The Chronological Carpenter: Dark Star (1974)


dark star poster

It’s probably not the best idea jumping into a new project like The Chronological Carpenter especially considering that I have trouble getting a full movie in each week and it’s been nearly three years and I’ve only gotten through a handful of Spielberg’s films while trying to do something very similar. And yet, here we are.

I just can’t stay away from John Carpenter’s films. Halloween is one of my all-time favorites — not just horror, but in all of film — and the guy has just made some of the most interesting, fun and imaginative movies out there. Plus, I’m at a place where I’ve seen about half of his filmography at least once, so it seems like a good time to go back to the beginning and scope everything out in order. It also helps that I’ve reviewed surprisingly few of these movies here on the blog like Escape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China. Heck, I’ve owned Starman for six years or so and never watched it (there’s a fun little story there, but all in due time).

dark star b&w posterWith that in mind I went back to where it all began for Carpenter and that’s Dark Star. The script and first draft of the film were penned by USC film students Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon (Alien). They filmed the script with O’Bannon starring in the picture and started showing it around at festivals. Eventually a producer got involved, 10 more minutes were shot and theater-goers got the longer version seen on DVD these days. The plot of the film finds a quartet of astronauts hanging out on a ship called Dark Star. Their mission is to destroy unstable planets. While doing all that they wind up going through a series of calamitous events that includes a run-in with a beach ball-shaped alien, a trip down an elevator shaft and trouble with a missile.

The movie’s incredibly slow at times — the elevator scene itself was a bit excruciating — but the ideas behind the film and the ingenuity put into actually getting it made are admirable. This is basically a student film and a comedy, but the model work still looks pretty great and I give them a lot of credit for coming up with creative ways to make aliens and elevators look, not real, but filmworthy.

The main problem with the film, aside from the fact that it looks like a student film from the early 70s, is the tone. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but doesn’t come off as one much of the time. It’s hard to tell if the joke is “people take goofy things and make them monsters, isn’t that funny?” or “we’re working with what we’ve got, isn’t that hilarious?” There are certainly some on-point moments of satire, especially with the destruction-obsessed astronaut, but overall it felt a little off balance. All of which makes Carpenter’s next two films, Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween all the more impressive when you think about it. Those are some huge steps to make in just four years. All in all, it’s also a little boring.

dark star posterConsidering I’m focusing on Carpenter here, t’s kind of funny that Dark Star actually shows off a lot more of Dan O’Bannon’s sensibilities than Carpenter’s in this film. The whole alien plot was basically lifted whole-hog for Alien. However, you can definitely feel some of Carpenter’s biting social commentary, especially in that opening scene about not sending radiation shielding. This would come to the forefront in They Live 14 years later (and maybe sooner, I guess I’ll find out). Anyway, while Dark Star is obviously an important film in Carpenter’s journey to become one of the greatest directors around, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to watch if you’re looking to convince someone how great he is. In other words, this one’s for the more hardcore fans.

From here I get to jump into the wonders of Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween before deciding on whether I should check out his two TV movies from that time, Elvis (his first movie with Kurt Russell) and Someone’s Watching Me (his first with Adrienne Barbeau). After that I’m looking forward to checking out The Fog, but only if I can get my hands on the recent Scream Factory release. Anyone want to let me borrow it?

Scream Factory Announces Assault On Precinct 13 Features

assault on precinct 13 blu-rayThe Scream Factory imprint over at Shout Factory generally sticks to horror films, as is fitting of their name, but every now and then they get their hands on a classic action film and give it the awesome special features treatment they’re known for. Just today they announced the full slate of special features on the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD release of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. Usually we’d condense everything for you, but this is worth a read as-is. You can pre-order the disc right now.

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray™

Delivering more terrifying perils and action suspense, John Carpenter’s acclaimed pre-Halloween thriller ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 all-new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray™ hits home entertainment shelves everywhere on November 19 from Scream Factory. This definitive edition release of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 boasts a bounty of all-new special bonus content, a collectible cover featuring newly rendered retro-style artwork, a reversible wrap with original theatrical key art and much more!

Isolated and cut off from the city inside a soon-to-be-closed L.A. police station, a group of police officers and convicts must join forces to defend themselves against the gang called Street Thunder, who have taken a blood oath to kill someone trapped inside the precinct.

From John Carpenter (HalloweenThe Thing and Prince Of Darkness), Assault On Precinct 13 combines the elements of a classic western and a modern thriller to create a riveting cult classic.

A CKK PRODUCTION “ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13”

Starring AUSTIN STOKER

DARWIN JOSTON, LAURIE ZIMMER

Executive Producer JOSEPH KAUFMAN

Produced by J.S. KAPLAN

Written and Directed by JOHN CARPENTER

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray™  Bonus Content:

Audio Commentary with writer/director John Carpenter
NEW Audio Commentary with Art Director & Sound Effects Editor Tommy Lee Wallace
NEW interview with actress Nancy Loomis Kyes
NEW interview with actor Austin Stoker
Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker
Theatrical Trailer
Radio Spots

A new John Carpenter commentary is probably worth the price of admission along, but there’s an awful lot of other goodness on there that will surely appeal to fans of Carpenter’s and film in general. Scream Factory’s Assault On Precinct 13 hits stores on November 19th.

Predator, Prometheus & The Thing Mondo Posters

When it comes to limited-run posters, Mondo’s one of the biggest names in the game. The reason why? They get some incredibly talented artists to create images based on some of the greatest movies of all time. Tomorrow, they’ve got another trio of offerings that will surely fly off the virtual shelves.

As detailed over on their blog, quick clickers with disposable income will have the chance to purchase a Predator poster by Ash Thorp, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus by JC Richard  and Jock’s interpretation of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

As per usual, the best way to keep up on when the posters go on sale, follow @MondoNews on Twitter.

Friday Night Fights: Nada Vs. Frank In They Live (1988)

*Friday Night Fights does presents crazy fight and battle scenes from movies with little-to-no context. If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll probably want to skip the clip. *

This one’s pretty self explanatory. If you’ve seen John Carpenter’s They Live you know how rad the fight scene between Roddy Piper’s Nada and Keith David’s Frank is. If you haven’t, get your hands on the Shout Factory release. It’s fantastic.