Bruce A. Evans
Charles Martin Smith
Released in 1984, Starman was a comedy/drama science-fiction film from director John Carpenter, who followed up his remake of The Thing (a flop despite its later popularity) with this somewhat more mainstream vehicle which, sadly, also failed to deliver at the box-office.
On paper, here was a fun, humorous sci-fi comedy not unlike Short Circuit or E.T. about a candid, fish-out-of-water character getting chased by mean government agents. With the romance and tragedy at its heart, this wasn't quite as kid-friendly as the aforementioned films but it seemed like the kind of thing that Spielberg would effortlessly turn into a hit. For John Carpenter, unfortunately, even a film like this was a tough sell back in the day and Starman remains, to this day, regrettably overlooked.
The movie sees an alien crash land on Earth after his spacecraft is shot down. After landing near a house, he clones a dead man's body using a lock of his hair and kidnaps heartbroken widow Jenny (Karen Allen). He informs her that she needs to drive him to a meeting point in Arizona where his people will meet him in three days, or he will die. Jenny reluctantly finds herself on a road trip with this strange version of her husband as he starts to slowly understand and appreciate the humanity that rejected him.
Jeff Bridges gives one purposely odd performance here and, although you could probably cheaply make fun of the random twitches and the way he speaks throughout, in the process you'd just be missing how good Bridges is here. What starts off as one weird, often creepy, potentially dangerous character gradually develops into someone who is playful, kind, even heroic. He becomes more human than Charles Martin Smith's NSA agent who hunts him down the entire time. Karen Allen is also very good in this playing an emotionally complex character who is lost at first, then scared for her life, angry at the world and, finally, able to move on. Her character was integral to making the film's ending as bittersweet and heartbreaking as it is and she completely nailed it.
What makes Starman so successful as a film, along with the excellent lead performances, is just how well it balances its tone. The tragedy at the story's core, a widow unable to mourn for her husband who is forced to confront him being brought back to life in some form, is never overtaken or cheapened by the more comedic elements in the film, or even the sci-fi scenario. Throughout the film, Bridges' alien carries around a handful of orbs he can use to create miracles and, while initially this might seem like simply a cute gimmick, even that idea delivers in the drama department and contributes to the film's emotional punch.
John Carpenter's most touching film, Starman is a true sci-fi tearjerker. With a beautifully affecting score, brilliant performances from Bridges and Allen, Starman is one of the director's most underrated masterpieces.