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DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER’S WORLD (review)

Review by Dean Galanis
Produced by Marcel Hoehn
Written and Directed by Belinda Sallin
Featuring: H.R. Giger, Leslie Barany, Sandra Beretta, 
Mia Bonzanigo, Tom Gabriel Fischer, Stanislav Grof, 
Andreas J. Hirsch, Müggi III, Paul Tobler, 
Carmen Scheifele de Vega, Marco Witzig

If you’re a fan of artist H.R. Giger’s work or if you have even a passing interest in art and artists, Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World is essential viewing.

Belinda Sallin’s documentary feature is not a straightforward, linear biopic-style film.

It is, however, an immersive, hugely enjoyable peek into the process and psyche of the supremely talented Giger, the Swiss artist best known for designing the creatures of Alien and Species.

There’s an interesting, almost low-key thriller vibe to the direction of Dark Star.

We get some fly-on-the-wall scenes with Giger puttering around his house, working on projects, eating with friends and family, as well as extended shots of Giger’s work, including a very cool variation on a kiddie train ride in his back yard.  These scenes are complemented by the intriguing and effective score by Peter Scherer, which, at times, evokes vintage Goblin.  There are many evocative shots of Giger sans dialogue, during which we’re invited to guess what the man is thinking.

Photo Courtesy of Icarus Films

Lest you think that this is some lazy, “you do the work” film, be assured Sallin knows what she’s doing, and we get many fascinating anecdotes about Giger’s life and career.

It’s more that Sallin’s style suits her subject and doesn’t succumb to rote talking-head technique or aping Maysles or Wiseman verite. The movie takes its time to get going; perhaps some Giger fans will wish she’d spent more of the film’s ninety-five minutes with Giger facts and interviews.  But I’d be surprised if many viewers will be left unsatisfied.

We do, of course, get a good look at a great many works of art by Giger.  I’ve been a (non-rabid but sincere) fan of Giger’s since elementary school, and I didn’t recognize more than a few works on display here. Seeing these works over and over in 95 minutes reveals how incredibly elaborate and imaginative they are, and Sallin drops hints (or, in many cases, more than hints, really) of what makes Giger tick as an artist.  His early obsession with mummies and Egyptian art, his nine-year relationship with a woman he adored that ended tragically, his need to constantly face his fears.

There’s some interesting older film footage of Giger at a printing press, watching as his first poster is being mass-produced, on the set of Alien with director Ridley Scott, of his parents discussing their influence on him, etc.

It’s also refreshing to hear some unflattering anecdotes about Giger, only to be softened much later in the film by some follow-up information.  Sallin isn’t afraid to paint her subject in gray tones at times, fully knowing that by the end of the film, most viewers will be unabashed admirers of Giger. We do even get a summing-up view of life and death by Giger which is quite interesting and antithetical to most, you know, human beings.  It’s even more meaningful considering Giger passed away not long after.

There is a wonderful moment late in the film that any true geek worth his or her salt will identify with.  A heavily tattooed, rough-looking fan meets Giger, shows him his Giger arm tattoo, then breaks down crying.  It’s truly a lovely, moving moment.

The one serious criticism that can be made about Dark Star is that the white subtitles are often difficult to decipher against often white backgrounds.   I never missed anything, but it was annoying to have to lean in and squint to read some lines. 

That being said, it’s well worth this annoyance to watch the otherwise terrific film.  With special mention to Giger’s cat, Muggi III, who almost walks off with the movie with some really fun moments.  

Photo Courtesy of Icarus Films
Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World will be released May 15th in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco before theatrically rolling out in the United States and Canada.  For additional theatrical dates, click HERE.
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