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Starman (1984)

tomatometer

79

Average Rating: 6.6/10
Reviews Counted: 24
Fresh: 19 | Rotten: 5

What initially begins as sci-fi transforms into a surprisingly sweet, offbeat drama, courtesy of John Carpenter's careful direction.

40

Average Rating: 4.2/10
Critic Reviews: 5
Fresh: 2 | Rotten: 3

What initially begins as sci-fi transforms into a surprisingly sweet, offbeat drama, courtesy of John Carpenter's careful direction.

audience

69

liked it
Average Rating: 3.3/5
User Ratings: 24,104

My Rating

Movie Info

Having crashed to Earth, an extraterrestrial space traveller must assume a human identity lest he be captured by the authorities. The alien (Jeff Bridges) chooses the likeness of the recently deceased husband of Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). At first dumbstruck, Jenny becomes both hostile toward and frightened of her guest. He gradually wins her confidence, learning a few vital English-language phrases so that he can explain his presence. The "starman" has come to Earth with a message of peace, in

PG-13,

Drama, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Raynold Gideon

Mar 6, 2001

Columbia Pictures

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All Critics (25) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (19) | Rotten (5) | DVD (9)

There is little that is original in Starman, but at least it has chosen good models.

June 6, 2007 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It isn't pleasant to watch a talented filmmaker like John Carpenter willfully distort his personality to fit a commercial (read Spielbergian) profile, and only the opening suspense-horror sequences have the weight of real involvement.

June 6, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The best special effects are in the first five minutes. Thereafter, it's all rather predictable.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Starman contains the potential to be a very silly movie, but the two actors have so much sympathy for their characters that the movie, advertised as space fiction, turns into one of 1984's more touching love stories.

October 23, 2004 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

In Mr. Bridges' hands [his role] becomes the occasion for a sweetly affecting characterization -- a fine showcase for the actor's blend of grace, precision and seemingly offhanded charm.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Jeff Bridges as appealing alien; best for teens.

January 2, 2011 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

Bridges' portrayal of Starman can be as hard to take as the lapses in logic.

July 29, 2009 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis | Comments (2)
Movie Metropolis

An enjoyable film filled with the kind of sensitivity, love, and humor seldom seen on today's screens.

June 6, 2007 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Early Jeff Bridges starrer is fun sci-fi.

October 30, 2004
Kansas City Kansan

Carpenter is a master of framing for widescreen, and Starman is certainly a forum for him to show off his prowess behind the lens.

August 1, 2003 Full Review Source: Reel Film Reviews
Reel Film Reviews

As science fiction, it's decent enough, but it finds its real power as a weird, offbeat romance. Bridges has rarely been better.

August 12, 2002
Flipside Movie Emporium

Provides an opportunity for us to look afresh at ourselves and to ponder what it means to be children of the Universe.

March 4, 2002 Full Review Source: Spirituality and Practice
Spirituality and Practice

One of John Carpenter's best films.

November 4, 2001 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com
Filmcritic.com

Sweet, smart and wonderfully acted.

September 11, 2001 Full Review Source: Apollo Guide
Apollo Guide

Starman is more of a love story than a sci-fi movie. Take your girlfriend.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Sci-Fi Movie Page
Sci-Fi Movie Page

Audience Reviews for Starman

John Carpenter's sci-fi looking effort is actually a road trip romance (ala Capra's It Happened One Night) about a guy from somewhere in space getting a close hand look at backroads America. Jeff Bridges does well as the newborn earthling/alien larnin' about our downhome, simple but good ways o' livin', but the film actually belongs to Karen Allen who carries the emotional weight of the piece and acts as our stand-in on a trip from Madison, Wisconsin to Winslow, Arizona.
As a point of interest Kevin Spacey would play a similar type alien being, birdlike movements et al, with Jeff Bridges playing the psychologist trying to get at him years later in 2001's K-Pax. Both are guilty pleasures of mine since their initial releases.
February 28, 2014
ApeneckFletcher

Super Reviewer

What may be John Carpenter's tamest movie of his early works is a rather calm, humorous and touching tale of an alien crash landing on earth and making its way to the pick up spot. On the way it does not only take on a dead man's shape but also his widow on a road trip through half the US. Of course, the evil military slash government is on their heels. That may sound somewhat generic today, but back then it was one of the first films like that. So while some parts feel a bit dated, the great chemistry between Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen still makes this a very enjoyable ride with much more funny scenes than action packed ones. The message of mankind being pretty messed up when compared to peaceful alien species may be a bit simplistic too, but doesn't fail to mention the good of the single individual and the beauties of life on earth. Likable and very entertaining.
April 11, 2013
ironclad1609

Super Reviewer

The vast majority of film directors are specialists. They are extremely adept at telling one kind of story, or are good at handling one aspect of production in particular. When they attempt to work outside of this specialty, they tend to come a cropper. Steven Spielberg, for instance, is brilliant at making light-hearted, family friendly popcorn blockbusters with a sentimental edge. When he attempts something more serious, the result is often technically sound but found wanting emotionally.

Of course, being so singular in your sensibility is nothing to be ashamed of, and the vast majority of directors have good or even great careers within a specific genre. But it takes an especially talented director to be able to step outside their comfort zone successfully - and for a while at least, John Carpenter was one such director. Having made his name in sci-fi, thrillers and horror movies, Carpenter turned to romance with Starman, which remains a terrific piece of work and perhaps his last truly great film.

Fans of 1970s and 1980s sci-fi will very quickly pick up on the lineage of Starman. It would be very easy to dismiss the film as E.T.-lite, since the two screenplays were written around the same time and the films have clear narrative similarities. Both stories involve an alien being stranded on Earth, who has to get home with the help of the people who find him, and these people in turn have to hide him from the authorities. But while it is more sentimental than many of Carpenter's works, it is more offbeat and quirky than Spielberg's films, and the drama is much more adult. E. T. is a film about divorce and a child trying to recapture the affection of his father; Starman is about dealing with grief and (as cheesy as it sounds) the power of love.

Alongside the links with E.T., Starman owes a certain debt to a number of other films. The benevolent and inquiring nature of the aliens obviously hints towards Close Encounters, with the series of disturbing events across America being resolved by a moving demonstration of the aliens' real nature and power. The romance is equal parts It Happened One Night and Bonnie and Clyde, consisting of two very different people (sort of) finding each other on the run from the law. There is even a vague connection with The Man Who Fell to Earth, with Jeff Bridges sharing David Bowie's twin obsessions of getting home and obtaining vast amounts of information about us.

In spite of this, Starman begins to carve out its own identity very early on, remaining first and foremost a Carpenter film in amongst all the familiarity. It starts on a suspenseful note, with the shot of the alien spacecraft being almost a mirror image of the opening shot of The Thing. These scenes reflect Carpenter's horror heritage, with the dramatic explosion and eerie blue light putting us on edge - complimented, in horror fashion, by Karen Allen being in her underwear when Jeff Bridges arrives.

Having briefly spooked us, the film then shifts into an offbeat comedic road movie with Karen Allen having to teach the Starman about Earth's customs. The Starman is intelligent but also curious in a childlike manner, and so a great deal of concepts we take for granted are shown to be incredibly hard to explain and are then played for innocent laughs. In its final act the film shifts again into a romance which gradually swells to a passionate and genuinely tearful climax.

The central idea of Starman is a neat twist on alien invasion stories in science fiction. While H. G. Wells and his descendants depicted aliens as aggressive invaders, this film rests on the premise that we invited them here: the Starman finds the gold disc on Voyager 2 and accepts our greeting. The film goes against the grain by making us really think about our reactions to aliens landing. How would we react to an alien who is powerful but by all accounts benevolent? Should we welcome him with open arms, or oppose him on the basis of what we don't know? The film plays this concept through to the fullest, always asking questions and challenging our gut reactions.

While E.T. focusses on the humans trying to understand the alien, Starman successfully conveys the mind-set of an alien who is trying to learn from us. Carpenter said in interviews that Bridges had the most difficult part: he had to play a being that was highly intelligent and curious, but also ill at ease within his human body to the point where he seemed stupid. Bridges remarked that his performance required him to do the opposite of everything he was taught about being natural - and unlike David Bowie, he doesn't look all that alien to begin with.

But whether by Carpenter's direction or Bridges' performance, we do end up really bonding with the Starman. We might start viewing him like some kind of special needs child, but eventually we realise his capacity for love and understanding. We like him even though we know we cannot fully understand him, and this a sign of good writing. Bridges is ably supported by Karen Allen, whose performance here is up there with her work in Raiders of the Lost Ark. She's completely natural and believable in every scene, which makes it all the more perplexing that her career never reached the heights of many of her contemporaries.

Starman's strength with characterisation also extends to its supporting cast. One thing that characterises Carpenter's best work is the intelligence of the smaller cast members: there is no cannon fodder in The Thing, or They Life, or this film. Even when the film draws on familiar tropes, it takes care not to pander directly to cliché. The military have their agenda, but Fox is not entirely a gung-ho, Major Kong-type character, nor is Charles Martin Smith so geeky that he's unlikeable. They all feel like real people making rational decision on their own merits, not the merits of the plot.

At its heart, Starman is about a woman coming to terms with the loss of her husband. It is appropriate that we start in horror territory, since so many horror stories are about dealing with grief and the boundaries between this world and the next. Jenny's encounter with the Starman allows her to address all the unresolved feelings she carries around, including her guilt or regret about not being able to have children. The ending is superb, with the Starman effectively giving her what she wanted: to see him again, if only to say goodbye.

Jenny's infertility is an example of her isolation from other aspects of humanity. The conversation in the back of the truck expresses her feelings of inadequacy and despair, as though she has fallen short of her purpose but through no fault of her own. She is the only significant and assertive female, surrounded by aggressive, hard-hearted men who take what they want, hurt those who oppose them and give her little sympathy. From this perspective the ending has another meaning: the Starman shows how she has enriched his life as well as vice versa. It is both a brilliant vindication of the central character and a great example of how to do a tragic romance properly.

From a certain angle, Starman could also be interpreted as a Christian allegory. When Jenny and the Starman consummate their love, he remarks that their baby will be a "teacher", who is both human and alien (read 'God'). In this reading the Starman is God, the baby is Jesus and Jenny is the Virgin Mary; her infertility both paraphrases the virgin birth and refers to Mary's cousin Elizabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist. The film allows us to interpret the story as we so wish and to add whatever significance we want to the central relationship. We could equally regard it in the mould of 2001 or Prometheus, exploring the direct influence of aliens over mankind.

Starman is a genuinely brilliant sci-fi romance, which takes a potentially silly premise and produces from it an uplifting, offbeat and ultimately tear-jerking drama. Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen excel in the central performances, and while the film is occasionally slow it makes up for this by its substance, emotional depth and a brilliant score from Jack Nitzsche. It is one of the best films of 1984 and one of the high points of Carpenter's chequered career.
March 9, 2013
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

The most touching film John Carpenter ever made, a strange love story disguised as science fiction.
November 13, 2011
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer

    1. Hunter: [Starman and Jenny are looking at a dead deer strapped to the hood of a car] Did you cry when you saw Bambi?
    2. Starman: Define 'Bambi'?
    3. Hunter: Huh?
    4. Jenny Hayden: He doesn't understand, he's not from around here.
    – Submitted by Nick S (2 years ago)
    1. Starman: Up yours!
    – Submitted by Kenny B (3 years ago)
View all quotes (2)

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