Dark Star (1974) Review

For me to enjoy a film, something has to happen! For me to really enjoy it, that something has to be amazing or interesting, keeping me intrigued enough throughout. I’ve seen a couple of films recently that have managed this, Avengers Assemble, Source Code, Street Kings – just click on the “Ratings List” tab to see which films have kept me entertained. Dark Star won’t even touch the top 20.

I know that the idea of nothing happening is sort of the point but the idea of isolation and being alone has been done brilliantly before. Castaway is a perfect example of how to do a film where someone is alone and nothing much is really going on. Except this doesn’t describe Dark Star because this isn’t a film about a single man, in space, alone, bored! Instead its a film about a crew of people, alone, bored! This means that the film could have shown the boredom, how isolated people felt and how time drags when you are staring at the same four walls and same four faces all the time but also had some sort of interesting interaction between the characters. We don’t get this! We get inane conversations, confusion over what has already been talked about and rising tension without any real pay-off!

Should I be as bored as they are?

The film is a good idea. It was supposedly a reply to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (another film I didn’t like either!) but rather than portray a tense film, where a computer turns against its astronaut who is stuck alone in space, John Carpenter decides to go the other direction, creating a film that demonstrates that space travel is boring with long periods of nothing! The only problem I have with this is that it’s boring!

This isn’t to say the whole film is these men, sat around, eating and not saying much or just spouting nonsense. There are moments when things happen. The first is an encounter with an alien that is being kept as a pet on the ship. The budget is small so the alien is a beachball with rubber claws attached! This bounces round and inexplicably almost causes one of the crew to get crushed in a lift shaft. It has to be seen to be believed. I was actually beginning to think this film was turning a corner with the alien and lift shaft scenes but then it reverted back to boredom again!

This is the Alien! No, seriously…

The next “event” is the much more famous bomb malfunction. This is actually a very clever scene and a very clever idea. Again, this seems to be Carpenter playing on the idea of a computer becoming self-aware but placing the idea in a computerised bomb instead. To stop this bomb exploding, one of the astronauts attempts to have a philosophical conversation with the bomb, convincing it that it doesn’t exist so can’t actually detonate. Again, a very clever idea but it is a couple of scenes at the end of the film and by this point I was just waiting for the film to end.

The self-aware bomb, the most interesting thing in the whole film!

The idea of four men, trapped in space, bored and trying to get along and pass time had some great potential. The tension growing, the mistrust that could have begun to appear or even the men slowly going insane could have made a brilliant film. You could have even made a film on the idea of the bomb becoming self-aware and needing to be convinced not to detonate. Instead we end up with a film that seems to be great ideas linked with long periods of nothing much happening.

To add to this, this film is actually regarded as a cult, science-fiction classic by some people. This will just have to be added to what is becoming a long list of films I just don’t get and don’t see the appeal of.

Overall, I was bored. A great idea seems to be wasted and although I would avoid the beach ball alien storyline, I would have liked to see the self-aware bomb concept or even something to do with isolation and boredom in space developed further. Instead I felt like I was sharing the experience of what it was like to feel alone, isolated and overwhelmingly bored, but in my living room!

Rating 1

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

Looks like they could be saying something interesting or tense here… they’re not!
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