This past year The Liberal Dead’s podcast crew had spent time reviewing the works of John Carpenter in a rather broad stroke retrospective series encompassing not just the creepy, post-apocalyptic imagery created by Carpenter, but the lighted hearted films, earlier works and well, everything. I had the opportunity to be on the show as a guest a couple of times and certainly had a great time discussing The Thing and Escape from LA with Jeff Konopka. You might even find me on a few more before the year is out as the series still has Ghosts of Mars, Vampires, The Ward and the Masters of Horror series to tackle. But let’s go way back to the beginning.
In the beginning Carpenter created the heavens and the earth… well, he created outer space and a planet that was destined for a surf ride unlike any previously imaged with perhaps the exception of Marvel Comics. Dark Star was born out of the loins of Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Dead & Buried and pretty much everything) and Carpenter (Halloween, The Fog… and yeah, pretty much everything else), as a student film project in the years leading up to 1974 eventual release. It was not expected to become the cult favorite that it has become. “The Spaced Out Odyssey” is something of a phenomenon when the early work of a director/writer team is embraced by so many and seen as groundbreaking in its outright parody of 2001 A Space Odyssey and it’s spaceship creation and animation. Let’s face it, the movie’s fucking funny. It’s science fiction on screen when science fiction was beginning to take itself too seriously; after the 1950’s rocket ship to mars and alien from outer space pictures, a movie like Dark Star comes off like a belly rolling satire and not only of outer space travel, but of filmmakers creating science fiction with almost impossible realism.
This is the student film that could. I first watched it on an old VHS tape that my father had recorded off the Late Late Show (quite literally called the Late Late Show). The already less than
quality of the picture was dumbed down further by the transmission of mid-80’s
television and further by the recording on a less than stellar playback mode.
The audio was barely intelligible and the commercials may have made a bigger
impression on me than the film itself. That all changed once I had the chance
to review the gorgeous Blu-ray edition from VCI.
Beyond an audio and video transfer that is clearly the best you’re ever going to get, this disc is chock full of an amazing assortment of special features that may even rival the actual film itself. The greatest of these features is Let there Be Light: The Odyssey of “Dark Star” a documentary of such weight, substance and content I found it more intriguing than Dark Star itself. This is a must watch piece of history although I’m sure we would all have appreciated greater participation from Mr. Carpenter who seems to have distanced himself throughout the years from his student film. There’s an interview with Sci-Fi author Dean Foster, Brian Narelle, a 3-D Guide to the Dark Star Ship (this is bordering on Trekkie shit) and commentary by the “Super-Fan” Andrew Gilchrist. This isn’t a stripped down, cheap-o version of Dark Star for the casual observer. This is fan boy shit right here.
The written introduction by Dan O’Bannon (who had passed on a few year ago) is truly touching. He is much beloved by the genre community, respected for all his efforts and is missed still. Somehow reading this intro feels more like a message from beyond a grave rather than a discussion of his early work. I laughed and then I actually teared up. You know growing up I wasn’t a Dark Star fanatic. It took a little love from the Liberal Dead crew and a VHS tape. The Blu-ray seals the deal and pulls on all the heartstrings. This is the kind of release that can convert a stoic old bastard like myself into a lighthearted Sci-Fi lover.
What you love about Dark Star has never looked better and the clean up has done wonders for the viewing experience. The Dark Star Blu-ray is available HERE in Thermostellar and HERE in Hyperdrive via VCI Entertainment. Please make sure to stop by VCI HEREand peruse their catalog further. Remember Dark Star is a comedy, Alien isn’t… simple truths to live by.