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Starman (1984) – Carpenter countdown #8

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Christine has the second best romantic relationship in a Carpenter film: this has the best. Apparently, Columbia were offered this script and the one for E.T. and didn't want to do both. So Spielberg went to Universal, E.T. came out first and… (to be continued!)

Concept: There are nice aliens too.

Unmanned probe Voyager II goes out into space with an invitation to visit Earth. It is taken up. The arrival of the alien craft is noticed by the US military who attempt to destroy it, and it crashes near widow Karen Allen's remote house in Wisconsin. She's still obsessed by late husband Jeff Bridges and wakes up to discover the alien adopting the shape of him. Unsurprisingly, she's a bit shocked, but he needs her to get to Arizona to meet up with a second alien craft. She starts out terrified at being kidnapped, but gradually, as she teaches him more about what it means to be human, she falls in love with him. At one point, Allen's about to abandon Bridges at a service station, but sees him resurrect a shot deer and rescues him from the hunters attacking him. Not long afterwards, she's shot and he uses the sixth of his seven alien artefacts (in the style of Arthur Clarke's saying, they work like magic to protect him) to save her.

Meanwhile, as soon as they realised what's happened, the US military plus SETI scientist Charles Martin Smith started to go after Bridges and it becomes a chase. The government want Bridges dissected or dead, while Smith wants to learn from him without cutting him into bits. Who will win?

What's good: Jeff Bridges' performance, showing the humanity seeping into the alien, typically just through physical movement. He was rightly nominated for an Academy Award (shamefully, the only time a Carpenter feature film has been nominated in any category) but this was Amadeus's year, and despite having the vote split between its two leads, its F. Murray Abraham won.

Karen Allen is, as ever, very good too (she was by far the best of the Indiana Jones heroines) and the rest of the cast is fine.

The humour of the script. At one point, having learnt to drive by watching Allen, Bridges nearly kills them both at a set of traffic lights. She's furious, but he explains, "I watched you very carefully. Red light: stop. Green light: go. Yellow light: go very fast."

What's not so good: Some of the supporting characters are two dimensional – the evil government agent stands out here. Why do they want to cut Bridges up? It's not explained anywhere.

Music: By Jack Nitzsche, mostly on a Synclavier. It sounds more like something you'd expect to hear in a funeral parlour for my taste, but there's not much of it and it does add to the other-worldliness of the situation.

Miscellany: The script supervisor was his future wife and producer, Sandy King – this was the first time they worked together.

"Other than the Voyager Satellite (sic) expedition depicted in this Picture, which expedition actually occurred (sic), the characters and incidents portrayed .. are fictitious" say the end credits. It's not a satellite and it's still going…

Comparing the contemporary footage with that on the Christine DVD, we can see this is the point at which his hair started seriously going grey (or he stopped dying it!)

Overall: Carpenter calls it "a girls' film" and it is different from the rest of the cannon. As a result of this film, Carpenter was offered Santa Claus: The Movie but made too many demands on the producers. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened to his career had he done it (a musical?) even if I'd miss two of the films he subsequently did make very much.

TL;DR Carpenter proves he can do a love story

Film: 3.5/5
DVD: 4/5

Good commentary with Jeff Bridges with plenty on Jeff's way to get into a part, contemporary 'making of' and a music video(!) with Bridges and Allen.

Apparently out of print UK DVD (which doesn't mention the Academy Award nomination anywhere on the packaging?!), imported Dutch DVD, Blu-ray, soundtrack album and novelization:

Written by Ian

June 21st, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

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