Sometimes an old song or memory just gets stuck in your mind and won’t leave.
This one’s been playing for a couple of days:
“Benson, Arizona, blew warm wind through your hair
My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there”
Recognize it? Some of you may have, if like me you spent most of the 70’s watching weird science fiction movies or if the 80’s you attended a science fiction convention where they were playing this cult classic film.
By 90’s I’d purchased a VHS tape of the film.
Figured it out yet?
How about if I mention “thermostellar triggering device”?
Beach ball alien?
Of course, now you remember, Dark Star, John Carpenter’s first movie and the only John Carpenter movie I ever liked (or even really watched, except for Halloween where I was the security guard for the theater and saw it something 23 times, but after years of therapy, I feel much better).
It’s a quirky movie. Low budget as this was Carpenter’s senior project for film school. How it ever made it to a real theater or to home video is a subject beyond the scope of this post. I will say that when it was discovered by guys like me who thought George Lucas’ THX1138 was a better story than Star Wars, Dark Star entered that cult realm where it has entered a kind of immortality.
“Benson, Arizona, the same stars in the sky
But they seemed so much kinder when we watched them, you and I”
For the few of you who’ve not had the joy of watching this film over and over again, let me summarize the plot:
The Dark Star is an interstellar scout ship that has been given the mission of scouting out places were people can colonize and using its bombs, the “thermostellar triggering devices,” the crew destroys unstable planets making the area safe. The problem is that the ship is falling apart – a radiation explosion destroyed the crew’s quarters and a short-circuit in the his chair during a hyperspace jump killed Commander Powell. The crew has been at this for 20 years and is starting to have a number of mental break downs. During one malfunction bomb number 20 decides it’s received a message to drop, but the main computer talks to it and convinces it to return to the bomb bay – yes the bombs are smart. Later during a real bomb run another malfunction fails to release the bomb and it starts its countdown to blow up while still attached to the ship. Dolittle, the ship’s second in command, talks to the bomb using Cartesian doubt and tells the bomb that the message it received to explode is false.
Which is great as bomb #20 returns to the bomb bay to consider what Dolittle just said. Sadly for the crew a few minutes later the bomb announces, “In the beginning there was darkness … and I saw I was alone. Let there be light.” And it promptly blows up.
Yes, the film is noted in most references as being a comedy.
There are moments in the film that are down right funny, like when sergeant Pinback chases an alien shaped like a beach ball (actually it is a beach ball with claws glued on). The special effects are cheesy and the dialog, is just plan formulaic, but the way it is delivered dead pan by the actors just adds to the fun.
Well, there are maybe a thousand or two of us on the planet who love this film.
I mean you’ve got to love a SciFi movie whose title song is sung by a gravelly voiced country singer.
While the movie has always had a special place in my heart and funny bone, the movies and books of that era had a special something that something that I find so hard to describe. As a teen and young adult, there was always this yearning to be part of a big adventure – to do something bold, to go somewhere strange, to do the impossible, and be the hero.
Maybe it’s just a natural part of being young, but I so wanted to fly between the stars or to explore the mysteries of the universe.
Why this has stuck in my head I can’t really say. Nostalgia? Unfulfilled dreams?
Or perhaps as I get closer to retirement, the more I think of the extremes of my life often find my mind drifting back to my youth and that time when everything seemed fresh and there was a universe to discover.
Someday, I’ll invite you over and we can watch the film – in a double feature with Silent Running.
Here’s the song for you to enjoy: https://youtu.be/eTa2vXL7FI8