Something very strange is happening in Wisconsin. An alien craft has traveled to Earth to send greetings, but instead of welcoming it the government shoots it down leaving its pilot – a ball of light alien – lost not knowing what to do.
Fortunately it happens upon the home of widow Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). The alien clones a human body from a strand of her dead husbands hair and now Jenny is looking right at this being who now looks exactly like the dead Scott.
But this Starman (Jeff Bridges) needs her help to get back to his own world. He must travel to Arizona to the famed Barringer Crater for a rendezvous with his alien pals or else he’ll be left stranded on Earth and die.
It’s not going to be an easy trip. Other than SETI scientist Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith) the government is pulling out all the stops to capture this being so they can do nasty experiments on it. Starman is trying to get acclimated to our planet and learn the rules of our world in an attempt to blend in. And Jenny soon finds herself falling for this innocent benevolent being.
If I didn’t see John Carpenter’s name on this I would never have guessed he directed it. Other than the score (where I can hear the more familiar single note-kind of music Carpenter likes to use), the movie is very different from what fans and Hollywood had come to associate with Carpenter.
It’s such a departure from his previous work and is probably the most unique entry on his directing credits (well, maybe Memoirs of An Invisible Man is in the running for that title too).
But I suppose that was the point at the time. Carpenter wanted to prove that he could do more than just low-budget sci-fi, horror movies and be a success with a more mainstream film. And with Starman he proved it, but somehow it didn’t end up opening up new avenues for him and the following year he was back to doing his own unique blend of offbeat, strange films with Big Trouble in Little China.
It’s a very simple story and that’s one of the movies charms. There’s no big extravagant special effects that are unleashed or epically choreographed chase sequences. It’s mostly this woman and alien driving.
At first she’s extremely frightened, then gradually begins to like this alien which then turns into romantic feelings for it. And Allen makes it all believable. Most moviegoers know her as Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but here she’s a much more vulnerable caring woman and you sympathize with her and are happy she’s finding a much needed connection with this being from another world.
Bridges is great in this and is the nicest alien ever to wear a flannel shirt you could hope to meet. He essentially is the special effect in the movie and it’s his job to make us believe it is an alien inhabiting this human body. He does as much with quiet looks as he does with his more exaggerated reactions, but he never goes too broad with anything.
He has a very childlike quality and does these jerky bird-like movements with his head that make it appear he’s trying to take in everything that he sees. It’s almost like he doesn’t understand how you can shift your eyes within your head and he needs to turn his whole head to work them.
After first seeing this movie I remember doing a really bad imitation of ‘Bridges’ Starman’, where I would take a few little steps, move my head three or four times and say, “I know English…little bit”. I didn’t get an Oscar nomination for my efforts like Bridges managed to.
There’s of course some mistakes he makes when trying to learn about us human species and our behavior. His imitation of some of the things he sees and hears often lead to awkward encounters. They’re cute little moments that we always understand how he has come to the mistaken conclusion.
One of the best scenes is when he happens upon a dead deer tied to a hunters car. At first he’s fascinated by it and then uses his magical alien orbs to give it the greatest gift. It could be such an incredibly hokey scene, but the music along with Allen’s reactions make it a heart-swelling moment.
The evil government subplot plays as more of a clichéd threat to Starman, that really thinking about it could have been dropped. The simple road trip between Jenny and Starman probably could have sustained the entire length of this story. There’s enough going on between these two characters, the situation Jenny finds herself in and the run-in’s with Earthlings at all the truck stops that pop up in the movie that could have been the entire movie right there.
For a sci-fi movie the few special effects while not mind-blowing are for the most part effective. The best one is the birth of Starman in his human body. But most of the others look relatively cheesy by today’s standards. But that’s not the reason to be watching Starman anyway. It’s Bridges and Allen driving and watching this unusual relationship develop between them.