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While it may enjoy a large cult following, DARK STAR ($30) actually began its existence as a 68-minute student film directed by John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN) and written by Carpenter along with Dan O'Bannon (ALIEN). DARK STAR is a sci-fi spoof that that is so unlike Carpenter or O’Bannon’s later work that I would have never guessed that either man was responsible for the film. Despite its humble beginnings, DARK STAR acquired a Hollywood producer who insisted that the filmmakers expand it by 15 minutes so that it could be given a theatrical release in 1975.

Made for less money than the typical Hollywood power lunch, DARK STAR is an entertaining, but goofy send up of the science fiction genre. The plot centers on the spaced out crew of the Dark Star, a group of outer space misfits who are having problems coping with their multi-year mission. The Dark Star was been launched from Earth in advance of colony ships, to search for and destroy unstable planets. Unfortunately, the years in space have begun to take their toll on both ship and crew. One of the Dark Star's officers was killed in a freak exploding chair accident, and to make matters worse, the ship's entire compliment of toilet paper was lost in another freak explosion. You can see from this brief description where the plot of this space satire is going... Most of the production values for this film, which cost next to nothing, are fairly good. However, the beach ball with feet that purports to be the ship's alien mascot looks really cheesy. Nevertheless, I found myself laughing at the inflatable alien. The cast of DARK STAR includes Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahich, Dan O'Bannon, Joe Saunders, Michael Shaw and Miles Watkins.

DARK STAR has found its way to DVD thanks to the folks at Magic Lantern Entertainment. Both the original director's cut and theatrical release versions of DARK STAR have been included on the DVD. Selecting the shorter director's cut induces some slight pauses during playback, since the DVD just bypasses all the footage from the longer version. DARK STAR is presented in a Letterboxed transfer that recreates the film's 1.85:1 theatrical framing, without including the 16:9 component for wide screen televisions. Since DARK STAR was a student film made on the cheap, it can't be expected to look like LOST IN SPACE the movie, or the fairly tacky TV series that inspired it. Considering the material and the film’s production history, the transfer can't be faulted for being less than inspiring. DARK STAR delivers better than acceptable video quality, with a reasonably sharp image and fairly stable colors. Digital compression artifacts never became an issue on this DVD.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is in a word, adequate. This soundtrack is more like 5.1 channels of monaural sound with a bit of ambience, rather than a fully directional track. Dialogue reproduction is reasonably free from distortion; that alone should be considered an accomplishment. However, this soundtrack isn't high fidelity and I don't recommend playing it back at exaggerated volume levels. Again, considering the source material and production history of the film, the soundtrack really isn’t all that bad.

The simple interactive menus provide access to the scene selection and set up features, plus the disc’s extras. A theatrical trailer, plus biographies/filmographies for John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon are included as supplement.

DARK STAR is a goofy sci-fi satire with a strong cult following. Cultists won't be disappointed by the DVD. John Carpenter fans will also want to add a copy of this disc to their collections.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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