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Dark Star

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Dark Star is one of my all-time favorite movies. My fasination with the film has grown over the years. The film was made by John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon when they were film students. It was released in 1974. Most movie goers know of Carpenter's career; films such as: The Fog, The Thing, Halloween, Escape From New York, and They Live. But, I find Dan O'Bannon much more interesting.

He's had fewer successes: Alien, Blue Thunder, Screamers. I read an article on him when Alien came out in 1979 over and over. He's a true underdog. This is an open invitaion to him: Mr. O'Bannon, I'd be delighted to meet you and talk with you. If you wish to correspond with me, please feel free.

The Story

For those who don't know what it is about, Dark Star tells the story of five-man space ship on a mission to locate planetary systems with both habitable worlds and also planets which are in unstable orbits. The ship carries bombs (thermo-stellar triggering devices) which are used to destory these unstable planets. This is to prevent any future colonies being obliterated by supernova caused by the unstable planet. The Dark Star has twenty such bombs. Only 1 bomb is needed per planet.

The crew have been in space for twenty years but have only aged three years physically. They are in there early twenties. Isolation has taken a hard toll on the men. Incidentially, the ship's captain, Commander Powell, was killed accidentially some years before the story takes place and was placed in cryogenic suspension. The other four men are:

  • Lieutenant Doolittle, who dreams of surfing off the California coast;
  • Sergeant Pinback, who claims to a fuel maintenance technician who was erronously placed on board (although, he doesn't seem to have brought this up for the first several years of the mission);
  • Corporal Boiler, is a reclouse with violent and destructive habits; and
  • Corporal Talby, the astronomer, spends nearly all of his time in the ship's observation dome.

Only after the crew has used up the final bomb, they can return to Earth. Unfortunately, the ship is falling apart as badly as the men. On the last bombing mission, things go terribly wrong. Anything else would spoil it for you.

I've collected several cool things about the movie over the years and decided to add them to my website. Here it is, mostly chronologically . . . .

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Years ago, perhaps in the fall of 1978 or early 1979 - when I was eleven, I was walking through Rink's Bargain City North of Chillicothe, Ohio, I came across a paperback copy of the book Dark Star by Alan Dean Foster. It was in with all the rest of the science fiction paperbacks. The cover art really grabbed me. The book cost only $1.75 back then. I throughly enjoyed the book. I had yet to see the film.

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Cover from Third printing

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Home Movies

After reading the book over and over again, I wanted to make an Super-8 version of the novel. I don't think that I knew anything about the film at all. Two of my very good friends at the time were heavily into home movies. Remember, this was the early 1980s and camcorders were huge. Usually, the camera was connected to the tape unit by a cable; the tape unit had to be carried with a shoulder strap.

I went through the paperback and highlighted portions of the story, noting scenes in the margins. At first, I tried to get my older brother's girlfriend to type it up into a script for me. When she saw how much I wanted her to do, she declined. I tried typing it myself, but it was too much typing. I should have just bought extra copies of the book and used those.

I had drawn up a few ideas for uniforms, ensignia, and sets. I even had some music that I wanted to use for the asteroid storm scene and for the final scene. It was from John Williams' first concert with the Boston Pops Orchestra. We planned elaborate special effects for the final. I'll have to look around and see if I still have any of the sketches.

Unfortunately, the whole project never went very far. As it was, we never shot a single frame of our own version of Dark Star.

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Fantastic Films Magazine

This picture is from an article on Rob Cobb and the art work he did on the film Alien. He knew Dan O'Bannon from the early 1970s and drew up the design of the ship.

The area on the side view directly above the forward part of the open bomb-bay door looks to me like the circular areas on the sides of the Millennium Falcon (right above the entry ramp). But, they are not visable on the top view of the ship.

I know that I had this picture when I was planning the Super-8 version. I used the outline of the ship in one of the designs.

Coincidentally, the dark areas at the sides and top of the image are from scotch tape residue.

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Ron Cobb sketch

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Starlog Magazine

This was one of the first pictures I saw from the film. It shows the ship surrounded by it's protective energy sheilding. The bluish lightning is part of an electo-magnetic vortex. It is from Issue #24 of Starlog.

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Starlog picture

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Commercial TV

WXIX, Channel 19 (get it, XIX, the roman numeral for 19) in Cincinnati, Ohio and Newport, Kentucky showed the film one evening. It was certainly after I'd read the book. Luckly, I saw an ad days in advance and was able to plan ahead. I recorded the entire show on audio using my cassette recorder. It was great.

There was a break in the audio in which one bit, one word actually, of dialogue was lost. I didn't learn this until later. See below about the album.

Also, this version did include the water-organ scene. See the section below about the director's cut.

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Album from Starlog records

Citadel records put out an LP of one hour of the soundtrack including music, sound effects and dialogue taken directly from the film. As I recall, this had Doolittle's water organ music.

When I get access to a digital camera, I might put out a picture of the cover. If there is interest, I might be up to typing in the liner notes, too.

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First edition paperback found at Marcon

At one of the two Marcon science fiction conventions I attended, either Marcon XIX in 1984 or Marcon XII in 1986, I found a first edition of the paperback. There is a color photo on the back and 19 black and white photos in the center. It's great! I wonder what the second edition looks like? If anyone has a copy, let me know and if you can send me the image, I'll definately put it out here.

Additionally, if there is enough interest in the pictures in the first edition, I might scan a few and put them out here.

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Cover from First printing

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The 1983 Director's Cut

A year before the 10 year anniversary of the film, the movie was released to home video. The greatest thing about this version is that the film is presented in letterbox format.

For some unknown reason, the 1983 director's cut of Dark Star does not have the scene in which Doolittle plays the water organ. It's a nice piece of music and, I feel, adds depth to the character.

On other change in the director's cut is that in the scene in the crew quarters, shots showing the back wall are digitally blurred. This back wall is covered almost completely with centerfolds and other pin-ups. As I remember it, when I watched the film on commercial TV, you really couldn't see great detail. I think that this was to ensure a G rating for the video release.

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Cool trivia!

  1. The subplot of Dark Star involving the beach ball alien has been generally accepted as a for-runner for Alien, which was co-written by Dan O'Bannon.
  2. The scene in Aliens with Bishop (Lance Herkensen) running the knife between his and Hudson's (Bill Paxton) fingers is similar to a scene with Corporal Boiler. Does anyone know if it is a direct tribute to Dark Star? I would love confirmation on this.
  3. The chest-plate on Talby's space suit is comprised of a cake pan with a 6 muffin, muffin-pan on the top. You can even see the hole for hanging the tin on the wall.
  4. The music in the crew quarters scene, titled When Twilight Falls on NGC 891, has been used for several years on a commercial for Nick At Nite. It's the one for the Slick Satellite.
  5. Doolittle's name tape is mis-spelled as DOOLTTLE. BTW - the name tapes are the same type as used by the US Air Force for fatigue uniforms from the time - white letters embroidered on blue tapes circa the early 1970s. Name tapes of this color are still used by the Civil Air Patrol to this day, even though they now use BDUs (i.e. cammoflague).
  6. Talby's voice is over-dubbed by John Carpenter for the entire film.
  7. In the crew quarters, Talby's bunk can be seen, all made up with personal effects, service ribbons and such, laid out. This is mentioned in the book but only glimpsed in the film.
  8. The frantic crew chatter, first during the asteroid storm (Starlog picture above) and later in the attempt to reset the bomb-drop mechanism on Bomb #20, is virtually the same dialogue.
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Links & Downloads

  • Back on May 1st 1998, I received an email from Sergio Nasi, who lives in Italy. He has a very nice page, The Dark Star Resort. I've set up a Dark Star links section on my Links page. He's the first one and more will be added. Hopefully, he and I can find enough Dark Star sites to set up a Dark Star web-ring, like he suggested.

  • Richard Mobbs contacted me back in mid-November of 1998 and told me about a Dark Star theme he had created to use with Mircosoft Plus for Windows 95. You can link to his site here in the Dark Star links section on my Links page.

  • Tom V. Slawik contacted me in late September of 1998 asking for blueprints or detailed drawings of the Dark Star. He was planning on a paper model of the ship. I sent him off larger copies of two of my pictures on here. He has designed a really cool template for a card stock model of the Dark Star. He was kind enough to send it to me in December and here is for all to download.

    Click here to view the model template and save it
    or right click and select save link. (155 Kb)

    Thanks Tom! I can't wait to find the time to build my own model.

    Hey, I finally printed it out and put it together on a Monday night, three weeks or so, while watching L.A. Doctors. It only took about an hour. I started out using an x-acto knife, but it turned out to easier for me to use scissors. I'll snap a couple of pictures and put them out soon. The model is about 4 1/2 inches long and looks very nice. (Fri 26-Feb-1999)

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Copyright © 1997, Michael A. & Tammy G. Hendershot

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