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GUEST FRIDAY FILM REVIEW: Starman

starman DVDStarman: 1984

Starring Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen
Genre: Science Fiction/Romance Grade: B+

Jeff Bridges’ star turn in CRAZY HEART got me thinking about all his other movies I’d enjoyed. From my memory banks, I pulled a favorite I had seen but once, STARMAN. Would it be as sweet a romance on second viewing? But first, I had to find a copy and as luck is, well, fortunate sometimes, a VHS tape for a dollar landed on the library’s used book sale table. Happy, lucky, me.

Karen Allen’s star may have been ascendant in 1984 after her turn in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK 3 years previous, but according to the bio on imdb.com, she has repeatedly preferred the stage and smaller roles. Therefore, except for STARMAN, she slipped off my radar. Jeff Bridges never did slip off my radar, but then maybe that’s just me. The third actor of note in this production is Charles Martin Smith, someone else I’ve found interesting since he played Farley Mowat in NEVER CRY WOLF.

1984 was the middle of the space movies. STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, TRON, all the STAR TREKs… why not make another space show?

Jenny Hayden (Allen) sits half-dressed in her Wisconsin living room at night, smoking and drinking red wine, watching home movies of her late husband (Bridges as Scott) mugging for the camera. She’s lonely and miserable. Bridges, meanwhile, is an alien coming to Earth to check out if we meant it when we launched Voyager 2 in August of 1977 with the invitation to “come and see us sometime.” Or words to that effect.

His spacecraft trail is picked up by NORAD, fighters are scrambled, and Mark Shermin (Smith) of SETI is called.

While the government boys are getting their act together and Jenny Hayden is sleeping it off, our hero is watching the home movie and flipping through the pages of the photo album. He clones himself into Jenny’s husband, Scott, growing from baby to man before our horrified eyes.

Jeff Bridges

She awakens, is terrified not only that there’s a man in the house, but that he looks like Scott. Realizing that he’s way off course, our new Scott needs her to help him get to Meteor Crater in Arizona where the mother ship will pick him up in three days’ time. Our ticking clock is set because if he’s late, he will die. Jenny isn’t hot on this idea—can you spell kidnap?—but off they go. The government, portrayed as usual as hard-hearted experimenters, and good guy Shermin are on their trail.

We quickly find out that the little magic marbles in the new Scott’s possession are capable of many things. He discourages a would-be rescuer by turning a big wrench into a hot poker and bringing a doe, strapped to the hood of the hunter’s car, back to life. (This does not go over well with said hunter.)

Jenny’s curiosity about him grows, even as he shows her that she will not be leaving him, no matter her kidnap scribble on a bathroom mirror. There are the usual language confusions, delivered in classic Bridges’ deadpan style: “Take it easy”; “up yours”. She teaches him to read the map in case something should happen to her because she is still planning on escaping. But seeing him be beaten by the hunter and his buddies changes her mind and now she rescues him.

The police almost catch up with them at a Holiday Inn, Jenny is hit by a police bullet, there’s an explosion at a roadblock and he walks out of the fire carrying her.

By now, we’re at Grand Junction, CO, where they’ve hitched a ride in a mobile home. He has two marbles left, uses one to revive her from the bullet wound, then gets a ride, leaving her at a truck stop. Of course, she finds a ride to follow. There’s another road block, another explosion, and they’re hitching a ride in the back of a truck. Rain, wet clothes, boxcar, wet clothes off, they make love. He “gives her a baby”, although she’s told him she can’t have children. He tells her the child will be the human Scott’s child but will know all that Starman knows and be a teacher.

They’re so happy with each other on the train that they overshoot their mark and land in Las Vegas. Nothing for him to jigger a slot machine and with their new found wealth, they buy a Cadillac and take off again.

Are you exhausted yet?

There’s an eventual meeting with Shermin at a coffee stop where Starman tells him that we’ve been visited before and that we are a “strange species,” at our very best when things are worst. But he’s slowing down and dying. Shermin helps them escape and they arrive—finally—at Meteor Crater. There’s all the usual chase staples that we’ve come to expect from this genre—helicopters, the mother ship, the red beam, the final kiss and “I love you”, and the hand-off of the last marble which the baby will know what to do with.

And Jenny Hayden is alone once more.

I love old and older movies for many things, but chiefly the glimpses back into the way it was. There are no cell phones. They read a MAP to get to Arizona. The Amoco gas station is full service. Remember that? Amoco? Full service?

So how did STARMAN hold up for me? As a piece of science fiction, not as well as I had hoped. CGI has spoiled us all. As a romance, I think it did better. Two strangers, trapped in a car, a road trip, the slow growth of trust and then love. Call me sentimental, but I’ll give it a B+.

STARMAN is available on DVD in several iterations and for instant streaming by Amazon Prime members. Or, you could get lucky and find an original VHS tape for a dollar at your local library’s used book sale.
From Kay Sisk

Guest Reviewer

27 Comments

  1. Jayne
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 06:46:07

    Kay, thank you, thank you for reviewing this one. It had been on my (long) list of ones I’d like to do but I don’t think I could have topped what you’ve written. Now I need to put it in my Netflix queue and see if it holds up for me too.

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  2. Bronte
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 06:57:04

    I’d never heard of this before but I will be hunting it down. Sounds great.

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  3. Joanna Terrero
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 06:59:18

    Oh! I love this one too. It brings so many memories of when I lived with my sisters.

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  4. Shawntelle Madison
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 08:02:43

    This is one of my favorite movies. I love the part when he recites the rules of driving he learned from watching her drive.

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  5. Helen
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 08:22:43

    I Loved this one when it first came out on vhs. I wore it out!
    Another really good one is Stranded with Ione Skye and Maureen O’Sullivan. It is more campy and NOT as good as Starman but it came out close to the same time and is very good.

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  6. JMS
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 08:30:12

    I remember this movie – I loved it. I thought it was so romantic (and still do), but so sad at the end. They also made a series about it – I think with Robert Hays? I think it was Jenny has a son and somehow he ends up alone and searches for her. It didn’t last long, maybe one season.

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  7. Moviemavengal
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 09:38:52

    Apple Pie!!

    One of my all time favorites. I loved the beginning when Jeff Bridges played the quirky alien. I think he really played it well, like he didn’t know quite how to move that new human body.

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  8. Karenmc
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 09:48:08

    Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for this. He also made “Against All Odds” that year, a remake of the noir classic “Out of the Past,” playing a washed up NFL player (he was REALLY IN SHAPE in that movie), totally different from the Starman character. What a great actor.

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  9. Gennita Low
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 09:48:41

    You can still get full service gas stations in New Jersey :). It’s the law. I miss it, living in the days before self-service and I still fight some changes, like the self-service Walmart lines.

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  10. Bren
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 10:23:29

    I have LOVED this movie since I saw it in the theater back in ’84. This review reminded me it’s time to rewatch. Jeff Bridges is phenomenal but he’s pretty much that in everything he does. From his role in THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS and THE BIG LEBOWSKI to his current stuff. Incidentally, in 2001 when he did K-PAX with Kevin Spacey, his role in STARMAN was referenced since he was playing the doubting therapist treating a patient who claimed to be from outer space. (Also, a bit of advice: AVOID that TV series that spawned from this movie about a decade after the fact. It was terrible).

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  11. Inez Kelley
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 10:24:59

    Oh, this was one of my favorites! I wore out my VHS copy of it.

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  12. Jaci Burton
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 11:11:39

    I loved this movie. It was so very sci-fi back in its day, and the double win was the romance, too. I thought Jeff Bridges was wonderful in it–the alien innocence but also his advanced knowledge. So sad at the end, but also hopefulness for Jenny. *sigh*. Must rewatch. Thanks for the reminder!

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  13. Terri-Lynne
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 12:01:24

    Starman is one of those movies I loved beyond words when I first saw it, and then over and over again when it first came out on VHS. Now I haven’t watched it in…gads…20 something years. I’ve been afraid to. What if it doesn’t live up to my beloved memories of it?? Starman, Willow, Lady Hawk–all those great movies of the 80s that might be considered kind of cheesy today. This review gives me hope that maybe it DOES stand up. I’m going to give it a viewing. Lady Hawk, too. Thanks!

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  14. Helen
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 12:23:42

    Ohhhhhh Lady hawk! I LOVED that one. Why can’t they make movies like that anymore?

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  15. library addict
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 12:28:49

    I love this film and own it VHS. I really need to buy the DVD.

    I appreciated the series a lot more the second time I watched it. Erin Gray played Jenny in a few episodes and CD Barnes (voice of Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid) was their son. It concentrated more on the road trip/The Fugitive vibe with Robert Hays and CD Barnes traveling the country avoiding the government agents chasing them. I wanted more of the romance between Paul-Scott and Jenny.

    @Terri-Lynne: I rewatched Lady Hawk a few years ago. The soundtrack seems out of place and the CGI is rather obvious. But the scenery is as beautiful as ever and the longing of the two main characters still as poignant. And Matthew Broderick brings the funny.

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  16. Terri-Lynne
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 12:39:14

    @ Helen and @library addict
    One of my all-time favorite movie scenes is at the break of dawn when wolf becomes man and woman becomes hawk–that instant where they can almost touch. He screams, she screeches, and they are parted again.

    Gads…talk about romance! Rips my heart out just remembering. And I will admit to a little chill and a few tears stinging at the old orbs.

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  17. mrsshukra
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 12:47:15

    My favorite Jeff Bridges film!

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  18. JMS
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 14:17:38

    Both Lady Hawk and Willow are two of my favorite movies. Yes, my favorite scene in Lady Hawk is also the dawn, really touching. And every time I think of Willow, I hear Willow saying “You are great!” before the Val Kilmer slips in the snow.

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  19. Terri-Lynne
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 15:17:12

    @JMS “It went away? ‘I dwell in darkness without you,’ and it went away?”

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  20. JMS
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 16:23:11

    @Terri-Lynne – LOL!!!! Love that line! I think I need to watch this movie again – Val Kilmer was quite fine in it.

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  21. Charlotte Stein
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 16:46:42

    Oh my goodness, this is one of my all time favourite movies! Have always loved sci-fi, but sci-fi rarely has strong romantic stories in it. This was like discovering what I didn’t know I’d always wanted, back when I first saw it as a kid. And the music…swooooon. I still have it on my iPod – in fact it features heavily in the playlist I’ve made for my latest project!

    Can’t say enough good things about this movie. I think it gave me my love of sort of…quite innocent beta heroes. Heroes who are kind, sweet, maybe a bit naive…but who *ahem* rise to the occasion magnificently.

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  22. Kay
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 19:16:35

    I’m so glad I offered this guest review to Dear Author! It’s wonderful to find so many others who loved this movie and to know that it’s not forgotten.

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  23. library addict
    Jan 21, 2012 @ 15:55:04

    I ordered a used copy of the region 2 version because (a) I could not justify the outrageous price they wanted for new (b) wanted the widescreen edition and I don’t have a bluray player and (c) wanted the commentary by the director and Jeff Bridges and that isn’t on any of the US editions for some reason.

    Though I ahave often used various Amazon sellers, I’ve never bought used DVDs on-line so hoping I have good luck with it.

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  24. dri
    Jan 21, 2012 @ 16:39:32

    Um, you guys, it’s Ladyhawke. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089457/ :) God, I adore that movie to bits.

    How odd that I’ve never seen Starman, I’m thoroughly intrigued now even though that sounds suspiciously like a sad ending. Totally going on the watch list!

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  25. library addict
    Jan 21, 2012 @ 19:30:12

    @dri: Ladyhawke. Yeah, I knew that… Oops!

    I think if you liked the romance in Ladyhawke you will enjoy Starman as well. On the surface they don’t appear to have that much in common, but there are similarities.

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  26. JMS
    Jan 22, 2012 @ 07:58:37

    @dri – I thought it might be spelled that way but wasn’t sure :-). Another favorite of mine – so romantic! Matthew Broderick really added to it also. I loved the end when he and the priest were crying on each other’s shoulder. Funny and touching at the same time. I watched it a few months ago on Netflix and it was still as wonderful as I remembered it.

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  27. library addict
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 23:22:09

    Finally watched the commentary that came with the region 2 DVD version. Scott Carpenter and Jeff Bridges talk about a lot of different stuff. John Carpenter affectionately refers to the film as a “girl movie” several times and laments that he’s not been allowed to make more of them.

    I really enjoyed rewatching this film, so thanks for reviewing it as it gave me the motivation to buy it on DVD.

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