Dark Star (1974)
They're not lost in space, they're loose!
Tonight's movie is brought to you by a mishap of names. See, originally I was looking to watch the supposedly scary space Disney movie The Black Hole - but I had a mishap in remembering the name and instead got Dark Star. On the bright side, it turns out this is a John Carpenter movie, and I tend to like those normally - and it's also a comedy, to help balance out from that last horror flick we watched. So, showing that despite living in a space station I still can't tell my stellar bodies apart, let's dig in to this oldie and see if it's any good in the current day.
Well, I'm going to be honest - the movie certainly shows it's age. Smaller viewing sets might not have as much of a noticeable pitch to it, but the DVD when viewed on the projector setup I use shows some less-than stellar aging. The quality is enough that it's still watchable, but there is a bit of a fuzz to it from the image not being incredible quality. Given the astronomical shift between the DVD and Bluray for Alien however, perhaps the movie looks a bit more crisp on the BR version - I can't say. Still, beyond the overall picture smudge, the time period of the movie doesn't really effect it too much. I'm sure you could dig in and find some commentary about things, but the overall plot and characters feel relatively timeless enough.
That doesn't particularly mean that I like the characters however. I believe it intentional, but one character comes off as rather annoying, while one is hardly present at all. There are points when you could actually argue that the bombs and computer carry better dialogues than the human characters. Part of that might be the novelty of the talking bombs, but it might also largely be that the more annoying character ends up getting the most screen time of the people. Still, despite not necessarily enjoying the characters, the actors have moments when they deliver a line or interaction and it's pretty decent. Conversing to a bomb about reality and how it knows things are real, for example.
The largest problem with the movie isn't really the characters though. Sure, they can be annoying or stiffly acted, but honestly the entire plot as a whole just feels... meandering. We start off with a message from mission command letting them know they are doing a great job - and a joke about not getting their radiation shielding. Through the movie, the crew's job is basically to go from place to place blowing up rouge planets before they cause trouble. We see this at the start after the Command call is over, and we see this at the end when they get to their destination - and the entire period of time between the two ends up feeling like one big filler episode. It all manages to have one tiny little thing or so that will come up later, but largely after they pass through a storm on their way the rest of the movie could be skipped to the end and it would have absolutely no bearing on the rest of the plot or characters.
Now, thankfully the movie isn't long, so it doesn't end up feeling like it's dragging too much - outside of the central "catch the alien" subplot starring the more annoying character. There is a laugh or two in here (the runtime of the movie), but I feel largely it wasn't really suited to my particular tastes in comedy so it was largely a miss for me. Still, comedy is always subjective, so you'd really need to find someone with the same humor as you or watch it yourself to get a good call on if it would fit for you. The larger brunt of times I laughed would probably be from the interactions with the self-aware bombs, down to "I don't care if it's a mistake, someone told me to explode and I'm gonna do it" tantrums.
The funniest moment of all, however, was the actual alien. This thing is literally a big inflatable beach ball painted with some alien hands popping out the bottom. It's super cheesy, and super cheap, but largely on it's reveal I had myself a good laugh. We then proceed to Looney Tunes in space for 20 minutes as the annoying one tries to get the alien back in it's room and gets stuck hanging from an elevator - quickly one of those situations where the joke runs a bit too long for it to stay funny. It does serve as a nice segue to the effects of the movie however. Let's say they are a bit dated. They don't largely look terrible - at least not for how old it is - but the new breed who hasn't seen this level of rotoscoping and miniatures will most likely be deeply unimpressed.
Audio-wise, things work fine. It's balanced enough that you can hear people fine, and there's a few volume gags as people get further away from each other. The background audio feels spacey in most moments, although we also get a few normal songs mixed in there - two of which are classical pieces and one of those is used as a gag. There's also an interesting water-container "piano" device that gets a song, despite never being important to the plot in any way shape or form - it's like a less relevant song number in a Bollywood movie, without dancing, and interesting colors, and it has a static camera and one person in frame. The scene itself isn't that interesting I admit, but the instrument concept is pretty cool.
Largely what I'd consider a three out of five - that is a movie that I don't regret watching, but don't really ever merit a plan on revisiting. The film shows it's age in a few different ways, and for me the jokes weren't exactly hits. It has it's moments of amusement, and honestly I feel the movie probably set out to do what it meant to do - be it for better or worse. Probably not for everyone, but the fact that it's a short enough movie makes it easy enough to not regret watching it if it happens to be around.