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Arc of the Phoenix, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bomb #20

John Carpenter’s 1974 debut feature Dark Star has long held a fascination for me, dating back to my Super 8 filmmaking days. My friends and I would quote the movie back and forth to each other and Nigel, I recall, had the soundtrack album on vinyl which contained Carpenter’s synthesizer score, sound effects and dialogue.

On my first trip to visit my friends Judy and Don in Arizona, they took me, at my obscure bidding, to visit the sleepy desert town of Benson, Arizona, which features as a song in the film. I still own the T-shirt. Decades later, I drive around LA with a license plate that quotes that town and the song that it inspired.

I’ll be the first to admit, Dark Star is not exactly a paragon of science fiction cinema. Its origins are clear. It is a student graduation film, later expanded to theatrical feature, as a tongue-in-cheek parody of more serious-minded science fiction epics. But it is imaginative, amusing, cunningly designed, colorful, entertaining and endearing. And a while back it inspired me to take a wild swing at an improbable idea – a sequel!

My idea was nuts. I’d read that director John Carpenter had distanced himself from the other filmmakers while he went on to make many more brilliantly imaginative genre films, notably Assault of Precinct 13, Halloween, Escape from New York and The Thing. John’s co-star and co-writer Dan O’Bannon had taken off on his own trajectory, as screenwriter of Alien and writer/director of other horror fare. When Dan died, tragically young at 63, I was heartbroken and took a shot in the dark.

I showed my script to one of the team, Dark Star visual effects man and author of the lyrics to Benson, Arizona, Bill Taylor, ASC. I still have Bill’s email, where he pronounced my script, ‘A very ingenious extension of the original story and characters. Very funny and touching, too.’ But Bill warned me, it would be no use sending it to John Carpenter.

Actor and cartoonist Brian Narelle, who played Lieutenant Doolittle in the film, told me the same. Against all wisdom, I gave it a shot, and mailed my script to John. I never heard back. No surprise there. But the script retained a warm place in my heart, and so, eventually, I decided to set it free.

While it is true my story is the unauthorized sequel to John Carpenter’s Dark Star, that film borrowed from a number of sources, notably Ray Bradbury’s Kaleidoscope. And I was also inspired by the great Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem’s Pirx the Pilot stories, and Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat. So, with all that in mind, I decided to launch my script out of the airlock and onto the Internet.

To read more, click the teaser poster below.

Log-line: An amnesiac space pilot, veteran of the legendary long-lost explorer mission ‘Dark Star,’ is rescued from deep space and drafted on a terrifying new mission.

Synopsis: Sergeant Virgil Pinback – aka fuel technician Frank Puge – returns to Earth, 60 years after the disappearance of his scoutship ‘Dark Star.’ United Planets Space Corps hails Pinback as a hero, despite a case of mistaken identity that launched him on his role as a space explorer, and he foolishly signs on as commander of a mission sent to save the planet from the same mysterious entity that long ago destroyed his ship.


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