Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bruce A. Evans & Raynold Gideon
Starring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Jaeckel
John Carpenter is known almost exclusively for his horror and science fiction horror films. Though he did venture into humor with Dark Star, he generally stayed away from movies that didn’t scare anyone. The one exception – and one of his most accomplished directorial efforts -- was Starman.
The movie starts when aliens discover the Voyager 2 space probe, with the gold disk that was set up to greet them. They decide to head to Earth, where they are promptly shot down by the military. One of the aliens makes his way to the home of the recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). Taking a few cells from the roots of a lock of hair, it takes the form of her late husband (Jeff Bridges). The starman convinces Jenny to go with him to a rendezvous point so he can go back home. Meanwhile, the chief of the NSA* George Fox (Richard Jaeckel)wants to save Earth from the “invasion’; while scientist Mark Sherman (Charles Martin Smith) wants to try to understand the aliens.
Though the movie is essentially a chase, it works because of the relationship that develops between Jenny and the Starman. She, quite rightly, freaks out seeing her husband again, and has to deal with seeing someone she loves who isn’t really what he looks like. Karen Allen is excellent in showing the strong emotions inherent in the situation.
Jeff Bridges handles the clichéd “alien discovering humans” situation with a sense of wonder and aplomb. It’s not played for laughs** and we learn to care for his situation.
It’s not a typical Carpenter film, probably because he was hired just to direct and had nothing to do with the screenplay. Though he managed to make everything in it into one of the best adult SF films of the time,*** it’s not often considered part of his oeuvre**** and certainly the emotionality of the film and its ending are too far from his regular work for his fans to like. The movie was critical success and Bridges was nominated for an Oscar. financially, it broke even, but was not a smash hit. Blockbusters continued to rule the genre, where science fiction like this, that deals with real people and real problems, is hard to find. But if you want something more that the usual alien battles, Starman won’t disappoint. The film goes for and succeeds in creating the magic that is at the heart of the SF genre.
*Yes, it’s been around that long -- and longer.
**Well, maybe a few chuckles.
***Most SF films, starting with Star Wars, were aimed for adolescents, not adults.
****to be pretentious.