When it comes to science fiction movies of Hollywood, the 1980s was quite an interesting decade. Released during the decade were these epic sci-fi flicks like The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Dune. Not to be outdone were the low-budget sci-fi movies that made an impact on pop culture like The Terminator and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.
Within the big mix of these kinds of films during the 1980s was Starman which was overlooked.
Released in 1984 to positive reviews (and later an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for Jeff Bridges), Starman was directed by John Carpenter who established himself nicely in Hollywood with 1978’s Halloween. Between Halloween and Starman, Carpenter also directed genre classics Escape from New York and The Thing.
Starman follows an alien creature whose ship (a UFO) was shot down by fighter jets that acted in defense. The alien finds its way into the house of Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) who is grieving over the sudden death of her husband Scott (Jeff Bridges) watching a personal video of their past and drinking lots of liquor. Inside the house was an album which contained a lock of hair which the alien used to create a clone of Scott instantly from infant to full adult which is the titular Starman (also played by Bridges).
This of course shocks Jenny. She sees her husband return yet it’s not really him. Starman – the alien – clearly is not used to occupying a human body but does his best to communicate with her in English. He also carries with him seven silver spheres that allow him to do special things (specifically manipulating matter) that would appear as miracles to others. Starman wants Jenny to bring him to the Barringer Crater in Arizona within three days in order to be picked up by his fellow aliens. Otherwise he would die.
Although frightened and hostile towards him, Jenny still was considerate enough to drive him far away.
If there is anything significant about this movie, it is the sheer depth of character development of both Jenny and Starman. Equally significant is the chemistry between Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges who made their characters believable.
Jeff Bridges is excellent in his portrayal of Starman. He’s clearly an alien who is not only struggling on being in a human body but also struggles to learn about the many ways of life and expression around him on his time on Earth. This includes learning gestures, saying words and doing things that people already find normal to do.
Karen Allen delivered a fine performance as Jenny Hayden. In fact when it comes to character development, I see Jenny a more significant character than her counterpart from outer space. While Starman adapts to life on Earth, Jenny’s character is gradually and convincingly transformed from one who is stuck with the past and being bitter into a person who gets renewed by understanding that life does have more to offer, that hope exists, that miracles do happen and finding new love and inspiration to live on.
As a Born Again Christian who went through personal transformation, who gained renewed faith in the Lord, and who left the old life behind to live on with a new purpose in life, I strongly relate with Jenny’s character development a lot. The concept of renewal and personal transformation portrayed by Karen Allen is much clearer to me than ever. Not to be outdone is the element of the healing of the soul of Jenny as a result of learning and understanding Starman.
The movie also has a solid supporting character in scientist Mark Shermin nicely played by Charles Martin Smith. Shermin is the typical sympathetic and willing-to-understand scientist who strives to discover first-hand an actual living alien which puts him into conflict the National Security Agency’s plan to capture Starman dead or alive. His talk with Starman reminds us viewers that humanity is always flawed and has many times resorted to violence as a means of accomplishment whenever a challenging situation (read: the visit of Starman to Earth by space ship only to be shot down due to fear of being invaded) happens.
With regards to storytelling, Starman is a nice mix of genre elements that goes beyond science fiction. It is also a road movie and a romance. At the same time director John Carpenter told the story with a controlled pace that gives viewers ample time to understand what’s been going on and a decent amount of spectacles that highlight Starman’s miracles.
Speaking of which, the film has elements of Christianity and the miracles of Starman are just the start of it. I could emphasize further here what the other elements are but that would mean spoiling the story and that is something I won’t do. You just will have to watch the movie to realize it.
Is Starman a wonderful movie? Absolutely! Is it one of the best works of John Carpenter? Truly it is and it deserves any moviegoer’s attention. How does it compare with other friendly alien movies like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Compared to those two flicks, Starman has the best and most mature character development of its protagonists. Its dramatic performances are also better.
Starman is a true sci-fi classic that deserves your attention even if you are not fond of sci-fi or UFO movies. I highly recommend buying this movie on Blu-ray disc or by streaming it.
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Author’s Note: This article was originally published at my old Geeks and Villagers blog. What you read on this website was an updated and expanded version. In other words, this newest version you just read is the most definitive version.