Dark Star (1974) — Philosophical arguments with bombs

“When I brought you on this ship, I thought you were cute.”

Justin’s rating: There’s a lot of blowing wind in space, I learned

Justin’s review: Four years before John Carpenter broke into the big leagues with Halloween, he made his directorial debut with a quirky and uneven space satire. Dark Star is as rough-around-the-edges as you might expect for the era and expertise, yet it still has a modest fan base who love it because of Carpenter’s legacy. For me, this is the first time sitting down to watch it, knowing only that it involved some sort of infamous beach ball on a spaceship.

It’s 20 years into a lengthy mission to blow up unstable planets, and the spaceship Dark Star has seen better days. Its crew is a bit cranky with each other, its previous captain was killed, it lacks toilet paper, its computer acts like a lite FM DJ, it’s got a misbehaving alien mascot — the aforementioned beach ball-with-feet — making trouble for everyone, and one of its bombs has gone sentient and is refusing to cooperate.

Without the satire, Dark Star’s glum blue collar crew could be seen as a precursor to the fine folks of the Nostromo a half-decade later (especially considering that Carpenter’s co-writer also wrote the script for Alien). But it’s the low-key silliness and Dr. Strangelove-like absurdity that puts this in a different category altogether. I just wish it wasn’t wrapped around some of the longest, most meandering subplots ever filmed, such as one guy’s extended mishaps in an elevator shaft.

It’s hard to go to bat for Dark Star as one of the best films of ths ’70s or even Carpenter’s filmography, but I approached it with fascination even so. It’s certainly neat to see early markers of this director’s traits, including a propensity to be geeky, write the music, and be a little weird. But beyond that, I was keen to see how scifi comedy worked before Star Wars arrived to rewrite the genre.

Dark Star isn’t parodying anything specific (maybe a touch of 2001: A Space Odyssey), but rather was just odd in an occasionally humorous way. You get the sense that everyone on this ship went bonkers about five years back and are dealing with the extended mission in their own deranged fashion that doesn’t, for some reason, include homicidal acts. Unfortunately, it’s just not as all-out funny as it should’ve been. It’s like Carpenter was timidly approaching the line of true comedy and kept chickening out at the last moment.

With wildly fluctuating sound levels, a cast that barely acts, and only moments of inspired humor, Dark Star isn’t going to rock anyone’s world. It’s a curiosity at most, and a short one at that. But it did kick off an amazing career, so I appreciate its presence even so.


  • “I hate to send you bad news when you guys are up there doing a swell job.”
  • That is the most cramped cockpit. What if the middle guy needs to get up and go pee?
  • Bomb #19 is so dang cheery
  • Carpenter created that country music song the crew listens to
  • Wait, no TP left?
  • The crew rocking out in the cockpit is pretty funny
  • The sleeping quarters look like someone’s abandoned suburbian bedroom. And they all gotta share?
  • Nobody wants to live with a practical joker
  • Alien mascots love their toy mouse
  • The beach ball fighting with the broom is pretty funny
  • Is this spaceship really so big as to require that big of an elevator shaft?
  • That’s the slowest elevator. And who’s riding it?
  • His diary is on 8-track

One comment

  1. Excited for a chance to reply here. Dark Star is an ingenious movie. With most Carpenter movies, there is an incredible depth of storytelling, characters, imagery, and tools for the imagination. Dark Star is absolutely no exception. At first I was confused and bored. Then slowly the story opened itself, and the creativity did too. This is the pace and success for Carpenter movies. There’s enough detail to allow your brain to run wild and in the end that art becomes a part of you. That’s what it’s all about anyway.

    Now, get the movie in your hands because it gets bigger than that! The Documentary special feature about the making of the film is an incredible movie in itself. Really detailing the process for this time and place in John and Dan’s life. It’s about the purity and art. And Dan just crushes it here as well. Please seek me out if you’d like to talk about more about it. klpoppe3@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s