Initially created as a short film by writer-director-composer John Carpenter and writer-editor-actor Dan O’Bannon at the University of Southern California, and later picked up and expanded for distribution by Jack H. Harris (Ride in the Whirlwind, Equinox), Dark Star remains a rare example of a genuinely funny science-fiction comedy. The film parodies the milieu of space exploration so reverently depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey with the absurdism of Dr. Strangelove. Four terminally bored astronauts on a pointless mission to destroy “unstable planets” are culturally situated in the Southern California burnout mode: pin-up girls, dorm-room levels of cleanliness, petty arguments, and desperate acts of eccentricity define life aboard the eponymous spaceship. But the astronauts must also contend with the eeriness and total isolation of their mission. (It’s not too surprising that O’Bannon would go on to write Alien and that Carpenter’s doom-laden electronic score anticipates his future career as a horror auteur.) A technical marvel given its miniscule $55,000 budget, the film’s use of computer readouts and depictions of hyperspace travel (based on John Whitney’s streak photography that also inspired Douglas Trumbull’s slit-scan effects in 2001) impressed George Lucas enough to hire O’Bannon to create similar graphics for Star Wars. The film’s final scene draws heavily from Ray Bradbury’s short story “Kaleidoscope,” ending on a bittersweet note of serenity in the face of oblivion.
Bing Theater | $5 admission | Tickets: 323 857-6010 or purchase online.