1 Dolby Digital.  While the sound isn’t bad, there is some noticeable hiss and mild pops that are still present on occasion throughout the film.


Neither O’Bannon nor Carpenter returns to offer commentary or interview footage.  A shame, since it could have been an opportunity for a lively discussion and since Dan O’Bannon’s appearance on The Return of the Living Dead DVD is excellent and goes to show just how interested in this material he truly is.  The only features are the inclusion of the theatrical trailer and some short biographies on the aforementioned creators.


This disc from VCI is worthwhile to own, but it feels a little shoddy overall.  With such great talent behind this movie, you would expect them to lavish better treatment upon this release, as it is something that could quite easily warrant more than one disc.  As valuable as this movie is, I doubt this will be the final edition we’re likely to see of it.  Certainly down the line, some company will take advantage and further spruce up this early collaboration from these two very important and influential filmmakers.  This may be one of VCI’s first HD releases, so we’ll see.



-   David Milchick


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