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Dan O’Bannon

Dark Star in Hyperdrive and TV Is Frank Sinatra’s Lady – DVDs of the Week

Dark Star: The Hyperdrive Edition (VCI)

Think of Dark Star as John Carpenter’s answer to the glistening designs and metaphysical ponderings of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Deglamorizing the allure of space-age technology by giving it a drab, industrial practicality, Carpenter and co-writer/special effects supervisor/actor Dan O’Bannon give us not heroic space jockeys bravely exploring the unknown but “truck drivers in space” stuck on the fringes of the galaxy in a broken-down ship long past a dry-dock overhaul, numbly trudging through the twentieth year of a mission to blow up unstable planets.

The bridge crew of Dark Star

The captain is dead (but still available for information, sort of, if he’s thawed from suspended animation), Lt. Doolittle (Brian Narelle) has uncomfortably stepped into command (his working motto is “Who cares?”), the crew is slipping into apathy and entropy and only the annoying, slow-witted Pinback (Dan O’Bannon) showing any signs of social engagement or curiosity (which lands him in a battle wits with a flabby beach ball of an alien trickster). Any sense of purpose has degenerated into a race to get rid of the bombs so they can turn around and go him. This is not a wide-eyed celebration of the wonder of space but a state of stasis and depression cause by isolation and meaninglessness of their mission. “Waiting For Godot in Space,” is how one collaborator defined the film, a description even more indicative of Carpenter’s original version of the, when it was still an ambitious student short growing beyond its boundaries.

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Review: Alien

[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]

As a horror movie, Alien is appropriately concerned with collective nightmares (being chased and caught; the monster is below us, now above us; someone we know is, in fact, not human), and lustfully derivative of the genre’s white-middle-class fears that give rise to the nightmares (loss of order, familiarity, and domination; community goes to hell). But the film has something more, at least in the first half: a developing narrative with an exclusive, integral logic of its own, built on ostensible collisions in logical flow. In other words, in its auspicious beginnings, Alien reminds one of more expressly surreal films. The difference is that Alien has an intentionally simple storyline derived from consistency in character types and motivations, including all nonhumans, machines, distant organizations, and the dead.

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