DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Starman

Tuesday 4 August 2009


Starman (1984) dir. John Carpenter
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith


“Starman” starts with a decent enough premise, what would happen if an alien species actually intercepted the famed 1977 interstellar probe Voyager II and accepted our invitation of greetings and visited earth. This is the explanation we get in the opening moments of John Carpenter’s 'Starman'. In 1984 it was a distinct change of pace from the master of terror, but which ultimately became an obvious wide-eyed extraterrestrial Steven Spielberg knock-off.

Karen Allen is Jenny Hayden, a grieving widow, who clings to her nostalgic 8mm home movies of husband for solace. On her lowest point, an extraterrestrial who has responded to the signal of greetings from Voyager II, lands on earth and in Jenny’s backyard. The shapeshifting being sees the imagery of Jenny’s husband and takes his image (the eye-pleaser figure of Jeff Bridges) in order to ingratiate himself to her.

After the shock of seeing her husband in flesh and blood again, Jenny helps the Starman travel the country to his rendez-vous point in Arizona. Of course the SETI team and its government and military operatives, portrayed shamelessly as naïve ignoramuses who desire to capture and study the being, are on their tail. Along the way, Jenny and the Starman connect emotionally, a relationship which allows Jenny to move past her grief fulfil a new life which the knowledge she gains from her alien visitor.

Under lesser hands, the film could have been much worse. With Michael Douglas at the helm (billed as Executive Producer), who, up until then was more successful as a producer than actor, his influence can be seen in the hiring of Jack Nietzche as the film’s composer. Of course, Carpenter has almost always composed his own scores but the additional of Nietzche adds a necessary sentimental touch to compliment the romantic leanings in the film. Like his sympathetic tone from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, Nietzche only needs a few synthesized notes to find his theme – and in the tradition of 80's music scoring it's is repeated over and over again – to fine effect.

Nietzche’s music allows Carpenter elevate his otherworldly elements into the realm of Spielbergian magic. The obviously influence of Mr. Spielberg is so painfully obvious though, and under the name of the great John Carpenter, it feels like a painful sellout from a master in his own right. In the film’s heightened moments of wonder Carpenter even steals a few of the master’s trademark shots: dollying close-ups into awestruck reaction shots, with full-on windmachine and backlighting for added dreamy effect. In my own hopeful mind I try to think of these moments as Carpenter’s hand being guided by Douglas and the studio towards the mainstream, towards a paycheque which would allow him to go on a make dismissed mid-career classics like “Big Trouble in Little China”, “Prince of Darkness” and “They Live.”

Even with all the Spielbergian hokum, Carpenter manages to get some honest performances from the leads. Karen Allen shines, even when the film is overwhelmed with it’s awestruckness her unglamourous working class beauty and accessibility grounds the film, keeping it within reach of realism. Jeff Bridges hams it up as the Starman – but a role which garnered him an Oscar Nomination. It’s a no brainer-role, with Bridges doing robotic fish-out-of-water schtick. But it’s Jeff Bridges, and he’s always interesting.

“Starman’s” emotional core, the miraculous opportunity for a broken down woman to rekindle a romantic relationship with her dead lover thus allowing her to cathartically move on in life, becomes the real magic in the film – the ability of a simple relationship when dramatized well can blind us to the periphery of hokum which surrounds it.

“Starman” is available on Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Starman, I wrote an unsolicited script for a sequel back in 1998. It was my first script and I quit college to finish it. It’s been gathering dust ever since. I sent it to Jeff Bridges and John carpenter, although I would prefer if Carpenter didn’t direct a sequel. I wrote some good f/x sequences and some interesting characters. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be involved, but I’d to see the f/x scene from the beach being incorporated, (Jeff’s manager Neil will know the one, totally plagiarised from another movie, but it would look great on film today). If anyone has any questions, email me at hansenfilm@yahoo.ie and I’ll answer them. (Although I won’t give away any plot points. And yes there is a son and indeed, I actually have the perfect casting suggestion!!