Tuesday, November 2, 2010

DARK STAR - HYPERDRIVE EDITION

"Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up!"

The long-awaited special edition of the Dan O'Bannon/John Carpenter cult classic, DARK STAR (1975) is now available from VCI Entertainment.

The quirky science fiction comedy began its existence as a $60,000 student film, co-written and directed by Carpenter (HALLOWEEN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) and scripted by O' Bannon (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, DEAD & BURIED). It was picked up for theatrical distribution by Jack H. Harris (THE BLOB), who requested that the young filmmakers shoot additional scenes to bring the movie to feature-length.

In an unspecified future time, the patrol ship Dark Star, with its crew of five - Dollittle (Brian Narelle), Boiler (Cal Kuniholm), Talby (Dre Pahich), Pinback (Dan O'Bannon) and the cryogenically frozen corpse of ship's Commander Powell - is on a mission to destroy unstable planets with artificially-intelligent "thermostellar" warheads. Unfortunately, the ship has been away from Earth for twenty years and is falling apart, damaged by meteors and plagued with system malfunctions. The crew isn't in much better shape - unkempt, neurotic, and apathetic. When one of the aforementioned malfunctions causes warhead #20 to threaten to explode and take the ship with it, Lieutenant Doolittle has to try and talk the bomb out of fulfilling its prime directive.

DARK STAR is a crudely crafted but ingenious science fiction film, executed with style, wit and humor. The comedy is of a decidedly dark variety - very 1970s - and the amateur cast isn't always up to the task of carrying it off, but there are plenty of chuckles to be had, especially during Sgt. Pinback's extended struggle with the ship's alien mascot - a beach ball with claws.

Released previously by VCI in an unimpressive but adequate "Special Edition," (review here) this new, "Hyperdrive Edition" is an improvement in nearly every way, with better video and lots of new bonus features. 

A two disc set, Disc One contains the 83 minute theatrical cut, presented in a noticeably-improved 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, sourced from a new 35mm source and digitally restored. It still doesn't look like a modern HD production - the movie was originally shot on 16mm stock and blown up to 35mm for theaters - but it's far better than the previous transfer. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. English and Spanish subtitles are provided. Extras on this disc include an audio commentary track by "super fan" Andrew Gilchrist, an on-camera interview with science fiction author Alan Dean Foster, who discusses the challenge of writing the film's novelization back in the 70s (as well as the rest of his career), a 3D Guide to the Dark Star spaceship, an interview with actor Brian Narelle (Doolittle), text trivia, and the original theatrical trailer.

Disc Two contains an equally-improved, anamorphic widescreen transfer of the original Carpenter "student film" version, running roughly 68 minutes. This disc also contains a new, informative retrospective documentary, LET THERE BE LIGHT: THE ODYSSEY OF 'DARK STAR.'

Both versions now include a new text introduction by the late O'Bannon.

It's not perfect - the lack of participation by director John Carpenter is disappointing - but it's a pretty damned good DVD package, and a genuine upgrade over the previous release. For fans of this seminal sci-fi dark comedy, this new "Hyperdrive Edition" is highly recommended.

BUY: Dark Star - The Hyper-Drive Edition