Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 7, 2009)
After a career based around horror movies, director John Carpenter went down a different path with 1984ís Starman. The Voyager II spacecraft sends a message of peace to any potential non-terrestrials who hear it. One of them does, and he takes us up on our invitation.
Unfortunately, we donít greet his arrival very well. Armed forces shoot down the alien over Wisconsin, and he crash lands near the remote cabin of grieving widow Jenny Hauden (Karen Allen). She canít get over her loss, so to help acclimate himself, the Starman adopts the form of her dead husband (Jeff Bridges).
This leads to a curious story of romance and survival. Starman needs to get to an Arizona rendezvous in three days or heíll die. Jenny agrees to take him there, but they donít go without pursuit, as the US forces try to intercept them so they can capture Starman for scientific purposes.
On the surface, Starman looks like a more adult take on ET the Extraterrestrial. Beneath the surface, Starman still looks that way, but that doesnít mean itís just a cheap knock-off of its hugely successful predecessor; Mac and Me this ainít.
Starman does echo some shots from ET, whether it meant to or not. For instance, one scene in which both Starman and Jenny scream seems awfully similar to a shot from ET. I suppose some redundancy becomes inevitable when two films take on such similar stories, though. Itís too bad this Blu-ray includes no supplements, as Iíd love to know more about how Carpenter approached this area.
Though it becomes impossible to view Starman without ET in mind, the Carpenter flick still offers its own charms. Some of those come from the filmís talented cast. Bridges earned an Oscar nomination for his work as the Starman, which may or may not be warranted. On one hand, he brings uncommon depth to what could have been an extremely one-dimensional performance. We see how Bridges develops Starman and shows his growth through the movie.
On the other hand, Starman remains a fairly showy role that doesnít demand a whole ton from an actor. Heck, ET pulled off good emotional growth too, and he was a puppet! I think Bridges does well in the part, but the characterís potential is too limited; the role doesnít force an actor to deliver the kind of range a normal human would.
Allen does fine as Jenny, and she gets the tougher role. Jenny acts as the viewerís connection to Starman, so we need to buy into her pretty well. Allen delivers decent personality here, but she seems a little stiff. I get the feeling she wants to resist the urge to make Jenny overly emotional so she goes too far in the opposite direction.
Still, I think Allen is generally fine in the part, and she connects well with Bridges. I must admit that try as I might, I find it tough to get past the filmís similarities to ET. Sure, the pair have many differences; I donít remember any scene in which Elliott and ET get it on. Nonetheless, they remain awfully similar, and virtually all of the comparisons favor the Spielberg classic. Starman just seems a little dry and without the same spirit.
I could live without some of Starmanís plot contrivances. Jenny and Starman seem to meet an awful lot of total strangers willing to commit crimes to help them. Also, the fact they end up in Las Vegas feels like it exists solely to give us a cute scene of Starman in a casino. Most of the story works fine, but these stretches of logic create problems.
Viewed on its own merits, Starman provides acceptable entertainment. I simply think it lacks the enduring charm of ET, and it just never really catches fire. The movie gives us a reasonably interesting variant on the ET mold but it never quite prospers on its own.