DVD Review: “Dark Star: The Hyper-Drive Edition”
Released By: VCI Entertainment
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Number of Discs: 2
Approximate Running Time: 257 Minutes
Special Features: Let There Be Light Documentary, Audio Commentary, Trailers, Trivia
Suggested Price: $19.99
After twenty years in space, the crew of the ship Dark Star is unraveling at the seams. The death of the captain has only accelerated the break down as they go through the motions of carrying out their mission to destroy unstable planets. Each of the surviving four crew members deals with the effects of the isolation and disconnection in their own way as the ship slowly falls apart around them. Time is running out for the Dark Star.
The Fanboy Factor:
Dark Star began life in 1970 as a student film project of future cult filmmakers John “Halloween” Carpenter and Dan “Alien” O’Bannon. Shot over the course of three long years, the film was expanded twice to an eventual theatrical length through the intervention of cult producer Jack H. “The Blob” Harris. The film finally made it into theaters in 1975 where it failed to find an audience due mainly to an ambiguous advertising campaign that tried to sell it as several different genres and an unnecessarily imposed G rating. Fortunately, the advent of home video a few years later got the film discovered by a new and appreciative audience who saw it as the dry satire Carpenter and O’Bannon intended.
Essentially a comedy, Dark Star follows the lives of four eccentric astronauts on an impossibly long space mission to blow up unstable planets before they cause damage in the universe. The malfunctioning equipment, cramped living conditions, and limited resources all serve the underlying theme of turning expansive space films like 2001: A Space Odyssey on their collective heads. Unlike the sterile high tech spaceships such as the Enterprise from Star Trek, the Dark Star is a semi truck for the galaxy.
The film is permeated with in-jokes and innovative scenes that betray Carpenter and O’Bannon’s love of classic science fiction. Rather than be hindered by the restraints of their tight budget, rumored to be in the vicinity of $60K, Dark Star uses this to maximum effect. What they cannot deliver in the form of flashy special effects is sufficiently compensated for with clever scenes like communicating with their dead Captain for advice or a philosophical discussion with a malfunctioning bomb. Even an incredibly cost conscious alien creature that looks like nothing more than a beach ball with rubber monster hands still manages to provide amusement on a budget. The scenes added to expand the running time add little to the story but only cause minimal drag to an otherwise solid production.
VCI has displayed a recent trend of giving cult films that have been overlooked on home video the DVD treatments they deserve and Dark Star: The Hyper-Drive Edition is among their most impressive releases to date. The two disc set contains both the 68 minute version of the film that Carpenter considered the finished product and the 83 minute one that was shown in theaters. While the 68 minute cut is preferable both in content and picture quality, both versions represent the best this film has ever looked on video. The extras are plentiful and chief among them is the outstanding documentary Let There Be Light by Daniel Griffith. In addition to creating an entertaining framework, Griffith manages to round up almost everyone associated with all phases of the production including the elusive Jack H. Harris. The sordid tale of the film’s lengthy shooting schedule and the battles the filmmakers fought over ownership and distribution of the film are presented with an even hand so that all parties are allowed to tell their side of the story. A feature length commentary is provided by one of Dark Star’s biggest fans and that is exactly what it sounds like. Also included are trailers, additional interviews, trivia, and even a 3D guide to the ship.
The Bottom Line:
There is literally something for just about everyone on this exhaustive two disc set that is bound to please anyone who is already a fan of the film and introduce new generations to it. The film is historically significant in launching the careers of numerous people who would go on to create some of the greatest cult films of the last several decades but it stands on its own as an entertaining piece of creative filmmaking. This DVD set is highly recommended with the documentary justifying the purchase price on its own.