John Carpenter in Review: Starman (1984)
Plot: An alien takes the form of a woman’s dead husband. He needs her to take him across the country, but the government tries to intervene.
This is not John Carpenter’s usual flare. His trademark grit and provocativeness is almost nonexistent. Instead, in its place is something resembling the early work of Stephen Spielberg. It is a light hearted adventure that doesn’t forget to remain adult. It doesn’t dumb down its tender moments and remembers to keep the threat of the villains strong. The only thing that even skirts the concepts of Carpenter’s grit is the how he sees the American government reacting to an alien visitation. In 1977, Voyager 2 was sent into space with an invitation and message of peace, but when a blue orb scouts the planet, it is shot down by the military, although Spielberg had a similar healthy distrust of institutionalized cynicism as seen in E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It even has Spielberg’s admiration of childhood innocence, except this time in the form of Jeff Bridges’ main character.
Jeff Bridges plays the alien turned human, and he is brilliant. Bridges is a genre jumping actor who blends drama and comedy seamlessly. This proves to be handy with this particular film. His regressed adult male learning as he goes is both sympathetic and humorously off beat, but the reality that his character has taken the form of a recently dead man is not forgotten. The chemistry that he has with Karen Allen is what helps legitimize the more tragic elements. While she deals with his peculiar ways, she carries the great burden that he looks like her dead husband.
Karen Allen is asked by Jeff Bridges to get him to Arizona’s Barringer Crater, or he will die. She is skeptical at first, but eventually she not only agrees but also bonds with him. While they travel across the country, they are pursued by the military along with a SETI civilian, played by Charles Martin Smith. Smith reluctantly helps just to see this thing through but believes that they are in the wrong trying to stop The Starman.
Starman is ultimately fun and lighthearted watch, but it is a neutered commercial film compared to Carpenter’s other films. He betrays his own personal style way too much. He certainly earns some credibility for taking a chance, but he only has the actors’ performances to lean on as far as originality and cleverness. The film itself just lacks the character that Bridges’ has.