Dark Star: Hyperdrive Edition (1974) (NTSC)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 19-May-2011

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Audio Commentary-"Super-fan" Andrew Gilchrist
Interviews-Crew-Author Dean Foster
Interviews-Cast-Brian Narelle
Alternative Version-1974 "Original" short version of the film
Featurette-Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of "Dark Star"
Trivia
Theatrical Trailer
Introduction-Written introduction by Dan O"Bannon
More…-3D Guide to the Dark Star
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1974
Running Time 82:32
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By John Carpenter
Studio
Distributor
Gryphon Entertainment Starring Brian Narelle
Cal Kuniholm
Dre Pahich
Dan O'Bannon
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual
RPI $19.95 Music John Carpenter


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Spanish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     In the far distant future the members of the Advance Exploration Corps travel into deep space to explore new galaxies and search out planets suitable for colonists from Earth. Where a galaxy includes unstable planets that would threaten the colonists, those planets are destroyed. The crew members of the space ship Dark Star, Lt. Doolittle (Brian Narelle), Boiler (Cal Kuniholm), Sgt. Pinback (Dan O’Bannon) and Talby (Dre Pahich) have been travelling in space for 20 years, destroying planets. The crew and the ship are both the worse for wear; the crew members are all dysfunctional in various ways and much of the ship’s equipment is malfunctioning. One malfunction, in fact, caused the death of the ship’s original captain, Commander Powell, some years back and his body remains on the ship in deep freeze. As the film starts, an asteroid storm causes further damage to the ship’s equipment, the extent of which is not realised by the increasingly bored and lackadaisical crew. This has serious life threatening consequences later when it becomes time to launch Bomb 20 to destroy another unstable planet.

     Dark Star originally started as a University of Southern California student film collaboration between John Carpenter (Escape From New York (1981), Big Trouble in Little China(1986)) and Dan O’Bannon (writer of Alien (1979), Total Recall (1990)): Carpenter co-wrote, produced and scored the film, O’Bannon co-wrote, acted, was special effects supervisor, production designer and editor. Unfortunately, for reasons outlined in the Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of “Dark Star” featurette included on this DVD, Carpenter and O’Bannon fell out and never collaborated again. Dark Star cost approximately $US55,000, and was filmed over two and a half years when various members of the cast and crew were available. With support from independent producer Jack H. Harris additional sequences were shot to pad out the running time so the film could receive a theatrical release in 1974. It was not a success initially, but it has since attained cult status, due no doubt to the subsequent careers of Carpenter and O’Bannon.

     Not surprisingly, with this gestation and budget Dark Star looks cheap, with dodgy model and visual effects, and the script and performances are very uneven. Some sequences are silly and boringly static when nothing happens, but there are enough sublime moments to make the film worth watching. O’Bannon in conflict with the “alien”, Narelle desperately debating phenomenology with a talking smart bomb and the use of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville are all wonderful comic moments that few mainstream Hollywood films would even contemplate. It is these moments that are refreshingly funny, and help make Dark Star a must watch for students of film or fans of Carpenter.

     Dark Star has already been released in various versions around the world, including two in Region 4. Both Region 4 versions have been reviewed on this site: the 2001 release from Beyond Home Entertainment here and the Director’s Cut from Umbrella Entertainment (which is still available from DVD sales sites) here. Both those releases are in an incorrect aspect ratio and not 16x9 enhanced. This new “Hyperdrive Edition” is the same as that released in Region 1 and Region 2. It’s close to the correct ratio, is 16x9 enhanced, and has wonderful extras. This is the one to get, even if you have purchased an earlier version.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     Dark Star is presented in an aspect ratio of 1:78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical ratio was 1.85:1.

     This is an NTSC print of a University of Southern California student film originally shot on 16mm and painstakingly expanded, frame by frame, to 35mm for a 1.85:1 theatrical release in 1974. While the print does reflect the budget, age of the film and its origins, it still looks pretty good.

     The picture is soft and lacking in detail and sharpness. Colours varied considerably, but this was a deliberate choice as at different times red, blue, green and yellow filters are used. Contract and brightness also varied, but blacks were excellent. The weakest part of the print was the shadow detail: things were often murky, but this would be the source material, not the DVD authoring. Grain is evident, but except for some small white marks around 34:09 the print was remarkably free from artefacts. In truth, this is probably the best the film has ever looked.

     Subtitles in English and Spanish are available. They are in a white font, and when I sampled the English subtitles they showed every word, and the pauses.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio on offer is Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kbps or Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps. The original theatrical mix was mono, and this is what the 2.0 track is, with all sounds coming from the centre front. It is recorded at a lower level than the 5.1. The 5.1 does fill out the sound stage with ambience and music in the surrounds but it is hardly needed for this film. I didn’t notice any action from the subwoofer, even during the explosions.

     Dialogue was clear and easy to understand, except where the three crew members in the control room all speak at once when the dialogue is deliberately jumbled. Apparently Dre Pahich had a heavy accent so all his dialogue was rerecorded by Carpenter which results in some minor lip sync issues. Otherwise this was fine.

    John Carpenter also provided the original synthesizer score for the film, which does sound dated.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     There are a good collection of extras spread over the two discs, including the shorter version of the film and the marvellous making of featurette Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of “Dark Star”.

Disc 1

Audio Commentary by “super fan” Andrew Gilchrist

     Gilchrist delivers what he calls a “fan’s perspective” commentary. He is very dry, and this is not continuous as he speaks in short bursts and short sentences, naming people, trivia, facts about the production, and describing what is on screen. Some of his comments are quite inane, and he does not have a complete grasp of facts. For example, he says “so and so has gone on the other things”, without saying what; elsewhere he notes that the woman who provided the voice of the ship’s computer was “possibly” related to the DP - the making of featurette confirms that she was his wife. Not the most interesting commentary to listen to, although there are some useful bits.

Interview with sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster (34:43)

     Foster is an author who, among other things, wrote the novelisation of both Dark Star and the original Star Wars. He is questioned by an unseen and unnamed interviewer and speaks about his career, his interests, adapting the screenplay of Dark Star, his ideas and philosophy. Foster is an intelligent and informative interviewee with a number of interesting things to say.

Interview with Brian Narelle – “Lt. Doolittle” (40:07)

     Narelle answers questions posed by journalist Chris Rowe about his career and working on Dark Star. There are no film clips, just Narelle talking and he is a humorous and entertaining speaker. Only about half of the interview is related to Dark Star, and some information is the same as in Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of “Dark Star”. The balance of the interview is about his subsequent career as screenwriter, animator and puppeteer involved in children’s educational films dealing with alcoholism, smoking and sexual abuse. And he can play the drums.

3D Guide to the Dark Star Ship

     Animation and minor film clips about the ship. Four sections can be selected: “Observation, Warp, Bomb Bay” and “Fly Around”. Useless.

Written intro by Dan O’Bannon (1:24)

     Silent scrolling text lasting 1:24.

Original Dark Star Trailer (2:24)

Trivia

     Nine easy to read text screens of interesting trivia about the production, including spoilers. Sound effects play in the background.

Disc 2

Text Introduction (2:59)

     Scrolling text introduction, modelled on Star Wars, to the original film. Repeats Dan O’Bannon’s text introduction included as an extra on Disc 1.

1974 Shorter version of Dark Star (70:04)

     The version of Dark Star without the bits added to pad the film out to a theatrical release length. Not surprisingly, a more compact film. NTSC, 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kbps (mono). Video and audio quality is same standard as the longer version.

Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of “Dark Star” (116:32)

     A terrific, humorous comprehensive documentary that goes far beyond the making of Dark Star to cover Carpenter’s and O’Bannon’s history and backgrounds, the USC Film School, the writing, casting and shooting of the student film and subsequent reshooting for commercial release, the models, special effects, music, post production difficulties, release problems, the subsequent deterioration of the relationship between Carpenter and O’Bannon and the cult status of Dark Star.

     The documentary consists of clips from the film plus black and white photographs, 1960s video and news footage, newly recorded interviews with Brian Narelle (actor), Tommy Lee Wallace (art director), Diane O’Bannon (widow of Dan), Jeff Burr (USC alumnus), Douglas Knapp (cinematographer), Bill Taylor (optical effects), Cookie Knapp (voice actress – computer) and Jack H. Harris (executive producer and distributor) , plus archive video and audio interviews with John Carpenter, Dan O’Bannon and Ron Cobb (designer).

    The documentary is presented in 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced with DD 3.0 sound at 192 Kbps. There are no subtitles, except the yellow burned in ones for the John Carpenter audio interview (that do have a few spelling errors). The video varies depending on the source. A must see for any fan of the film, the director, or anyone who just wants to be entertained. Fabulous – this is how a “making of”’ should be!

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This “Hyperdrive Edition” is the same as that released in Region 1 and Region 2.

Summary

     Dark Star started as a USC student film by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon and was later expanded in a commercial feature film. Dark Star has been released in various versions around the world, including two in Region 4, but both those releases were in an incorrect aspect ratio and were not 16x9 enhanced. This new “Hyperdrive Edition” is close to the correct ratio, 16x9 enhanced, and includes both cuts of the film plus a copious array of genuine, interesting extras. The video and audio are acceptable for a low budget student film, released almost 40 years ago. A must for students of film or fans of Carpenter. Even if you have purchased an earlier version this is worth the update.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE