- Movie Rating -

Starman (1984)

| December 14, 1984

I complain constantly that I’ve had my fill of outer space movies in which the aliens are smart enough to have perfected interstellar travel only to come to Earth to melt our faces off.  That makes no sense to me, and it is largely the reason that a movie like Starman is a breath of fresh air.

Starman begins with a novel idea.  The Voyager spacecraft – that device sent into outer space in 1977 with hopes of being received by another lifeform – is received and in response an alien civilization sends one of its own back toward Earth and, in a wonderful twist, it doesn’t look like us.  Actually, it is a shapeless ball of light that lands in Chequamegon Bay Wisconsin, enters the home of a young widow and takes the form of her dead husband.  The creature cleverly borrows a bit of her dead husband’s DNA from a lock of hair in her scrapbook.

The widow, named Jenny and played in a very good performance by Karen Allen, is understandably upset by whatever this is in her living room that looks like her late husband and moves in herky jerky lurches and speaks dozens of different languages that it has learned from the recording aboard Voyager.  At first, she is hostile toward him.  His spacecraft has been knocked off course and so he forces her to drive him to The Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona, a three-day drive.  But, of course, she comes to respect this creature who is baffled by human terrain and has no knowledge of how to function within it.  When she witnesses him resurrect a dead deer, she begins to see him in another light.

Their journey is difficult mainly because the United States military has made the Starman it’s top priority and it’s not to say ‘Hello’.  That part is kind of inevitable for a movie like this, though I ask why they wouldn’t be as interested as the guys in Close Encounters.  Why wouldn’t they want to talk to this creature?  Again, if I complain that aliens are smart enough to have perfected interstellar travel only to come to Earth to melt our faces off, then why do we invite them to this planet only to approach them with guns and rockets?

That part of the movie doesn’t really makes sense.  What makes the movie work are the performances by Karen Allen and especially Jeff Bridges.  Allen’s performance is a building process.  She initially fears this creature but gradually comes to respect him and, in the end, comes to love him.  Their romance is really very sweet.  But it is Jeff Bridges whose performance is really at the heart of this picture.  He creates a being that inhabits a human body without really understanding how to use it.  His speech is very deliberately, with spaces in between his words.  His movements remind me of a bird.  He does all of the usual misunderstand stuff that any creature in any movie about aliens coming to Earth do – misinterpreting words, mishandling things like cigarettes and television and even a gun.  But his thought process really did convince me that I was in the presence of a being from another world, particularly when he describes his home world.

Starman is a sci-fi movie with a brain.  It wants to deal with characters.  That unusual for the genre but also for director John Carpenter whose films are usually a lot of red meat without much gray matter.  Here he has put together a sensitive portrait of a being that we would like to have visit our plant, one that we’d like to talk to and get to know.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Sci-Fi/Fantasty