Monday, November 29, 2010

Obit: Irvin Kershner R.I.P.

The director of the best Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, has passed away. Veteran filmmaker Irvin Kershner, whose many credits include The Eyes of Laura Mars, A Fine Madness, Robocop 2, Never Say Never Again, and The Return of A Man Called Horse, died at his home in Paris today at age 87.

I watched Empire again on its anniversary last May, and was surprised to see just how well it holds up. Like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Empire is just so well-crafted and expertly paced, that every time I watch it, it's just as exciting and rewarding as the first time. It is the finest of the Star Wars films, and Kershner's experienced hand is a large part of its success.

Rest in peace, Mister Kershner, and may the Force be with you.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The SPACE: 1970 Poll

Back when I launched this blog, I ran a reader's poll asking "What's your FAVORITE prime-time/syndicated Sci-Fi show originally airing between 1970 and 1980?" Of course, back then, the site had only a fraction of its current readership, so I thought I'd try again. If people enjoy these polls, I'll post more of them - whenever I manage to think of a fun question to ask.

Feel free to suggest future questions in the comments, or explain your choice. Or complain that I forgot something - because that's always fun.

OOPS: I made a mistake in the Poll, so I had to delete it and start over. My apologies to the seven people who had already voted.

Monday, November 22, 2010

SPACE: 1999 Art by David & Dan Day

I stumbled across this piece on the web a couple days ago. It's by the late Gene Day, a comics artist probably best known for his work on Marvel's Master of Kung Fu, and for inking many issues of Star Wars over penciller Carmine Infantino.

I don't know if this was actually drawn for Charlton Comics and never used, or if it was a fanzine piece, but I thought it was pretty cool and wanted to share it here.

UPDATE: Apparently this art was misattributed by the site where I found it. It was actually drawn in the mid-80s by Gene's brother David Day and inked by his other brother, Dan:
My name is David Day, I am the youngest brother of Gene Day. I was 16 years old when my brother Gene passed away in 1982. I am also a professional artist with a 25 year career in the business. I have worked for Marvel, DC Comics on such characters as X-Men, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hulk and Batman...but I am most remembered in comics for working on licensing.. such as Man From Uncle, Sherlock Holmes, Lost In Space, Quantum Leap, Mr T and The T-Force, Nightmare on Elm Street to name a few. I drew the Space 1999 piece above for Sword and Stone Publications who bought the rights from Charlton Comics Archives. It was not Gene that created that picture. I drew it and my brother Dan inked it...it was done in 1986... I was 20 years old. Nice to see that someone has found it... I do not even have a copy of it.
All the best,
David Day
My apologies for the mistake, and my thanks to David for clearing it up.

Friday, November 19, 2010

THE STARLOST (1973) Movie: "The Beginning"


Like many other sci-fi shows from the era (Battlestar Galactica, Planet of the Apes, Space: 1999) several episodes of the Canadian series The Starlost, were also edited into TV movies for syndication. Apparently these cobbled-together telefilms didn't get much airplay in the U.S., but ran for years and years in Canada.

This is the opening narration and credits for the first of these, "The Beginning," which incorporated the episodes "Voyage of Discovery" and "The Goddess Calabra," which guest starred Space: 1970 favorites John Colicos and Barry Morse!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Captain's bLog 1118.10

•  I've been gradually doing some maintenance on the blog over the last couple months, going back and updating a lot of the older YouTube embeds with larger/better quality versions and replacing the dead ones when possible. I've also replaced a few photos here and there with better scans, including this Space Babes entry.

•  We're closing in at warp speed on 200 posts, 200 Blogger "Followers" and 400 Facebook "Fans." Wow.

•  I did manage to track down inexpensive used copies of the first two 1980 Flash Gordon novels by David Hagberg online. I actually gave up on the Buck Rogers novel, That Man on Beta, because it was just so awful - I don't know whether most of the blame falls on Richard Lupoff (a/k/a "Addison Steele") for his abysmal, fanfic-quality prose or the writer of the original teleplay for the crappy story.

Either way, I've set it aside indefinitely and started reading Massacre In the 22nd Century. I'm only a couple of chapters in, so I can't really speak as to the quality of the story, but Hagberg's prose is vastly better than Lupoff's. The characterizations and backstory aren't in line with the Alex Raymond comic strips (or the serials/movie/Filmation cartoon), but are very reminiscent of the 50's television series starring Steve Holland. So far, I'm okay with it.

•  Sometime next month, I'm planning my first Space: 1970 "theme week," The End of The World As We Knew It. Every day for seven days, I'll be posting a review of a different 70s post-Apocalyptic movie or TV show. Titles will most likely include The Omega Man, The Ultimate Warrior, A Boy & His Dog, and maybe the Gene Roddenberry Genesis II/Planet Earth pilots. Too bad Damnation Alley isn't available on DVD yet.

• I am continuing to ponder a Space: 1970 podcast. I'm trying to work out an entertaining and informative format, and I'd like to get a better microphone. I'm also still concerned about music issues. I would like to include a handful of rare tracks in each 'cast, but I want to do it right.

• Finally, I want to remind folks that I'm still looking for photos of Jean Marie Hon from Ark II and Man From Atlantis, and Maggie Cooper from Space Academy. I'm also looking for a videotape or DVD of The Questor Tapes. Additionally, there's a Paypal donation button over there in the sidebar if anyone wants to contribute to the Space: 1970 fund - I'm still trying to scrape up money for the Message From Space DVD and some other material for the site.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Second-Coolest Toy Ever: Kenner's 18" ALIEN Action Figure

In my opinion, the Space: 1999 Eagle Transporter from Mattel was the coolest sci-fi movie/TV tie-in toy of the 1970's... but the legendary 18" Alien action figure from Kenner is a close second - and I'm sure that many other Star Kids would rank it at #1.

And I might too, if I'd actually owned one. I do remember seeing one in the store in '79 and being both fascinated and frightened by it. I hadn't seen the movie - only coverage of it in Starlog and Fantastic Films - but I did ask my folks to buy it for me. Unfortunately once my mom glimmed the price tag and got a good look at the sheer grotesqueness of the figure, there was no way she was going to pick it up for me. Instead, I'm pretty sure I got a Moonraker space shuttle model kit... and, you know, I was pretty happy with that.

Still, over the years, I've kept my eye out for one of these treasures, but alas, I've never found one I could afford. I have, on occasion, had an opportunity to inspect other people's Aliens, though, and I'm rather astounded by the level of detail that Kenner managed; I'm sure that's part of the reason for the larger-than-usual scale. I'm also amazed that Kenner got away with marketing a toy like this to kids, not only because it's so scary, but because it was derived from an R-rated horror film.

Ahhh... the Seventies.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

MAD MAX (1979) Blu-Ray / DVD Review

Arguably the most influential genre film of the late 70s, the George Miller/Byron Kennedy-directed Mad Max (1979) was released last month on high definition Blu-Ray by MGM/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Set in the near-future where society's infrastructure is crumbling and the economy and government are rapidly falling apart, the officers of the Main Force Patrol are the last bastion of law and order, attempting despite incredible obstacles, to protect civilians from nomadic bands of ravagers. One MFP patrolman, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) gets on the bad side of a particularly vicious gang of these motorcycle marauders, and when they brutally murder his wife and child, Max sets out alone - behind the wheel of his ebony, V8 "Interceptor" - down the bloody road to revenge.

A major international hit in 1979, the Australian-produced Mad Max sired two theatrical sequels, which were released domestically by Warner Brothers (MM was distributed in the U.S. by American International Pictures, who re-dubbed all the Australian voices with American actors), and made a major Hollywood personality out of Gibson. MM and its sequels also spawned a slew of imitators from all over the world, action-packed post-Apocalyptic Westerns where the good guys wore fetishistic leather and the barbarians of the future sported a look inspired by the punk rock and professional wrestling scenes.

What is sometimes forgotten is just how good a movie Mad Max really is. Produced on a microscopic budget by an inventive and intrepid crew of filmmakers in the Australian outback, MM is remarkably well-paced, acted and shot. The story is simple, straightforward and emotionally resonant, and the action scenes not only still hold up now, 31 years later, but are more impressive than much of what you see on screen in 2010. There was no CGI when this film was made. So what you get are real cars, real drivers, real explosions and real stuntmen risking life and limb to capture the astounding chase sequences that open and close the film.

The new Blu-Ray disc from MGM/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment appears to use the same source material as the 2002 Special Edition DVD (which is included in this package). That's fine, because it's an amazing, pristine transfer that is now presented in 1080p HD at its correct, 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Audio is a resounding 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio in the original Australian English. The American voice track, as well as Spanish and French dubs, are provided as mono options. Extras on the Blu-Ray disc are both duplicated from the SE DVD - an audio commentary by crew members Jon Dowding, David Eggby, Chris Murray & Tim Ridge, a retrospective documentary, and theatrical trailers.

As noted above, this package also includes the 2002 Special Edition DVD. This "flipper" disc includes both a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and a 1.33:1 pan & scan version. Audio is 5.1 Dolby Surround. It sports the same extras as the Blu-Ray disc plus a photo gallery, TV spots, and a pop-up trivia track.

Mad Max is a genuine classic and should be in every Space: 1970 fan's video library. Obviously, this new high definition Blu-Ray is the finest presentation of the film to date, far surpassing even the original theatrical showings (especially those in U.S. drive-ins), and it's very reasonably priced. Highly recommended.

BUY: Mad Max (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo in Blu-ray Packaging)

Monday, November 15, 2010

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (1979) Theatrical Posters

One more "illustrative" post while I work on something more substantial - this time showcasing the original promotional art for the Canadian sci-fi "epic," The Shape of Things to Come.

Say what you will about the movie, but the poster art certainly exhibits enough classic space opera elements to get an 14 year-old 70s kid's pulse racing. Ray guns, robots and spaceships... that's what this blog is all about!

Buy the DVD From Amazon: The Shape of Things to Come

BUCK ROGERS (1979) Publicity Stills

Here's a couple of familiar publicity shots from the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century pilot film/feature. Sure, we've all seen 'em before, but I don't need much excuse to post shots of Erin Gray.

Friday, November 12, 2010

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) Marvel Super Special #3

Another seminal 70s sci-fi classic that I have so far neglected on this blog is Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, quite possibly the greatest UFO movie ever made. Along with Star Wars, CE3K (as the genre mags referred to it), really changed the face of science fiction films forever. No longer were sci-fi films relegated solely to B-movies and exploitation filmmakers - with that box office double punch, space movies stepped up to the A-list, with every major studio determined to field their own special effects-heavy blockbuster.

Marvel Comics had really lucked out with their decision to pick up the Star Wars license, and were duly careful not to let any other potential hits slip through their fingers. Hence, this magazine format comic adaptation of Spielberg's film, published as the third issue of their Marvel Super Special title.  Later issues would feature adaptations of Battlestar Galactica, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek - The Motion Picture... and Xanadu(!), among others.

I no longer have this comic, but I wish I did. the script was by the great Archie Goodwin, and the art was by the always awesome team of Walter Simonson and Klaus Janson. (Interestingly, Goodwin & Simonson also adapted Alien for Heavy Metal.) The cover painting above is by Bob Larkin, a prolific painter of covers for paperback novels (including a few Star Treks for Bantam Books) and comics magazines.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Coming Attractions: WESTWORLD (1973)


Writing about Quark the other day brought to mind Richard Benjamin's other great 70s genre credit - Westworld.

Westworld is one of my favorite sci-fi films of the 1970s, and I am astounded that it hasn't been remade by the originality-deficit folks out in Hollywood. It would be a natural. Not saying I want them to do it, but really, how have they not? It's not like Michael Crichton is going to be writing anything new... and since it's essentially exactly the same plot as Jurassic Park, and today's effects technology would make all the robot stuff utterly convincing, you'd think Spielberg or somebody would have jumped all over this.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Captain's bLog: Supplemental

I'm pondering the possibility of producing a Space: 1970 podcast. I have never attempted such a project before - and I'm not even certain that my computer set-up will allow me to do it properly - but I've been thinking about it for the last few months.

Aside from my hardware concerns, I would like to use some existing music, but I'm not sure how to legally secure permission from the copyright holders (or even how to find them, in most cases). If anyone with experience in these matters could provide me with some info or tips, it would be greatly appreciated.

But, most importantly, I need to know that there's interest in such a thing. I have a lot of projects on my plate, and producing a podcast is a lot of work and time consuming. I'm willing - and rather enthusiastic - about stepping into the medium, but to justify it, I need to be assured that people want to actually hear me ramble on about 70s sci-fi TV shows and movies.

So... post in the comments below if you'd be interested in a periodic Space: 1970 podcast, and especially if you have any experience in 'casting and would be willing to help out.

News: BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and DAMNATION ALLEY in 2011

I was directed today to a message board post that listed a number of Shout! Factory's planned titles for 2011. Among those was the long-anticipated Battle Beyond the Stars, which, if the information is to be believed, is now scheduled for next Summer for both DVD and Blu-Ray formats. Reportedly, it's taken Shout! some time to prepare an adequate HD master for the film. Other Corman Cult Classics titles listed for 2011 include Timewalker, a Deathstalker double feature and The Arena (hopefully in widescreen).

The post also listed a number of other upcoming discs, including a slew of old 20th Century Fox catalog titles, some of which were previously issued on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment (Death Hunt, Race With the Devil, etc.). Of most interest to Space: 1970 readers was the announcement that 1977's Damnation Alley is on tap for sometime next year. There were no further details provided, but hopefully, Shout! will put together some sort of special edition.

Let's hope that the information is accurate. I'm eagerly looking forward to both releases.

Friday, November 5, 2010

QUARK: "All The Emperor's Quasi-Norms"

I'm still working on my Favorite Episodes post on Space: 1999's "War Games," but as it's taking me a long time, for some reason, I've decided to skip it for now. So, for my second F.E. post, I'm looking instead at Quark's only two-part episode, "All The Emperor's Quasi-Norms." (The title, of course, is a play on All the President's Men, which had been a hit film two years before.) According to the IMDb, these episodes originally aired on March 24th and 31st of 1978.

As usual, the adventure begins with Palindrome getting Quark's hopes up about a new mission, only to once again send the hapless commander and his crew on another garbage run. On their way to rendezvous with - and receive garbage from - a starship, they encounter an unknown vessel. They are captured by the aliens, and it turns out that the ship is a Gorgon battle cruiser under the command of Emperor Vorgon the Malevolent, half-brother to the High Gorgon, himself.

Vorgon is accompanied by his daughter, Princess Libido, who finds herself instantly infatuated with the cold, Vegeton science officer, Ficus. ("Are you saying that Princess Libido is exhibiting that condition which you animals refer to as romantic affection at initial visual perception?") Meanwhile, Vorgon has convinced himself that Quark knows the location of It - a mysterious treasure that he greatly desires, and threatens to kill Quark's crew if he doesn't reveal Its location.

Desperate, Quark punts and tells Vorgon that It is hidden on the asteroid Rhombar. Much to his surprise, it turns out that It really is - and that Quark is apparently destined by prophecy to find and wield It. With the help of a tribe of forest people, led by the Prince Vultan-styled Baron (played by an uncredited actor), he finds It, which turns out to be a gemstone amulet reputed to make Its wearer invincible.

What I like the most about "All The Emperor's Quasi-Norms" is that, while it borrows character iconography from the old Flash Gordon serials (Vorgon the Malevolent - played by the awesome Ross Martin of The Wild Wild West - is clearly inspired by the merciless Ming), the story itself isn't a parody of a particular film or TV show. Most episodes of Quark were clearly based on specific installments of Star Trek or films like Star Wars and 2001, but "Emperor's" is more of a broad spoof of space opera in general.

Writer Jonathan Kaufer delivers probably the best script in the series (even his treatment of Gene/Jean is better than usual), and incorporates lots of classic space opera tropes, from the horny space princess, to the prison cell with crushing walls, to the incredibly specific galactic legend/prophecy that Quark inadvertently fulfills. Experienced TV director Bruce Bilson, a veteran of Get Smart as well as numerous action shows, keeps the pace lively, and exhibits deft comic timing. Not every joke works, but a lot more than usual hit their mark, and this episode does feature the series finest (in my opinion) comic moment:

Princess Libido's (portrayed by a very funny and sexy Joan Van Ark) attempted seduction of Ficus is the comedic high point of Quark's all-too-short run, and both Van Ark and Richard Kelton are brilliant in the scene.

Libido is nonplussed when Ficus fails to react to her passionate kiss, and Ficus must explain the differences between animal and vegetable love: "Libido, this is where we're going to have a problem.You see, where I come from, we don't kiss, we polinate." When asked to demonstrate, Ficus drops to the floor, lies on his back, sticks his arms and legs in the air, and says, "Bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee...."

Libido joins him on the floor and they both chant. After a moment or two, Ficus asks: "Is it good for you?"

"I think so. Is this what you Vegetons find pleasurable?"

"It would appear so."
  
"What do we do next?"

"We wait for the bee."

Damn, I laughed just typing that. Needless to say, they are soon interrupted by her father, who is enraged that his daughter is pollinating with a Vegeton, and orders that Ficus be hauled away by the guards. This gives  Kelton a chance to do his Sean Connery in Goldfinger impression:

Anyway, there are other bits of comic gold in this episode, one of which involves Gene/Jean slamming painfully into a wall. Ross Martin, in particular, has some great bits as Vorgon, and displays good chemistry with Richard Benjamin:

"You know what others say? They say that I dwell too much on torture and murder. They say that I'll kill for the joy of it. They say I wipe out whole civilizations at the touch of a button."

"Are they right?"

"Oh, yes."

This episode even has a couple of alien monsters that aren't too shabby by the (Sid & Marty Krofft) standards of the time, a predatory Lizagoth (great name!):

And a Psycloid (or Cycloid), decked out in 40s wrestler togs and a modified Don Post mask:

Say what you want, but they're better than anything we saw on Buck Rogers! Overall production values are good, too. The sets representing Vorgon's ship are quite decent (again, by 70s TV standards) and the costumes - especially those worn by Van Ark and Martin - are classic space opera. These were clearly the most lavish installments of Quark. Even the forest sets/locations for asteroid Rhombar are cool, with hot springs, orange rocks and multicolored foliage.

The main cast pretty much get good scenes in this episode; Tim Thomerson is given a slightly less degrading subplot of his own, and handles himself well. The Barnstable twins get to indulge in some heavy breathing when they attempt to teach Ficus about mammalian mating rituals, and, obviously, Richard Kelton really gets to shine with his storyline. Hell, even Andy the robot gets a few good lines.

Benjamin is particularly good in this one though, and seems to really be having fun. He clearly enjoys sparring with Ross Martin, gets to demonstrate his skill at physical comedy in several scenes, and gets lots of close-in work with the twins.

Overall, "All The Emperor's Quasi-Norms" is a terrific space opera spoof, and suggests that Quark had a lot of comedic potential. I think that had the show been allowed a full season, it would be better regarded and remembered today. Well, I like it.

Maybe I'll get to "War Games" next time....

Captain's bLog 1105.10

A few quick notes from the bridge:

•  The Space: 1970 Facebook page is now up to 337 "likes."

•  I just received the first two books in the 1980 Tempo Flash Gordon series by David Hagberg. Thanks to everyone who helped me track these down. Once I finish That Man on Beta, I'll start on these. If I like them, obviously, I'll be trying to acquire the remaining four. Hopefully, they'll be easier to find - and less expensive - than the 70s Avon Flash novels.

•   Still no updated word from Shout! Factory on the Battle Beyond the Stars DVD/Blu-Ray that they originally announced for September - at least, none that I've heard. I'm going to guess that they're having trouble finding a high-quality source print - the one used for the old New Horizons disc was pretty beat-up. If anyone hears anything definitive, please report in! I've been holding off writing much about the film until the new disc came out, but I'm wondering if I should stop waiting. Usually when I post a review here of an old product, a new version is announced within a month....

•   I haven't been re-posting every news item from TV Shows on DVD site for The Six Million Dollar Man Complete Series set from Time/Life, so here's a link to the site's $6MM news page, where you can find shots of the final packaging, complete details, etc. LINK.

•  Here's a question for you: should I cover 70s superhero shows on the site? There are some shows here that are on the cusp already - Man From Atlantis, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Invisible Man - but would it be of interest to those of you who read the site if I also occasionally wrote about shows like Isis, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, etc.?

I've been on the fence about it. It would broaden the scope of the blog and give me more stuff to wax nostalgic about (not to mention putting Joanna Cameron and Lynda Carter in the running for the Space Babes feature), but I wonder if it would broaden it too much, since the site has had a sci-fi focus so far. Anyway, your opinions would be welcome.

• And, finally, apropos of nothing, I'm now on Twitter: @AtomicPulp.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dirty Books: Flash & Buck Tie-Ins

Not too long ago, I read Arthur Byron Cover's novelization of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie for the first time, and found myself entertained - and occasionally appalled - by Cover's frequently lurid embellishments to the Lorenzo Semple screenplay.

For example, while Cover (a well-regarded science fiction writer) goes to great lengths to try and explain the unique nature of the improbable planetary system encompassing Mongo and its plethora of inhabited, bowl-shaped satellites, his adaptation also establishes that Dale Arden had a penchant for 70's New York swingers clubs and group sex before being shanghaied to Mongo. He further strongly implies that Emperor Ming's relationship with his daughter Aura is incestuous and ongoing.

I'm not a prude - far from it, in fact - but, man, I wonder how many junior high school-aged fans of the film picked up the paperback and had their adolescent minds blown by those lascivious revelations?

I'm currently reading the 1979 Buck Rogers tie-in novel, That Man on Beta, by Richard Lupoff (writing as "Addison Steele") and based on an unfilmed teleplay by Bob Shayne. Clearly written before the weekly television show premiered (and its bible established, apparently), the book explores various elements from the pilot film that were never really followed up on once it went to a series. It is also riddled with inconsistencies that suggest that at the time it was written, the author hadn't even seen the finished pilot movie yet.

Twiki can't speak in this book, for instance, communicating solely in beeps and squeaks that only Doctor Theopolis can interpret (very much like R2-D2 and C3PO). Additionally, Theopolis himself is described as a square box, rather than the plastic alarm clock that the film prop resembled. And Doctor Huer is described as wearing glasses!

I'm only about a third of the way through it, but so far, all of the action takes place in "Anarchia," the post-holocaust wastelands outside New Chicago (here called the Inner City, as in the pilot film). This is an element from the pilot that was never followed up on once it sold; in the original movie, it's pretty clear that there is only one, domed city on Earth, and that the rest of the planet is a barren wasteland, inhabited by mutants and savages. I suspect that Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens - neither of whom actually had much to do with the subsequent TV show - may have originally intended for Buck to have occasional Earthbound adventures encountering various post-Apocalyptic survivors, in the vein of Roddenberry's Genesis II or Planet Earth. but, once Buck actually went to series, that idea was abandoned in favor of pure Star Wars-styled space opera, and we even saw other cities on occasion. This book also makes big deal of the computer council that runs the Inner City, but aside from Theopolis, we never saw any of those "guys" again on the show.

One thing the book does do, however, is remind me of just how much Gil Gerard brought to the character. On TV, with Gerard's charm and easygoing approach to the role, Buck came across as a likable wiseass. In cold print, though, he just seems like a dick. Of course, the story has him doing a lot of dickish things, like lying to Huer and Wilma about his unauthorized ventures outside the city and actually trading Theopolis to an Anarchian "gypsy" (who speaks in CB jargon - groan) for a minor bit of information. It's not a trick or ploy, either - Buck simply sees the artificial intelligence (one of Earth's ruling council!) as just a piece of disposable machinery.

Anyway, while the story and characters don't jibe with the show, it's still kind of a fascinating book. I'm curious how it turns out....

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

DARK STAR (1974) - Hyperdrive Edition DVD

"Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up!"

The long-awaited special edition of the Dan O'Bannon/John Carpenter cult classic, DARK STAR (1975) is now available from VCI Entertainment.

The quirky science fiction comedy began its existence as a $60,000 student film, co-written and directed by Carpenter (HALLOWEEN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) and scripted by O' Bannon (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, DEAD & BURIED). It was picked up for theatrical distribution by Jack H. Harris (THE BLOB), who requested that the young filmmakers shoot additional scenes to bring the movie to feature-length.

In an unspecified future time, the patrol ship Dark Star, with its crew of five - Dollittle (Brian Narelle), Boiler (Cal Kuniholm), Talby (Dre Pahich), Pinback (Dan O'Bannon) and the cryogenically frozen corpse of ship's Commander Powell - is on a mission to destroy unstable planets with artificially-intelligent "thermostellar" warheads. Unfortunately, the ship has been away from Earth for twenty years and is falling apart, damaged by meteors and plagued with system malfunctions. The crew isn't in much better shape - unkempt, neurotic, and apathetic. When one of the aforementioned malfunctions causes warhead #20 to threaten to explode and take the ship with it, Lieutenant Doolittle has to try and talk the bomb out of fulfilling its prime directive.

DARK STAR is a crudely crafted but ingenious science fiction film, executed with style, wit and humor. The comedy is of a decidedly dark variety - very 1970s - and the amateur cast isn't always up to the task of carrying it off, but there are plenty of chuckles to be had, especially during Sgt. Pinback's extended struggle with the ship's alien mascot - a beach ball with claws.

Released previously by VCI in an unimpressive but adequate "Special Edition," (review here) this new, "Hyperdrive Edition" is an improvement in nearly every way, with better video and lots of new bonus features. 

A two disc set, Disc One contains the 83 minute theatrical cut, presented in a noticeably-improved 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, sourced from a new 35mm source and digitally restored. It still doesn't look like a modern HD production - the movie was originally shot on 16mm stock and blown up to 35mm for theaters - but it's far better than the previous transfer. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. English and Spanish subtitles are provided. Extras on this disc include an audio commentary track by "super fan" Andrew Gilchrist, an on-camera interview with science fiction author Alan Dean Foster, who discusses the challenge of writing the film's novelization back in the 70s (as well as the rest of his career), a 3D Guide to the Dark Star spaceship, an interview with actor Brian Narelle (Doolittle), text trivia, and the original theatrical trailer.

Disc Two contains an equally-improved, anamorphic widescreen transfer of the original Carpenter "student film" version, running roughly 68 minutes. This disc also contains a new, informative retrospective documentary, LET THERE BE LIGHT: THE ODYSSEY OF 'DARK STAR.'

Both versions now include a new text introduction by the late O'Bannon.

It's not perfect - the lack of participation by director John Carpenter is disappointing - but it's a pretty damned good DVD package, and a genuine upgrade over the previous release. For fans of this seminal sci-fi dark comedy, this new "Hyperdrive Edition" is highly recommended.

BUY: Dark Star - The Hyper-Drive Edition