Dark Star: Director's Cut (1974)
Biographies-Cast & Crew
|Year Of Production||1974|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (59:41)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||John Carpenter|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
There aren't too many 35 year old student films that are worth remembering, let alone celebrating. Dark Star is a notable exception. Not only because it launched the careers of legendary genre director John Carpenter, writer Dan O'Bannon (author of Alien, as well as several other high-profile Sci-Fi flicks) and several prominent Hollywood effects gurus (Ron Cobb, John C. Wash, Bill Taylor and Greg Jein), but because it is a timeless sci-fi comedy in itself. There is no denying that the enduring popularity of those involved in its creation have helped keep the ultra-low-budget Dark Star accessible, but the film also carries enough of its own cult appeal to maintain a devout following regardless of the later successes of its creators.
The film tells the story of the crew of the Dark Star, a deep space scout vessel whose job is to target and destroy "unstable planets" that may stand in the way of mankind's' future colonisation of space. The crew have been on the job, and away from Earth, for 20 years and the monotony of their task has well and truly sunk in. One of the few notable points of the tedious trip being the death of the ship's captain, whose remains reside in cryogenic stasis. The accident leaves a crew of four remaining; Doolittle, a slacker who reluctantly leads the mission; Pinback, a dimwit; Boiler, a redneck; and Talby, a recluse. Each remaining crew member has little respect for the remaining chain of command in one way or another.
Things start going wrong for the crew when Pinback accidentally lets loose the ships pet alien, which looks a lot like a beach ball with claws. He then leads a quest to contain the unexpectedly troublesome xenomorph, in a plot-line that Dan O'Bannon (who incidentally also plays Pinback) would essentially recycle for Alien - albeit with less of a focus on slapstick and a little more terror!
The fragile relationship between the crew members finally cracks apart when the artificial intelligence aboard one of the ships planet-busting bombs malfunctions, thanks in no small part due to damage done by the crew's pet alien, which refuses to leave the ship before it explodes. Doolittle attempts to reason with the artificial intelligence onboard the bomb, teaching it simplified phenomenology in order to talk it into not blowing up and killing the crew. This new-found sense of philosophy achieves its initial goal, but leads to more trouble as the bomb questions the nature of God.
Dark Star is a sharp parody of workplace relationships, laden with black humour, as well as innovative science fiction. John Carpenter himself describes it as Waiting For Godot in space, and he's not far from the mark with that description.
The original cut of Dark Star was a 45 minute long film school project shot on 16mm film. After touring a few festivals, producer Jack Harris stepped in and put up additional funds to stretch it to feature length and transfer it to 35mm (a more common format for theatrical distribution). Carpenter and O'Bannon produced a 72 minute cut, only for Harris to tack on an additional ten minutes of excised footage to round the runtime to a more commercially desirable figure. This DVD edition features both the original theatrical cut and the director's preferred, shorter, version. Both versions are well worth a look, the shorter version certainly has a sharper pace to it, though it misses one or two of the more surreal moments of the longer version. I highly recommend Dark Star in any configuration.
The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio but not 16x9 enhanced, however the 16x9 enhanced flag is set for the video causing it to be stretched to aboutn a 2.37:1 aspect. In order to play the disc in the correct aspect ratio it is necessary to reconfigure your player to force a full frame output of the image.
The video certainly looks its age. It is watchable, but nothing more. No digital restoration or cleanup appears to have been done of the original telecine.
The image is quite soft, though the degree of softness varies substantially between scenes and suggests that the source material is partly to blame in this instance. Shadows look very flat and do not feature much detail. Modest grain is visible in the image, though it is not nearly as noticeable as the significant level of low level noise in the image.
The colours are fairly washed out and do not feature a much depth.
Macro blocking is noticeable in some of the backgrounds, particularly during the outer space starfield shots throughout the movie (though most noticeable in the first few scenes). There are quite a significant number of film artefacts visible throughout, including dust, tramline scratches and reel markings.
No subtitles are present for the feature.
This is a RSDL disc. The layer breaks occurs at 59:41 during the longer cut and at both 13:11 and 49:59 in the shorter cut (due to the seamless branching used to present the shorter cut), though none of them were noticeable on my equipment.
A single English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384 Kbps) audio track is present for the film.
The audio track sounds fairly decent for its age, but there is no hiding the limitations of the original source even with a 5.1 remix.
The dialogue is a little muddy in places, but generally easy to understand and at a good level in the mix.
John Carpenter provides a score that manages to simultaneously be quite typical of his work as well as evoke memories of many a cheesey synth-based Dr. Who score.
The original mono score has been remixed into a low-bitrate 5.1 mix, though there is little in the way of surround use in the mix. Most of the sound emanates from the centre speaker, though quite a bit has been expanded to the front left and right channels. Modest subwoofer rumble is present in the mix, almost entirely for space ship engine rumbles.
|Surround Channel Use|
An eye catching, though cartoonish, CGI model of the ship is panned around in these custom made menus.
A rather awkward theatrical trailer that struggles to decide whether it's selling a comedy of a thriller. An interesting snapshot of the days before the art of the trailer had been perfected!
A huge number of still frames from the film in a rather pointless image gallery. Wouldn't it be easier just to press pause when the image you want to see is on screen?
Out of date text biographies for four of the cast and crew. Nothing here that you couldn't find on IMDB or Wikipedia.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This Australian release is virtually identical to the US release from 1999 by VCI Home Entertainment. Both are formatted for Region 0, meaning they are playable on all regions. Both are available fairly cheaply in their respective territories.
A great movie, less than great disc.
A classic sci-fi comedy, presented in both its original cut and director's cut, that introduced the world to the talents of John Carpenter, Dan O'Bannon and a host of legendary effects producers.
The image quality on the disc is watchable, though more comparable to a good VHS transfer than a DVD restoration and it is flagged in the wrong aspect ratio (meaning it will play stretched unless your DVD player is reconfigured to play the disc in a full frame aspect). The extras are negligible.
|DVD||Sony Playstation 3, using HDMI output|
|Display||Samsung 116cm LA46M81BD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).|
|Audio Decoder||Pioneer VSX2016AVS. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||150W DTX front speakers, 100W centre and 4 surround/rear speakers, 12 inch PSB Image 6i powered sub|