John Carpenter usually has a flair for the macabre and the darkly mysterious forces that our world and others have to offer, but such is not the case with Starman, a touching, tender science fiction story showcasing one knockout of a performance from Jeff Bridges.
When an extraterrestrial spaceship crashes somewhere in the Midwest, the being living inside wanders out and takes the form of a woman’s (Karen Allen) deceased husband to make her a little less jumpy, which is an interesting strategy. So begins a road trip to an extraction point in Arizona with her sort of held hostage but quickly warming up to this curious, childlike extraterrestrial who slowly learns what earth life is all about. Meanwhile various factions of the government including an amoral NSA asshole (Richard Jaeckel) and a pacifist scientist (Charles Martin Smith, terrific) pursue them all over the region but mostly just trip on their shoelaces. Bridges is absolutely brilliant as the alien, infusing a truly otherworldly quality into his gentle, restrained performance full of distinct mannerisms, expert physicality and beautiful subtleties. The chemistry between the two of them is so good you can practically feel it sparkling around the in the air. Allen’s performance works wonders too, beginning on a sorrowful note and eventually opening up to hope and happiness once again.
This is essentially a story of loss, and how one can deal with it. Granted there’s not a lookalike space alien out there for everyone who has lost someone but Bridges’s presence feels like an essence that could be any type of good, helpful quality that enters someone’s life following such an incident. This is the type of compassionate, heartfelt film that leaves a warm glow in the living room when the credits dim, and Carpenter blesses it with his trademark touch while giving it a slighter, brighter atmosphere than usual. The score by Jack Nitzsche is also a brilliant composition that adds to everything I’ve outlined above. Great film.