John Carpenter rarely met immediate success with his films, but he has proved himself as a master of cult classics, such as The Thing, They Live, and Escape from New York. While the last is the one I most admire, his best film by far is Starman, a sci-fi romance road-trip drama with comedic overtones. Oscar-nominated Jeff Bridges is outstanding as the titular alien, long before he reinvented himself as a grizzled old man (a change that actually won him the Oscar for Crazy Heart). His jerky affectations and unsynced mouth movements are brilliant and entrancing, as are his blissful facial expressions when he experiences some of earth’s joys. Karen Allen also delivers her best non-Raiders performance, affording believable heartache and wonder. Much of the credit for the film’s success goes to Carpenter, who developed their initially hostile romance gradually until their confessions of love felt wholly deserved rather than forced. In addition to Charles Martin Smith as a SETI scout, (Lost alert!) the film also features a small role for character actor M. C. Gainey (aka Mr. Friendly) as an impatient cop.
Starman may seem like a grown-up version of E.T. from two years prior, but it’s got plenty of originality, particularly some utterly quotable lines (“Arizona, maybe” or “Terrific!” with the accompanying hand signal, of course). It also has some elements other recent films have drawn from, including a money-making stopover in Las Vegas (Rain Man), hitching a cross-country ride in a portable home (Bolt), intrusive government agents eager to dissect peaceful visitors (Race to Witch Mountain), and an invader-turned-lover romance (Labor Day). An early scene in Monsters vs. Aliens even paid homage to Starman’s arrival in Jenny’s home.
Starman is sci-fi romance at its best, even if some long scenes involving helicopters could definitely use editing. I first saw it years ago on a family vacation in Ohio while staying at some quaint firefly-lit cottage motel with a selection of rentable movies. My initial reaction then is the same as now: “I really enjoyed that movie.”Best line: (Starman, explaining the rules of the road many live by) “I watched you very carefully. Red light—stop, green light—go, yellow light—go very fast.” VC’s best line: (Starman, with a face of euphoria) “Dutch apple pie!” (Jenny Hayden) “Good.” (Starman, mimicking a waitress’s OK gesture) “It’s terrific.” (Jenny) “For a primitive species, we have our points.”
Rank: 53 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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