Dark Star

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Way to give away the ending Movie Poster!

Dark Star is a tongue-in-cheek 1974 sci-fi/comedy motion picture directed by John Carpenter (helming his first feature film) and co-written with Dan O'Bannon. Dark Star was ranked #95 on Rotten Tomatoes' Journey Through Sci-Fi.

In the middle of the 22nd century, mankind has reached a point in its technological advances to enable colonization of the far reaches of the universe. Armed with intelligent "Exponential Thermostellar Bombs", the scout ship DARK STAR and its crew have been in space alone for twenty years on a mission to destroy "unstable planets" which might threaten future colonization. Meanwhile, the ship's crew, consisting of Lt. Doolittle, Sgt. Pinback, Boiler and Talby (their Commander, Powell, has died and exists only via cryogenic supports) perform their jobs in a state of abject boredom as the tedium of their task has driven the crew up the wall. Sgt. Pinback has adopted a ship's mascot in the form of a mischievous alien "beachball with claws" that refuses to stay put in the food locker, forcing Pinback to chase it all over the ship (O'Bannon later adapted this kernel of an idea into Alien). Lt. Doolittle dreams of surfing back in Malibu. Dark Star's navigator Talby has become reclusive and spends all his time in the ship's dome. The computer has become dysfunctional, with parts of the ship burnt out and others simply blown up. Due to damage suffered in an asteroid storm, thermostellar Bomb #20 thinks it has been ordered to detonate while still in the ship's bomb bay. The other crew members attempt to talk the bomb out of blowing up ("'Wouldn't you consider waiting around awhile for another course of action?' 'No.'"). Lt. Doolittle revives Commander Powell who advises them to teach the bomb the rudiments of phenomenology, resulting in a memorable philosophical conversation between Doolittle and the bomb.

Bomb #20 retreats to the bomb bay for contemplation, and disaster seems to have been averted. Pinback addresses the bomb over the intercom to finally disarm it.

The bomb misinterprets Doolittle's phenomonology and believes itself to be God. He explodes, killing Pinback and Boiler instantly, Commander Powell is fired off into space encased in a large block of ice, Talby drifts off into the Phoenix Asteroids to die and circle the universe, and Doolittle surfs down to the unstable planet on a piece of debris to burn up in the atmosphere.

Not to be confused with the video game featuring the cast of MST3K.

Tropes used in Dark Star include:
  • Better Than It Sounds: The plot: Incompetent hippies on a deep space demolition tour dispel their boredom by chasing and deflating a sentient beach ball. Over-confidently, they then enter a debate with a sentient thermo-stellar bomb.
  • Curse Cut Short: The computer automatically censors obscenities in Pinback's diary entries, including gestures.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: The ending. Completely Played for Laughs, especially given the music playing at the time.
  • A God Am I: Doolittle succeeds at convincing Bomb #20 that its external sensory data is a lie and it itself is the only thing it can be sure exists, in a desperate gambit to make the bomb disregard an order to detonate while still attached to the ship. Unfortunately, the character in question uses this new 'insight' to become a solipsist and eventually decides that, in the absence of anything else having any proof of existence, this means it is, in fact, God. And God said "let there be light"... And there was light...
  • Irrevocable Order: The bomb that refuses to drop from the bomb bay cannot be shut off.
  • It Got Worse: In a diary entry, a very pissed off Pinback mentions that a malfunction just destroyed the ship's entire supply of toilet paper.
  • Killer Rabbit: "When I brought you on this ship, I thought you were cute." A living Happy Fun Ball.
  • Kill'Em All: Did you read the description?
  • Logic Bomb: "Let there be light."
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: the entire crew.
  • Ridiculously-Human Robots: The intelligent bombs. Especially Bomb No. 20.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: Four idiots hang around a ship in the arse-ends of space, doing a meaningless construction job none of them wants to do, and get on each others' nerves. The ship breaks down because none of them bother to do any maintenance. Then the ship blows up. Played for Laughs.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The ending was inspired by the ending of Ray Bradbury's short story Kaleidoscope.
    • Guess where indie band Pinback got their name from?
    • The character Pinbacker from Danny Boyle's film Sunshine is (somewhat) named after Pinback, as confirmed by Boyle himself.
    • One piece of debris in the end is labeled THX 1138. It also appears to be part of a toilet...
  • Space Does Not Work That Way: While the Dark Star does not make noise in space, it does stop on a dime...intentional use of the Rule of Funny.
  • Space Is Noisy: Mostly averted...one of the few movies to get it right, at least as far as ships go. However, explosions are another matter...and apparently in space you CAN hear someone scream....
  • Space Madness: Played completely for laughs. The entire crew has gone visibly unhinged from five years stuck inside cramped space, performing a thankless job that nobody wants and having nothing to do.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The title theme is the country/western/Special Theory of Relativity song "Benson, Arizona".
  • Starfish Alien: The alien the crew encounters looks like a beach ball with eyes and feet.
  • Take That: A computer screen flashes "FUCK YOU HARRIS" in one scene. Carpenter feuded with producer Jack Harris.
  • Zeerust: The reel to reel computers in the opening communication from Mission Base.