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Film / Dark Star

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"They're not lost in space. They're loose!"
— Tagline for the trailer

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 (who would later repurpose the concept for Alien). Dark Star was ranked #95 on Rotten Tomatoes' Journey Through Sci-Fi.

The film is about the small crew of the titular scout ship, whose job is to destroy unstable planets which might threaten future colonization, the antics they get up to during the monotonous boring gaps between bombing runs, and one of their doomsday bombs becoming self-aware.

Not to be confused with the video game featuring the cast of MST3K, the final level in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, the Grateful Dead song, or the Sealed Evil in a Can from Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Accidental Astronaut: "Sergeant Pinback" is not actually Sergeant Pinback at all; he was just a technician who accidentally got stuck in the real sergeant's gear and was ushered into the spacecraft before anyone realized what happened.
  • Action Prologue: Before the opening credits we witness the crew destroy a planet.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Bomb #20 has its own mind and continuously refuses to abort the detonation sequence. It ends in A God Am I.
  • All for Nothing: Yes, the planets the crew destroy are unstable and could eventually threaten life in that system, but only on a cosmic time scale. It will take thousands, perhaps even millions of years for the orbits of said planets to destabilize enough to be a threat, which means they aren't really a problem that needs to be dealt with any time this millennium and the Dark Star's mission is completely pointless.
  • Artistic License – Space: While the Dark Star does not make noise in space, it does stop on a dime...intentional use of the Rule of Funny. Note that it does so when coming out of hyperdrive. Modern shows have ships doing exactly the same thing, which is justified if an esoteric Drive is used to circumvent Newtonian physics.
  • As the Good Book Says... Bomb #20 paraphrases Genesis 1:1-3 just before detonating.
  • As You Know: Doolittle provides an Info Dump when talking to Talby: "We've been in space for twenty years now, right? And we've only aged three years."
  • Beeping Computers: The ship's computer makes beeping sounds when displaying information on the screen.
  • 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.
  • Bigger on the Inside: There's simply no way that the ship can hold 20 or more bombs the size of the ones we see in its hold. Also, the elevator shaft is considerably deeper than the ship's size would indicate.
  • Billions of Buttons: The bridge of the Dark Star is plastered with flashy buttons.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ship is destroyed and all crew members are killed. However, Talby gets carried away by the Phoenix Asteroids (meaning he'll get to see the cosmos before he runs out of air), and Doolittle decides to surf into the planet's atmosphere. Not exactly happy, but it's A Good Way to Die.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Boyler does this when the crew rest in the sleeping quarters.
  • Brick Joke: Doolittle mentions early on how much he misses surfing. The film ends with him surfing a piece of the wreckage into a planet's atmosphere.
  • Captain's Log: Doolittle is seen doing log recordings as a way of giving an Info Dump to the audience. Amongst other things we learn that the supply of toilet paper has been destroyed.
  • Chekhov M.I.A.: Commander Powell was introduced early as having died on the mission prior to the movie's timeline. In the climax, he is revealed to be stored in a Human Popsicle from where his half-living soul could still communicate with Doolittle.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: The Movie! Most notably when Pinback tries to tell Doolittle and Boiler about the pet alien trying to kill him, and they react with annoyed indifference.
  • Cool Chair: Talby's chair not only looks cool, but is motorised and turns dramatically.
  • 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.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Surfing into a planet's atmosphere on a piece of debris has to count.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: It's John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's first feature film, and it's more of a hippie-era comedy than the action and horror movies they'd both later become known for.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The opening scene shows how the crew blows up a planet.
  • Epic Fail: Doolittle's attempt to stop the bomb from detonating. He accidentally convinces the bomb that it's God, and the bomb detonates to recreate the Big Bang.
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights: Several animated FX with alternating light and dark frames, prompting TV stations to sometimes flash up warnings at the start.
  • Explosive Instrumentation: During the climax, there is a shot of a console room as it goes up in flames due to the laser malfunctioning.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Doolittle and Talby are pretty chipper about their impending doom at the end.
  • Food Pills: We see the crew suck on some liquid food.
  • From Bad to Worse: In a diary entry, a very pissed off Doolittle mentions that a malfunction just destroyed the ship's entire supply of toilet paper.
  • George Lucas Altered Version:
    • This movie was originally a 68-minute student short film. When it was acquired for distribution, new footage was added by the producer. Later, John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon re-edited the film into a director's cut, removing much of the footage shot for the theatrical release and adding new special effects.
    • Additionally, some nudie pinups on the walls of the crew quarters were digitally blurred in the 2012 Blu-Ray release, presumably to keep the film's PG rating.
  • A God Am I: Doolittle succeeds at convincing Bomb #20 that its external sensory data could be an illusion and it itself is the only thing it can be sure exists, in a desperate gambit to make the bomb disregard a stray signal telling it 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...
  • A Good Way to Die: Doolittle and Talby get this. Doolittle burns up surfing into an atmosphere (it's mentioned early on how much he misses surfing), and Talby gets to enjoy a beautiful view of the cosmos before he passes.
  • Harmless Freezing: The dead-but-frozen captain among its crew, who is at least partially conscious, some of the time.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: The way Doolittle, as acting commander, handles any damages or technical malfunctions on the spaceship. He refuses to investigate and fix any of them until it’s an immediate matter of life and death.
    Doolittle: Don't worry about it, we'll find out what it is when it goes bad.
  • Human Popsicle: The dead commander was put into deep-freeze where his half-living soul could still be contacted through an electronic device.
  • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: The crew's visors are non-reflective. note 
  • Interrogating the Dead: Dead and cryogenically frozen Commander Powell can still be asked for advice.
  • Irrevocable Order: The bomb that refuses to drop from the bomb bay cannot be shut off.
  • Just in Time: Bomb #20 aborts the detonation sequence exactly at 00:00:00 after being talked out of it by Dolittle. For the time being...
  • Killer Rabbit: "When I brought you on this ship, I thought you were cute." A living Happy Fun Ball.
  • The Legend of Chekhov: Talby mentions the Phoenix Asteroid which happens to show up at the end to take him away.
  • Lyric Dissonance: "Benson, Arizona" sounds like a nice easy-listening country song... about how a man is suffering a Time Abyss situation while traveling through space.
  • Machine Monotone: The female computer's sexy but creepily monotone voice during emergency situations.
  • Magical Security Cam: During the asteroid storm, the ship's computer displays an image of the bomb clearly taken from outside the ship, and from the perspective of the audience.
  • Minimalist Cast: Five major characters and no supporting cast (if you dismiss the guy from Mission Control early on).
  • Mistaken Identity: At one point Pinback tells the others a story about how he isn't the real Sergeant Pinback. Supposedly the real one drowned himself in a fuel tank, and he was mistaken for Pinback because he'd put Pinback's spacesuit on while preparing to save him. It's uncertain if that's the truth or just a story he made up trying to distract everyone from the maddening tedium of the voyage. If the latter, doesn't work because nobody cares.
  • Music Box Intervals: Played by Doolittle on a makeshift organ/celesta he built out of water filled cans and bottles.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: The asteroid storm early on. Also the flashy Phoenix Asteroid showing up in the end.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The entire second half of the movie wouldn't have happened if they had thought to program the bombs to not start their detonation timers until after they clear the launch bay. Or included abort codes they could use in the event of an accident.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: When Talby finds out about the laser malfunction, he tries to communicate this to Doolittle, but the latter is too busy with the detonation maneuver and decides to cut the communication line to Talby. Disaster ensues.
  • Novelization: By Alan Dean Foster.
  • Oh, Crap!: The crew, especially Pinback, when the just activated Bomb No. 20 fails to deploy.
    Pinback: Mark at 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, DROP! DROP! DROOOOOP!
    • And when the bomb reasons that it's God and starts quoting Genesis.
      Pinback: Hey...bomb?
    • Pinback again, when he finds out the bottomless room he chased the alien to is the elevator shaft.
  • The Precarious Ledge: Pinback has to walk across a narrow ledge in the elevator shaft which makes him extremely uncomfortable.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • The ship's computer notifies the crew about the malfunction while they are sleeping. No one registers this important information and the disaster takes its course.
    • Also, Talby tries to inform Doolittle about the laser malfunction but the latter dismisses this as unimportant and cuts the communication line.
  • Precision F-Strike: A computer screen flashes "FUCK YOU HARRIS" in one scene.
  • Public Domain Sound Track: Pinback's plight of being trapped in the elevator is not made any easier by accidentally turning on a track from The Barber of Seville.
  • Race Against the Clock: The movie's climax in which the crew has to stop the detonation sequence of Bomb #20 after it wouldn't drop out of the ship's bomb bay.'
  • Random Events Plot: The movie's mostly about a bunch of idiot non-astronauts just farting around in space trying to fend off boredom and not succeeding terribly well.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: The intelligent bombs. Especially Bomb No. 20.
  • Rocketless Reentry: After the eponymous spaceship is destroyed, Lt. Doolittle uses a surfboard-shaped piece of debris to "surf" down towards an unstable planet, dying as a falling star.
  • "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.
  • Sky Surfing: The final scene as the credits roll.
    • One piece of debris in the end is labeled THX1138. It also appears to be part of a toilet...
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The title theme is the country/western/Special Theory of Relativity song "Benson, Arizona".
    • ...or perhaps it's not as dissonant as it first seems: Carpenter described the crew as "space truckers" and felt that a sad country and western song about missing loved ones would therefore be perfect for them.
  • Space Is Noisy: Mostly 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.
  • Space Trucker: One of the earliest examples in popular culture, if not the Ur-Example.
  • Starfish Alien: The alien the crew encounters looks like a beach ball with eyes and feet. it's also filled with gas.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Doolittle attempts to teach Bomb #20 phenomenology to prevent it from exploding. Unfortunately, all this does is lead the bomb to conclude that it's the only existing thing in the universe and explodes anyway.
  • Take That!: A computer screen flashes "FUCK YOU HARRIS" in one scene. Carpenter and O'Bannon feuded with producer Jack Harris.
  • Team Pet: Pinback thought the ship needed a mascot. Pinback was wrong.
  • Techno Babble: The crew's cryptic communication talk during their bombing maneuvers.
  • Tempting Fate: "Under no circumstances enter the path of the beams."
  • Used Future: Taken to the extreme. Quite possibly also the Trope Codifier, predating its later uses in Star Wars: A New Hope and Alien, both of which co-writer Dan O'Bannon was involved with (special effects in the former and writing the original script for the latter, which was heavily reworked from this film after it failed at the box office).
  • Zeerust:
    • The reel to reel computers in the opening communication from Mission Base. Well, he did say there'd been some budget cuts...
    • Sergeant Pinback's video diary is an 8-track tape and the machine he uses to read it and record it is a 1970s microfiche reader.