One could have anticipated in 1974 that Dark Star was the beginning of a huge movie maker of the horror and sci-fi genre. With movies like Assault on Precinct 13 (1973), The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), In the Mouth of Madness (1994) or Vampires (1998), John Carpenter became very famous for shooting one awesome movie after another, escpecially in the 80s. But his significant and best movie is Halloween (1978) that set standards for the slasher and horror genre that are still current these days. Who doesn't see the Michael Myers character with his mask, holding a knife in his hand and heavily breathing standing around at the end of the road when the world-renowned synthesizer score begins to play? Carpenter wasn't only the director of his movies but he also was in charge of the production, wrote the screenplay and composed the score. That's why all of these movies bear the hallmarks of him.
John Carpenter was still a studying film when he shot Dark Star. And even at that time, he did almost anything. He composed most of the music and wrote the screenplay in cooperation with Dan O'Bannon. O'Bannon, who died in 2009, plays the Sgt. Pinback character, edited the movie and was also in charge for the production design and SFX. He also wrote the script for Alien in 1979 which also comtains some elements from Dark Star.
Dark Star is being characterized by SFX and a set that look very well, despite the low budget. Furthermore, there are many little things and ideas that make the worth being watched. They also made it happen to make a beach ball with feet look like a monster. The intelligent bombs and the female computer of the Dark Star are pretty amazing ideas as well. All those things are the reason why Dark Star is anything but trash. In addition, the movie contains dry humor and elements that inspire to reflect things. The movie illustrates solitary and tediousness in space very well. And that's how Dark Star was the beginning of a terrific career, especially for John Carpenter.
For the Australian DVD and possibly for further releases, the original aspect ratio 1.85:1 has been generated from an non-anamorphic source which means the black bars of the full screen have been transfered as well so that the images got squeezed together to 2.40:1. For the following comparison, the screenshots have been straightened out again as the following example illustrates perfectly.
Due to the solitary and tediousness on the ship, the crew members decorated parts of the ship with photos of some pin-ups. The pin-ups at the walls in the bedders, which are only in the additional footage of the DC, are kind of blurred. At least they are if they've been shot at close range. The pin-ups on the bridge on the other hand are not - that counts for the entire movie btw. But rumor has it that not all versions of Dark Star are blurred in the above-mentioned scenes.
The comparison is made between the shorter version ("Original Release") and the "Extended Theatrical Release", both included on the Australian DVD. The latter is basically considered the "normal" version and that's exactly how the film was shown in German and international cinemas. But Carpenter's original student film was about 10 minutes shorter and there were several additions of re-shot material for the cinema. On the Australian DVD, only the largest block of additional material by far was removed. Later on the British Blu-ray, further parts were cut for a shorter bonus version which should be closer to the director's original idea.
1 cut = 9:42 min.
Note on the version labels (Update by Muck47)
Originally, the shorter version was referred to as the "theatrica version" in this report, the longer version as the "director's cut". However, this is confusing and simply wrong with the production history, as the shorter version was exclusively shown at small film festivals. At that time, only the longer version was shown widely in the cinemas, so this version can be called "theatrical version" - or as it was titled on the DVD from Australia: "Extended Theatrical Release". On the US-DVD from VCI there are also two versions included, they are called "1974 Original Version" (short) and "Longer 1975 Theatrical Release".
On the British Blu-ray, the long version was later referred to only as the "Theatrical Version". In addition, this release from Great Britain offers a shorter "Director's Cut". Here a large part of the long section is missing, but also several other scenes that build on it in terms of the plot. It is plausible that this is in fact a rather faithful reconstruction of the original version by director Carpenter, before the aforementioned post-shoots for the broad theatrical run.
The cut begins after Doolittle recorded some messages to the ship's log. First some suspenseful scenes that illustrate the danger the Dark Star is exposed to, followed by a shot of the people killing time in the space ship.
13:11 - 13:29
Profile shot of the "Dark Star" gliding in space, Talby in the outlook, the front of the Dark Star, the crew members (Boiler, Doolittle and Pinback) are wildly dancing, sitting in the control room, to the music.
13:29 - 14:28
When a dangerous asteroid storm bound together by an electromagnetic energy vortex appears in the distance is on a collision course with the Dark Star, the computer warns the crew members and shuts off the music. That process is accompanied by a shot of the computer room. Shot of the shocked crew members preparing the Dark Star for the collision while the computer is holding the speech.
14:28 - 16:59
After activating the gravity system, the Dark Star passes the asteroid storm. Due to a malfunction, the bomb bay systems are being activated. Bomb #20 moves out, discusses with the computer which points out the bomb's malfunction and the bomb retreats. Subsequently, they leave the asteroid storm and the gravity system goes out. After the computer reported the malfunction to the crew members, they leave the bridge.
16:59 - 20:12
Pinback explains the bedders exploded during the last asteroid storm which is why they're on their way to the food storage locker to relax after all the exertions. They're killing time by smoking (Boiler and Pinback), playing cards (Doolittle), fooling around with practical joke devices (Pinback) or playing the so-called "5-Finger Fillet" (Boiler). Doolittle is so scared of Pinback's rubber chicken that he tosses the cards away and leaves.
20:12 - 22:53
In another room, Doolittle hits the installed bottles experimentally, fills some of them up with water, gets a mallet and hits the bottles easliy one more time. The he starts playing his self-build instrument, a percussion instrument with buttons. While he's making music, a cut to Pinback and Boiler follows. Pinback is chilling and Boiler clipping his beard. Then a shot of the space, followed by Doolittle making music again. After he stopped playing, he walks up to Talby. Now the short version is back on the field again.