Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

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Mimsy Review: Dark Star

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, August 30, 1999

You know, I wish I had my board with me right now. Even if I could just... wax it once in a while.

Special features

Cast Information4
Director Cut6
Trailer4

John Carpenter’s first movie release. Originally made as a student production, someone in Hollywood liked it and helped him release it. There are some very good ideas hidden among the beachball alien and “Phoenix Asteroids”.

RecommendationPossible Rental
DirectorJohn Carpenter
WritersJohn Carpenter, Dan O’Bannon
Movie Rating4
Transfer Quality5
Overall Rating5
Formats
  • Letterbox

The “Dark Star” is a planet destroyer. Their job is to destroy unstable planets before they fall into their sun and supernova. They use “smart” bombs to do the jobs, bombs with one duty: to explode. And which perform their duty cheerfully.

The communications laser on the ship malfunctions, sending Bomb #20 a couple of false signals to begin detonation. The bomb gets fed up with all of the false starts, and when the crew finally orders it out for real, but then fail to disengage it, it refuses to shut down.

The captain, on a previous trip, has been fatally wounded. So he’s been put in a cryogenic freezing unit to keep him alive until they can get him assistance (which Earth refuses to render due to congressional cutbacks).

The “director’s cut” on Dark Star really is a director’s cut. It is the original student presentation. The “uncut” version is the expanded version for theatrical release, and is the one you should watch if you only have time for one.

I actually liked “Benson, Arizona”, the “theme song” of Dark Star. It’s a country song written up as a joke about what country songs will be like in the far future. In fact, hidden among the cheap effects and the not-so-great acting are some very good ideas about the future. Carpenter and O’Bannon had “smart bombs” back in 1973--and the dangers of granting too much control to them. And while the idea that supernovas are caused by planets in unstable orbits falling into their sun is not great science (as far as I know), the idea that humans would be willing to capriciously destroy planets that pose such risks simply because mankind might be traveling there in the future is fortunately, probably, untrue only because humans just don’t think that far ahead. The elevators are smart enough to tell you to get out of their way, but not programmed to stop if you don’t.

The only “intelligent” life they’ve so far found is a beach-ball with feet that one crewmember thought was “cute” so they kept it. They now treat it as an annoying pet that they have to feed and clean up after.

The ship is falling apart. Defensive systems require manual activation: the computer can tell the crew when they’re needed, but can’t engage them automatically. One storage facility self-destructed, taking the ship’s entire supply of toilet paper with it. The sleeping quarters have been abandoned and sealed off because an asteroid storm breached the walls. The seat that exploded, killing Commander Powell, remains broken. Acting Commander Doolittle has fashioned a homemade piano from empty tin cans and glass bottles filled with water.

Both John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon went on to bigger and better things. You may not have heard of O’Bannon, but he was the writer on Alien, Total Recall, and some of the segments on Heavy Metal. He was on the computer graphic and display crew for Star Wars (Episode IV). It is interesting comparing some of his work on this low-budget film with what he could do with more money. Some people have even compared the “alien tracking” comedy relief in Dark Star with the Alien movie.

Kudos to Jack H. Harris for backing Dark Star for theatrical release.

The DVD itself is quite well done. The original film obviously had scratches in places, but the transfer was remarkably clean. The “Magic Lantern” intro cannot be skipped. You have to watch it whenever you put the DVD into your player. This intro is just a bit too long to be ‘required viewing’. But perhaps they realized that this was more of a rental than a purchase. If you’re a science fiction fan, or a John Carpenter fan, I’d recommend renting this movie.

As far as I can tell there is no relation between this movie and the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star”. The use of the word “kinder” in the song “Benson, Arizona” seems a bit weird without that connection, however.

Recommendation: Possible Rental

DirectorJohn Carpenter
WritersJohn Carpenter, Dan O’Bannon
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitlesNone
Special FeaturesCast Information, Director Cut, Trailer
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