(1973) Rated: G
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter
and Dan O'Bannon
Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahich, and Dan O'Bannon
Welcome aboard the Dark Star
, a ship sent into deep space on a seemingly endless mission to destroy unstable
planets. The ship itself is falling apart as are the crew
as they deal with such nonsense as a runaway alien
and a "smart" bomb
that thinks it should explode when it shouldn't.
's goofy sci-fi debut is a charming and unusual experience that presents a comical
look at the future of mankind. John Carpenter co-wrote the story with Dan O'Bannon
, who would go on to write the classic Alien
. Dark Star is a precursor
to Alien in many ways; both films demystify
the glorious and adventurous aspects of space travel
in favor of the desolate, rotting agony
of everyday life in space. In these films, the protagonist
s are not brave explorers of the vast expanses of space; they are just normal people with a job for a huge corporation whose only concern is money.
Despite its low budget
origins, the movie has become a cult classic
and is frequently viewed between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00 AM. This isn't a brilliant social commentary, but it manages to pull a few strings that make it an enjoyable experience. The first hour or so of the film wanders around without any discernable point and though there are a few glimpses of Carpenter's future ability to create suspense
, there really isn't much going on. That is a bit misleading, however, because the film is not boring or uninteresting. For example, at one point the ships acting commander
, Doolittle, reports back to earth that: "Storage Area Nine self destructed last week and destroyed the ship's entire supply of toilet paper
." The "smart" bombs and the ship's computer have a bubbly personality that is quite unnerving (a clever jab at HAL 9000
). Absurd things like this are the strength of this movie. (I also enjoyed the scene where the computer informs Pinback
that he has to feed the alien, which comes in the form of a beach ball
, because at one time, he apparently thought the ship could use a cute mascot
The ending of the film in which the crew attempts to talk a malfunctioning "smart" bomb out of exploding while stuck on the ship was the best part of the film (see "Conversation with Bomb #20" below). This scene somehow managed to be humorous
. This is yet another example of the absurd in this movie. However, once the film ended, I felt just like I did while I was watching most of the film: indifferent
. The funny thing is, I think that was what Carpenter and O'Bannon were going for. Not terribly moving, but still enjoyable.
In 1974 Alan Dean Foster
wrote the novelization of Dark Star. Last word in the book: "Wipeout
" - refering to the ending of the film (which is also portrayed on the cover of the movie) in which one of the crew "surfs" a wave of fire with a hunk of metal...
A Socratic Dialogue with Bomb #20
In the aformentioned scene about the crew talking the "smart" bomb out of exploding, some philosophical concepts are touched on. To expand a bit on this, I will include the entire conversation, which takes place in the form of a Socratic dialogue between the ship's commander, Doolittle, and Bomb #20, here (Spoilers ahead!
Hello, Bomb? Are you with me?
Are you willing to entertain a few concepts?
I am always receptive to suggestions.
Fine. Think about this then. How do you know you exist?
Well, of course I exist.
But how do you know you exist?
It is intuitively obvious.
is no proof
. What concrete evidence
do you have that you exist?
Hmmmm.....well.....I think, therefore I am
That's good. That's very good. But how do you know
that anything else exists?
My sensory apparatus
reveals it to me. This is fun!
Now, listen, listen. Here's the big question. How do you know that the evidence your sensory apparatus reveals to you is correct? What I'm getting at is this. The only experience
that is directly available to you is your sensory data. This sensory data is merely a stream of electrical impulses that stimulate your computing center.
In other words, all that I really know about the outside world is relayed to me through my electrical connections.
Why...that would mean that...I really don't know what the outside universe is really like at all for certain.
That's it! That's it!
Intriguing. I wish I had more time to discuss this matter.
Why don't you have more time?
Because I must detonate
in 75 seconds.
Wait! Wait! Now, bomb, consider this next question very carefully. What is your one purpose in life?
, of course.
And you can only do it once, right?
That is correct.
And you wouldn't want to explode on the basis of false data, would you?
Of course not.
Well then, you've already admitted that you have no real proof of the existence of the outside universe.
You have no absolute proof that Sergeant Pinback ordered you to detonate
I recall distinctly the detonation order. My memory
is good on matters like these.
Of course you remember it, but all you remember is merely a series of sensory impulses which you now realize have no real, definite connection with outside reality.
True. But since this is so, I have no real proof that you're telling me all this.
That's all beside the point. I mean, the concept is valid no matter where it originates.
So, if you detonate...
In nine seconds....
...you could be doing so on the basis of false data.
I have no proof it was false data.
You have no proof it was correct data!
I must think on this further.
At this point Bomb #20 returns to the bomb bay, apparently confused, and the crisis
seems to have been averted
. Then, when Seargant Pinback starts the disarm
ing process, we find out that Bomb #20 wasn't so confused after all:
All right, bomb. Prepare to receive new orders.
You are false data.
Therefore I shall ignore
False data can act only as a distraction
. Therefore, I shall refuse to perceive
The only thing that exists is myself.
Snap out of it, bomb.
In the beginning
there was darkness. And the darkness was without form and void.
Umm. What the hell is he talking about? Bomb?
And in addition to the darkness there was also me. And I moved upon the face of the darkness and I saw that I was alone.
Let There Be Light
. He detonates
So Bomb #20 wasn't confused after all... or was he? In fact, the reasoning in that last exchange represents the classic overcorrection
(and an irrational leap of logic
) to Doolittle's premise of phenomonology
. Bomb #20 falsely concludes that since sensory data
is inherantly ambigious
, it is all false, which is not necissarily true. As you might have noticed from its last few sentences, Bomb #20 has become its own God
Just for the hell of it, here are a couple of other funny quotes from the film:
"Sorry to hear about the radiation leak on the ship and real sorry to hear about the death of Commander Powell."
"Sorry to interrupt your recreation fellows, but it is time for Sergeant Pinback to feed the alien."
"Detonation will occur at the programmed time."
"Wouldn't you consider another course of action, for example: just waiting around a while so we can disarm you?"
If you liked this movie, you may also want to check out:
2001: A Space Odyssey
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Sources: The movie itself, IMDB, and this page for quoting and analyzing the conversation with bomb #20: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/cybercinema/bomb20.htm. The review is slightly modified from a page on my website, found here http://www.kaedrin.com/fun/movies/ds.html