John Carpenter's The Thing presented an alien intent on destroying all human life within its path. Two years later however, Carpenter revisited the notion of an alien visiting Earth, but instead made arguably his warmest, most emotional film in the form of Starman.
Starman tells of a Voyager II probe that is sent into space, in the hope of maybe contacting any extra-terrestrial life that may exist. The probe contained music, pictures and brief lessons on how to speak English and say the word 'greetings' in more than forty different languages. The probe flies towards a distant unknown planet. Soon, an unidentified spacecraft flies to Earth in response. This spacecraft is shot down, and luckily manages to crash-land in Wisconsin. The alien pilot abandons its craft and heads in the direction of a nearby house. The owner of the house is beautiful Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), a widow who lost her husband Scott Hayden (Jeff Bridges) in a tragic accident. Jenny still actively grieves her husband's death, and spends each night drinking away her troubles whilst watching film clips of her husband whilst he was alive. However, as soon as Jenny has gone to bed for the night, the alien mentally rummages through the strange contents of Jenny's house and stumbles upon a lock of Scott's hair fastened in a photo album. Using the lock of hair, the alien manages to perfectly resemble Scott in shape and appearance. Soon, the alien (Starman) meets Jenny, who is maddened by and drawn to the Starman because of the fact that in appearance it is essentially her dead husband brought back to life. Starman sees Jenny as his teacher when it comes to learning about human ways, and Jenny mentally merges the love she had with her dead husband with the love she now has for the Starman. Because the Starman's craft was shot down, he deems the planet hostile, and so must reach Arizona as that is the set co-ordinates in which his fellow aliens can meet him and return him to his planet. Therefore, Jenny plans to return Starman to Arizona, despite the human authorities closing in on their location and despite the fact she has fallen in love with him.
It's almost lazy to write a review of Starman and merely compare Carpenter's work to that of Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T., and yet it's impossible to not draw any comparisons between the two directors. In each of the three films, you sense that the films' three main protagonists (Roy in Close Encounters, Elliot in E.T. and Jenny in Starman) each require alien intervention in order for their life's to return to destiny's path. With regard to Jenny in Starman, the visit of the alien that resembles her husband is presented as necessary by Carpenter in order for Jenny to actually put to rest the issue of his death in her own mind. Whereas the aliens in Close Encounters represented arguably a replacement familial model for Roy, and E.T. represented a replacement father for Elliot, Starman represents a replacement husband for Jenny, until she is mentally equipped to overcome her loss, at which point Starman is no longer required.
Being heavily involved in horror and action genres before this film, it is clear that John Carpenter seemed determined to prove to critics and audiences that he is just as adept at handling emotion and sentiment as well as Spielberg can. Starman will be seen as a refreshing change for those sick with the alleged saccharine in Spielberg's films. Carpenter directs with both wit and heavy emotional output, and the film has at its moral core a very positive message in the fact that although Starman is an alien, he actually means humans no harm.
The two central performances are very good and the success of the film hinges upon their shoulders. Jeff Bridges has always provided tremendous charisma and a charming personality in all of his films, and he does a fine job of portraying an alien who has incorporated human form. Bridges brings pleasant comic relief and touching humanity to the part of the Starman, and was deservedly Oscar nominated for his performance. Opposite Bridges is Karen Allen, a famous lead star of the early eighties (she starred opposite Harrison Ford in Raiders Of The Lost Ark) who has stunning girl-next-door appeal and a frail emotional core which appears to adorn her sleeve. Also in fine supporting form are Charles Martin Smith and 'Buck' Flower, two actors who make the best out of their smaller roles.
The cinematography by Donald M. Morgan is tainted by a slightly dated colour tone, but other than this slight detriment, the photography manages to give the film a distinct visual gloss. It's refreshing to see a John Carpenter film that utilises many daytime sequences, considering his previous efforts were usually extremely dark in both nature and their exterior. The special effects were obviously seamless at the time, but are distinctly average in today's light, and fall short in comparison to the overhauls that Star Wars, Close Encounters and E.T. were given. The musical score by Jack Nitzsche is poignant and melodic, but again falls short of the contemporary offerings of Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and John Williams.
Age is the essential problem for Starman. It's a fine film let down by qualities that are merely dated eighteen years after it was released. Despite these misgivings, it still is a warm, sensitive effort from a director used to bleak, shocking horror and pulsating action. The performances are excellent, and yet the film ultimate falls short of Spielberg and Lucas offerings, which is a pity. The film is merely entertainment fodder for MTV generation nostalgia lovers who still relish watching Transformers The Movie and Tron.
Academy Awards 1984
Academy Award Nominations 1984
Best Actor - Jeff Bridges
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the picture presents a slight softness in terms of print quality and a few artefacts, but overall handles the film splendidly and copes well with the sometime dated colour tone the film possesses.
A very good 5.1 mix, with exceptional spatial channelling of sound elements and a clarity-filled sound mix. Starman was originally shown in six-track and this Region 2 version easily beats the 2.0 stereo version the poor Region 1 consumers have to contend with. The bass channel is given much emphasis, and the sound events seem remastered and fresh.
Menu: A silent, static menu incorporating promotional artwork from the film.
Packaging: The usual standard Columbia Tristar release, with amaray packaging and a six-page fold-out insert that contains publicity stills and chapter listings. The cover artwork is different and to that of the Region 1 release.
Audio Commentary With John Carpenter & Jeff Bridges: An excellent commentary, featuring Carpenter and Bridges talking at length about the film and reminiscing about their experiences regarding making the film. Both Bridges and Carpenter talk fluidly and are likeable to listen to, and Bridges is obviously interested in having the opportunity to sit down with Carpenter for two hours, as he often asks the director many unrelated-to-Starman questions that are to do with Carpenter's directing methods. The commentary contains relatively few pauses, as the pair seem to have an abundance of anecdotes to talk about.
'Making Of' - Featurette: A 1984 'making of' featurette that runs for eleven minutes and is interesting to watch as it shows what the cast and crew were anticipating the film to be like whilst it was being made, and also features behind-the-scenes footage and a few interviews. Presented in fullscreen.
Jeff Bridges & Karen Allen - 'All I Have To Do Is Dream' Music Video: In the same vein as Carpenter's own Big Trouble In Little China had a painfully embarrassing music video, so does Starman with Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen churning out All I Have To Do Is Dream in the most painfully embarrassing way.
Trailers: Two trailers are provided - the good original trailer for Starman that lasts for two minutes, and the trailer for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind that runs for nearly five minutes.
A pleasant family film from the master of horror and action, Starman is enjoyable enough but lacks any innovative touches or flair eighteen years after it was released. However, this Region 2 DVD is tremendous compared to the barebones release, in that it contains a 5.1 sound mix, a commentary and a 'making of' (you can keep the music video however), which suggests that at times Region 2 consumers do win some battles over Region 1.