Dark Star? More like Derp Star, miright!?

So, I finally got around to seeing Dark Star, a movie that is as old as I am.
I remember hearing cool kids saying it was a cool movie back in school. I was expecting some clever, edgy, scifi dark comedy. I was very disappointed.
This movie, while having a few clever (if poorly executed) ideas, just sucked. Almost everything about it was just so brazenly cheap and/or half-assed.

Yet apparently it has a 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Am I missing something?
Do you have to be stoned to appreciate this movie?

Those of you who have seen and enjoyed this flick, please offer me your insights.
Those of you who have seen and hated it, please describe what part you thought was dumbest.

For me it was

that goddam beach-ball alien!

I agree with you. It’s not a horrible movie, but the fan base seems out of proportion to the quality.

I like it as a bit of historical reference - the prototype for Alien, in a way. But I don’t own it. Haven’t watched it in decades.

But it really is a product of the drug-addled 70s. “Let’s all get stoned and make a movie!” “Cool [takes long drag] maaan.” Sometimes it works (Blues Brothers), mostly it doesn’t. Counterculture atmospheric trappings substituting for actual plot or story or point. Starlog magazine loved it, but as I’m older and reread the magazine, I think they ‘partook’ during the work day as well.

I saw the New England Premiere of Dark Star (after seeing the Alan Dean Foster novelization in bookstores) and was prepared for something great. I was disappointed.

From the trailer I had seen, I was expecting something more like Alien – Monster Runs Loose on a Spaceship. We got it, too, although that wasn’t the main part of the film (see below). It’s not surprising that Dan O’Bannon (who played Pinback in Dark Star – the guy chasing the Beachball) later produced and co-wrote Alien.

You have to understand that the reason the film looks like a cheap film is because it WAS a cheap film. It started life as a student film made by John Carpenter (who directed), O’Bannon, and others. Their original version lacked the Beachball subplot. They were forced to add that and shoot extra scenes to pad the film out. Jack Harris, the movie exec who agreed to “produce” the film, apparently pissed off a lot of the student filmmakers, who reportedly have “Fuck You Harris!” show up on one of the monitors in the background. I’ve never seen it.

My take:

For a student film, it’s not bad. Like a lot of student films (especially student science fiction films) it seems more interested in creating atmosphere and style and images than in giving you a rational plot and story. The film really doesn’t make a helluva lotta sensed. “Blowing up unstable planets?” Who the hell sends a crew of misfits out on a mission with a collection of ultra-powerful bombs to do something like that? Sounds like the kind of thing that could seriously backfire.

The elements of the story (such as it is) as absurdist tropes that read like things you’d stumble across ion a Robert Sheckley story. Or Doug Adams.

The comical monster loose in the space ship.
The crew running out of toilet paper
The intelligent bomb that questionsd its mission
The Dead Captain in cryo-freeze who gives advice
The Stoner guy in the Watch Bubble
The crewman who rides a surfboard down into the atmosphere

(Actually, the end of the film feels a lot like Ray Bradbury’s Kaleidoscope, in which the crew of an exploded spaceship each go to their own fate. Bradbury turned it into a play, and the story was itself released as a film in 2012. One member even falls to earth as a shooting star, although without a surfboard. ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2188867/ ))
The film had its moments. It’s the first film or TV depiction I know of where the space ship wasn’t depicted as a neat, pristine environment, but looked like a crowded shack inhabited by six guys cooped up too long, with dirty walls and junk piled up. It would be another three years before [Star Wars gave us a mainstream Future is Dirty film.
So, yeah, it’s disappointing and overrated. It has some interesting bits and images. Its best parts rip off Bradbury and Van Vogt by way of Jerome Bixby. Its effects are cheap for a studio film, but not bad for the student production it was. Worth a watch, especially since it was the starts of the careers of John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon.

“Do you have to be stoned to appreciate this movie?” No, but it helps.

I just saw it for the first time recently myself. Much of what you say is true, but it has to be viewed in context of time and budget.

Besides, where else are you going to find a country-western love song about relativity?


That was part of the joke. Muffin tins on the space suits! LOL

I love Dark Star. SGT Pinback actually being an idiot named Bill Froug who couldn’t figure out how to make Pinback’s suit radio work. Talking ‘phenomenology’ with the Bomb. The elevator scene. The idea of destroying ‘unstable planets’ to make room for colonisation. The Alien. (‘Ti’s time to feed the Alien.’ ‘Aw, I don’t wanna do that!’ and ‘Eat it. Take it or leave it.’) It’s hilarious. And I’ve never seen it under the influence.

I have to say though, that the original cut is better than the theatrical cut.

You didn’t even like the arguement with the bomb? :frowning:

Let there be light.

I saw Dark Star back during my college days, and thought it was hilarious. (And no, I was not stoned.) The cheapness and absurdity is what made it so much fun. I haven’t seen it in years, and I’m sure it wouldn’t hold up well by today’s standards, but I’m sure I’d still get quite a few laughs out of it.

My answer as well.

Dark Star reveled in its cheapness, that was part of the joke.

I agree with the above, except for “it wouldn’t hold up well by today’s standards.” Well, “today’s standards” are absolute crap. Expensive CGI crap, to be sure, but crap nevertheless. The cheapness and absurdity (and yes, even the bad acting) are all part of the movie’s charm, and I never tire of watching it (though it has been a loooooooong time since my last viewing).

For a student film, Carpenter and his mates did one helluva job. And I love the theme song, too!


First of all, of course it looked cheap. It was student-made for a budget of $60k, at a time when CGI didn’t exist. It’s like saying Casablanca stinks because it’s in black in white – in both cases, they did the best with what they had and shouldn’t be looked down upon because we can do things better now.

It’s not a great movie (the beachball plot is out of place and doesn’t fit the tone of the rest), but it’s a pretty good one. It was funny, and the idea of portraying space travel as a boring job and a cluttered ship and slovenly crew was revolutionary. It’s the opposite of space opera. It’s a bit slow, but I think that was a way to enforce the idea that being on a spaceship is mostly boredom and dullness.

And much of the humor is understated. You have to pay attention to realize how funny it is because the characters are deliberately deadpan about things.

Still, you don’t have to be stoned to enjoy it. You just have to compare what you’re seeing to any other film like it.

Actually, I did. I *did *like the argument with the bomb. [Please read in Tweety-bird voice.]

And I liked the overly enthusiastic chatter of the first bomb even more.

Talking bombs that live to blow up is a funny, clever idea.
That earns the movie about half a star, whose light is sadly sucked into the void left by the complete lack of a decent plot, acting, or script.

Casablanca is a timeless classic precisely because it has all the things Dark Star lacks: an intriguing plot, well-written dialogue, and great acting. It looks like a movie made by people who cared about what they were doing.
Dark Star looks, to me, like its creators just didn’t care much about their project.

Well, that’s a valid point. I guess it had a decent idea with the whole anti-romanticism of space travel. If only it had tied to be more than just mood and cynicism.

Casablanca doesn’t stink because the film is in B&W, it stinks because the plot makes no sense! “Letters of transit that can’t be questioned” my ass! The Nazis would have just popped a cap in Laszlo’s ass (probably while holding the Luger sideways).


Seriously, the look of Dark Star isn’t it’s big weakness. It’s the plot. But the talking bombs are good!

Dark Star is one of my favorite black humor comedies. The comedy is very dead pan though and YMMV.

It’s one of my favorite movies, period. I’ve been watching and laughing at this film since the late 1970s and yes, I think the film has a terrific plot, great acting and excellent production values. Most of all, the film is interesting.

If you want a good quirky small-budget absurdist sci-fi film double feature, I’d recommend watching Dark Star first and then finishing up with The American Astronaut.

I saw the film in 1983 on mushrooms when I was 19 and I loved it. Take that for what it’s worth.

I saw it after having recently seen Liquid Sky and Eraserhead. In comparison, Dark Star was Austenian in its clarity.

According to O’Bannon, after George Lucas told them, “You know that gag-store rubber vomit? You should have covered the alien with it.”

It was a comedy - a satire of space operas with their clean-cut, noble, blaster-wielding Captain Cosmos types and their nifty, shiny spaceships, conquering huge, slobbering, teethy alien monsters and saving their equally tight-suited women. Like good satiric comedies, it was more truthful than what it satirized - it was more like what you’d expect from guys in their situation. And it was the first sf satire anything like it. And people who don’t get the satire are disappointed they didn’t get another space opera.