In John Carpenter’s guerilla undermining of the pomposity of space odysseys, the Kubrickian crack-up is enacted for the spaceship’s video log: "This statement is for posterity. Uniforms don’t fit me. The underwear is too loose." The intergalactic vessel is a triangular cardboard model, the mission is to vaporize unstable planets; struggling not to vanish under the mass of space ennui and their own beards, crew members deal with faulty radiation shields, toilet paper shortage, and nostalgia for Malibu surfboards. Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay is a beautiful bit of streamlined absurdism, wittily meditative down to the exasperated little sighs with which the characters address the artificial-intelligence explosives ("Weeeell, Bomb..."). As the least atrophied of the astronauts, he executes a pas de deux with the rubbery alien mascot (a mischievous, red beach ball with clawed flippers) as a rough draft for his Alien chest-busters, a skit that Harold Lloyd would've loved. The spaceship is an existential void, and also a stoner’s cluttered pad and the original cubicle for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gagsters; already a genre-sculpting ace, Carpenter manages to work an elegantly choreographed camera into even the most cramped of shoestring sets. As much about the creative process as, say, Eraserhead, it encompasses Milton’s "misled and lonely travelers," Rossini and muzak, the vastness of the universe contemplated to the tune of a trucker’s ditty ("Benson Arizona, the same stars in the sky / But they seemed so much kinder when we watched them, you and I"). "So many malfunctions," the cryogenically frozen commander wheezes from the beyond about humanity, yet the film builds optimistically to a philosophical debate with its own HAL 9000, then “Let there be light” and a flash of transcendence among the stars. With Brian Narelle, Carl Kuniholm, and Dre Pahich.
--- Fernando F. Croce