As you might expect from the title, STARMAN delivers as a cheesy 80s science fiction thriller. This 1984 film, directed by the infamous John Carpenter, is exactly what you would expect it to be. Although the narrative is predictable and trite, it is novel to see a young Jeff Bridges as a shipwrecked alien struggling to make his way back to the mothership. Themes of romance, death, rebirth selfishness, and empathy are all explored with a sprinkling of family friendly humor and archaic 80s special effects.
One of the major highlights of this film are the special effects. There is no mistake that this movie is from the 80s. In the first 20 minutes of the film, there is a blue frame around the camera lens as a way to highlight what the alien is seeing. It is refreshing to see classic special effects that are no longer used. Additionally, there is a cheesy hologram of Jeff Bridges and a lazer beam map effect that are so unrealistic that they are interesting. At one point, Jeff Bridges can be seen walking through fire rescuing someone from the wreckage which adds to the lightheartedness of the film. The lighting effects and spaceship reveal also reflect the technology of the time and can be of interest to contemporary viewers. Although dated, the special effects are really an interesting aspect of this film which highlights the time period in which it was made.
In terms of story line, there is a natural progression with a predictable plot. Viewers are taken along for a ride with Starman on his harrowing journey home. With the threat of death, being stranded on Earth, and a limited amount of time, the stakes are high as is the opposition that threaten Starman’s quest. The addition of a timer, clock imagery, or increased mentioning of the time constraints would have heightened the thrilling aspects of this film. There is a significant amount of conflict that he faces that is entertaining, although foreseeable.
The relationship between Starman and Jenny Hayden (played by Karen Allen) is of major interest in this film. She reluctantly is enlisted in assisting Starman on his quest after he enters her home and takes the physical form of her deceased husband. Due to Starman’s flat affect and monotone speech, Jenny is a more relatable and charming character that viewers can connect with. It is through their relationship that viewers are able to observe Starman’s compassionate and human-like nature. Both Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen performances are noteworthy and compelling. Humorous moments are developed as Karen Allen’s character introduces Starman to mundane human activities which provide comic relief throughout the film. Additionally, Starman’s alien capabilities are also revealed sporadically during the film. However, this brings up questions regarding plot holes. For example, if Starman can take on the physical form of Jenny’s husband, why did he not change into another physical form to avoid being chased by antagonists? Starman’s lack of use of his powers were likely intentional to highlight his human qualities and emotional connection with Jenny.
Although this film appeared to be well received during its debut, it has aged since its release 35 years ago. Fans of Jeff Bridges, John Carpenter, and classic special effects will likely enjoy this film. In terms of narrative themes, this film feels a lot like the 80s version of Del Toro’s 2017 The Shape of Water. Even though contemporary variations of this film have been expanded upon since its release, STARMAN continues to provide a mixture of science fiction, thriller, and romance that can appeal to a wide spread audience.
STARMAN is now available to own as a Collector’s Edition from Shout Factory. The Blu-ray includes special features such as audio commentary from director John Carpenter and actor Jeff Bridges, Still Gallery, Vintage Featurettes and more.