I was kicking myself when I first missed a chance to catch Starman (1984) which was just another chance to see Jeff Bridges, who lets me honest can’t really make a bad film. Last seeing him in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) even with the melancholic ending that really hits home. Like man others he will always have a place in my heart as The Dude which was really just the personification of who he has come to be on-screen, ensuring that The Big Lebowski (1998) became a classic (eventually).
What else drew me to Starman was the director John Carpenter whose films I have seen intermittently. I’m working myself up to catching The Thing (1982), with the original by Howard Hawks to watch soon first. Also it’s a piece of forgotten 1980’s science fiction that has to be seen really, even just for that innocent charm that it produces. You could say its an adult version of E.T. The Extra-Terrestial (1982) that’s made from the child’s perspective on finding an alien in the forest, befriending them as he helps him go home. Two years later we have pretty much the same story, throw in a bit of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) in terms of the recent NASA satellite launches, the search for life has produced a result only a few years after it’s launch. Again there is a sense if hope in science fiction with a nice mix of comedy and drama thrown in.
I’m not even bothered by the special effects that actually are special even if dated, if anything they are more charming, made with really love and craft. They don’t rely on even early C.G.I heavily, allowing you to focus on the human drama that we find ourselves following which is more important which is more engaging than any of the special effects that define this as a Science Fiction film. You believe the blue lights that hover into Jenny Hayden‘s (Karen Allen‘s) house and turn her life upside down. That’s how we first meet Starman who assumes the form of her husband in one of the most disturbing pre-C.G.I. sequences. Yet we buy into it as its looks real, the pain that this creature is going through at accelerated growth to become the man who Jenny knows as Scott, or to us as Bridges, the audience soon accepts him, imposter or not.
You could say that what Jenny experience all bereaved people hope for, at least for a time, to have their loved ones back if only for just a few days to say and do what you didn’t have time for. A theme that us explored in again in AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) when David’s mother’s brought back to life through alien technology and his own memories. We don’t have it that complicated, all the basic ingredients for life are a the disposal of Starman as he assumes human form. His first steps and moments are comical, Bridges is a prefect fit that would have been far different in the hands of Carpenter regular Kurt Russell who would have brought a harder edge to a sensitive subject of bereavement.
What follows is one of the most human and fundamental needs, the need to go home. Its been explored to death in Sci fi and other genres, because it works and can take many form. Leaving from Wisconsin to Winslow, Arizona where we eventually arrive. On the journey he develops from a curious child into a man, without all the messy of growth spurts in-between. Karen believes she’s being kidnapped for a time, as he takes her car, she acts as his guide before they both fall for each other. Of course you have that idea planted in the back of your mind from the beginning, can she fall for an imposter. Yet she falls for another man who looks and imitates him which she accepts. She brings out his humanity that others would otherwise be afraid to see, those weird moments that are just his way of showing his kindness and alien version of humanity.
He carries with him and uses 6 silver balls, each of them allow him to carry out a miracle or act, the first for defence before learning how best to use them. They are like those pieces of cake that Alice has when she enters Wonderland she has to use them wisely. Or on another level they are games tokens that should be used to progress to the next level, but sometimes you don’t need them at all.
In pursuit as always is the U.S. government who have tracked this U.F.O. landing and want to find this new life form. Much like E.T. and Short Circuit (1986). Wanting to kill the unknown without trying to really understand it by just talking or just reaching out to the strange visitor who just wants to get back. These visitors always come with a message or want to get away quickly because they are on tight schedule. Just a quirk of the genre, stopping only long enough to learn, return and report to their own people, a long-range reconnoissance you could say. We are too primitive to really make friends with even in the 1980’s.
So after kicking myself the first time I was pleasantly surprised by the much over-looked gem of a film that explores bereavement through science fiction, tied in with some really obvious references to earlier films, its far lighter than the predecessors. Focused more on a telling a story that resonates with you. However I did want to know more about those silver balls, which could have been explored in a sequel which would work naturally as the ending tells us. Its not always necessary to have all the special effects and use them, when you have a story that could be told on a shoe-string budget.