As promised last week, I’ve got another movie for you from one of my favorite directors, John Carpenter. This time, I’m going back to the beginning and taking a look at Dark Star.
Let me just say that I’m a huge fan of John Carpenter’s films. I can watch Escape from New York once a week (and Escape from L.A. maybe once a year). There was going to be a Snake Plissken movie set on Mars, which I would’ve loved, but that became Ghosts of Mars, which I didn’t hate (and with that cast, which included the lovely Joanna Cassidy, how could I?). And I could talk about Big Trouble in Little China and They Live all day. I’m a little lukewarm about the upcoming remakes and sequels, but that’s the way of things, isn’t it? Everything old is potentially profitable again. Oh well.
Originally a student film, the Dark Star’s runtime was padded with another fifty minutes of footage to get it up to theatrical length (a lot of that new footage was cut out for the Director’s Cut). In preparation of writing this post, I sat down and re-watched the original theatrical release. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen the Director’s Cut, despite it being on the same DVD as the theatrical cut. I’ll get around to it one of these days.
Dark Star, being a student film, had a student-film budget. When I first saw this as a younger man, a crappy VHS copy, I wasn’t impressed. It was too silly, and it had terrible effects. I mean, there’s an alien that’s just a painted beach ball. Watching it later in life, with a better DVD copy, I started to appreciate the film for what it is. And watching it recently, I really started to love it. I love the music, I love the humor (and the attempts thereof), and I love the idea of a sentient planet-destroying bomb. Hilarious.
Dark Star was co-written by Carpenter and the late Dan O’Bannon, who you might recognize as one of the screenwriters for Ridley Scott’s Alien, and it’s easy to spot the seeds of Alien in Dark Star. But this little student film seems to have influenced lots of future filmmakers. I like that, and I hope people continue to discover this gem, people with any sort of creative aspirations. Because there’s craft here, ingenuity, vision, despite the limitations of budget and resources. These days, cameras and microphones and editing software are dirt cheap and super easy to use. Among the films that could inspire the YouTube generation to get out there and put something awesome together, I think Dark Star belongs at the top of the list. Even as a student film, this project was something of a risk, one they went all-in on, these fledgling filmmakers, and it paid off big. In fact, Dark Star was one of the movies that got me thinking about going to film school back in the day. Which, as you probably guessed, I never did, ’cause I was poor and film school is expensive.
I became a writer instead, still inspired by Dark Star, even if I’ve let my dream to be a filmmaker die. Meh. I would’ve been a terrible director anyway. I’m notoriously difficult to work with.
See you next time.