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January 18, 1985 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1985-01-18
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Director: John Carpenter


Jeff Bridges,
Karen Allen

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By Byron L. Bull
Amidst the soulnessness and
coldheartedness of this season's
major releases like The Cotton Club,
Beverly Hills Cop, and Dune, John Car-
penter's modest little Starman shines
like a pure gold ingot in a pile of pyrite.
It's a simple little romantic fantasy,
that's made with more affection and
-basic craftsmanship than any of this
Christmas's blockbusters combined.
Starman follows extra-terrestrial
emisarry (Jeff Bridges) whose race
finds a Voyager space probe bearing
greetings and an invitation to visit us;
but he is shot down the minute his ship
enters our atmosphere. Crashing into
the Wisconsin woodlands, his tinker-
bellish entity quickly takes on the shape
of a dead man from widow Jenny
Hayden's (Karen Allen) photo album,
to whom he innocently pleads for help.
He has only three days to make it
across the country to a rendevous site
in the Nevada, desert, not to mention a
fatal aversion to the earthly environ-
ment and the government authorities
who are eager to get him on the dissec-
tion table.
There are more than a few distinct
resemblances to Close Encounters, and
a nod or two at Being There, but more
than anything, Starman is a fifties B-
movie laced together with the sen-
timentality of a thirties romantic
comedy. The result is an oddity that's
completely derivative, yet is freshly
new in feel, and very much a Hollywood
movie unlike any Hollywood has made
in decades.
John Carpenter's body of work to
date has consisted of unimpressive,
tepid thrillers (Halloween, The Thing,
Christine) that all seem half finished,
works that only suggest the talent of the

filmmaker and not show it. Carpenter is
still hardly the author his vocal little
band of admirers would have us
believe, for he lacks any feel for texture
or style, and still can't plot a story
tightly (or even indicate that he cares
to), but he makes impressive strides
Carpenter now possesses a sense of
confidence that lets him be subtle, to
play down the action scenes and con-
centrate more on his characters. This is
the first time Carpenter has ever had a
strong cast to work with; he seems to
know that and shows a willingness to let
them work out their scenes together at
their own pace while he sits back and
films it for honest face value.
The most touching moments in
Starman are the whispers, the
scenes like Bridges resurrecting and
setting free a deer from a hunter's car-
top, that are shot with a single set up
from a distance and are nicely under-
stated. Carpenter also has refined a
touch for comedic counterpoint, that
allows him to flip from poignancy to
laughter seamlessly, which is one of the
film's greatest assets.
Jeff Bridges, long ago banished into
playing bland leads in shoddy adven-
tures or sitcoms, is the gravitational
center of Starman's magic with a per-
formance that's a smartly measured
one of wit and warmth. Bridges plays

the Starman like he's on acid
throughout the movie, doing double and
triple takes over the most insignificant
things (the best thing he finds on earth
is Dutch apple pie, that sets his eyeballs
rolling backwards in orgasmic ec-
stacy). Bridges, walking through his
scenes with a jerky, off balanced awk-
wardness, makes his character work
because of, not despite, his many self-
contradictions. The Starman is an
enigma all the way through the story,
yet still immediately approachable. He
seems ridiculously naive but under-
neath he's sagely wise, and with an in-
ner quality of graceful composure; he
is something solid that keeps the role
from degenerating into merely a clever
character actor's caricature.
Karen Allen, who has never really
had a role to challenge her save for her
tantalizingly brief one in Shoot The
Moon, manages well enough as
straightwoman to Bridges. The role of
Jenny Hayden is ill defined beyond a
few tiresome cliches about the forlorn,
self pitying widow, but Allen, if not an
actress of deep resources, has the
blessing of a bright screen presence
and a knack for playing her character's
feelings naturally close to the surface.
In the intimate moments between Allen
and Bridge's characters, there's a
sweet, convincing chemistry, a melding
of passion and uncertainty that's like

two adults who slept through
adolescence and are just now waking
up fifteen years later.
Starman's major kink is in its
screenplay, a disjointed, sketchy one
that's far too distracted with its silly
subplot about the authorities who are
always a few steps behind the couple to
give its protagonists enough breathing
room. Carpenter overbakes the drama
with his superfluous chase scenes, and
ultimately contrives a grandly absurd
climax of excessiveness featuring a
battalion of marines and a squadron of
attack helicopters that borders on self
But for every bum note, Carpenter
and Dean Riesner (the writer who
reportedly scripted in the human in-
terest at the eleventh hour only to lose
screencredit in a Writer's Guild ar-
bitration ruling) bounce back with a
few melodic bars that raise the sci-fi
melodrama above its genre and gives it
class. And the dreamy finale, a bitter-
sweet farewell under the great shadow
of a big Christmas ornament of a
mothership that (in a truly magical
touch) rains snow down upon the
desert, is compensation alone for all the
film's faults. Starman is a nice,
inauspicious little fairy tale that fills in
some of the cavernous void left in this
winter's film scene.

Allen and Bridges: Glowing performances

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