Viking Night: Starman
By Bruce Hall
August 9, 2017
I have a confession to make. I completely forgot that John Carpenter directed Starman.
The same John Carpenter who is one of my favorite directors. The guy whose films take up a lot of space on my top all-time list. I love most of his films, I’ve seen them and even memorized large chunks of some of them. And somehow, I’d completely forgotten about Starman. And hey, let’s not forget that it stars Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors and Karen Allen, nearly as beloved to the world’s nerds as Carrie Fisher. There’s even a guy named Dirk Blocker in the cast.
That’s a fantastic name. It’s going to be the name of the lead in the spiritual successor to The Longest Yard that I just now decided to write.
Starman was famously developed at Columbia at the same time as a certain film about a certain big-headed alien that loved Reese's Pieces and Drew Barrymore. That other movie ended up at another studio, where it made so much money that the Soviet Union collapsed. Meanwhile Starman sat on a shelf for a bit, before hitting screens in 1984. It did well, earned favorable reviews, and even got some love from the Academy. But it didn’t help us with the Russians, so we all kind of forgot about it.
That’s hilarious to me, because I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve never liked E.T., and I didn’t like it when I was a kid. I kept calling for the FBI agents to open fire on the children, because I thought it was stupid that law enforcement officers could be defeated by children. This is what I like about Starman. The elevator pitch for Starman is basically that’s it’s “E.T. for grownups.” That’s because Starman was not written for people who walk around with funky milk on their upper lip all day.
Starman is about things like love, and death, and how friendly aliens can help us understand these things better. Karen Allen plays Jenny, a recent widow who is struggling to adjust to her loss. She and her husband Scott (Jeff Bridges) were a very close, loving couple. We know this because John Carpenter does an outstanding job of telling us everything we need to know with just a few beautiful shots of Jenny losing herself in a bottle of wine and a stack of old home movies. But she’s wistful rather than forlorn; there’s nothing dark or suggestive about Starman on any level.
The funny thing is, Carpenter has always excelled at identifying the emotions behind things. You just don’t always notice it because he tends to make movies with walking crab heads, snarky vampires and Snake Plissken in them (Snake had no time for emotions, you see). But let me tell you - I last saw Starman under circumstances that didn’t lend themselves well to memory. So I can legitimately say I won’t soon forget the first time I saw a baby turn into Jeff Bridges while Karen Allen passed out in her underwear holding a gun in her lap.