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Starman (1984)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc released: 8/11/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/12/2009

Everybody loves a good legend, and there's really nothing better than a Hollywood legend. There's one which tells the story of a studio head who was faced with a dilemma. He had two very similar scripts and he had to choose to make one and pass on the other. Each screenplay dealt with an alien visiting Earth and interacting with humans. In the head, the studio head decided to pass on E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, and we all know what became of that film. Instead, Columbia Pictures decided to go with Starman, a film which was a box office disappointment. Does this mean that it's a bad movie?

Starman opens with a spaceship approaching Earth which is then shot-down by the military. It lands in rural Wisconsin and a ball of light emerges from it. The light ventures to a nearby house and using the DNA found in a lock of hair, takes on the form of a deceased man (who is played by Jeff Bridges). Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) sleeps in this same house, still coming to grips with the death of her husband. She awakens, only to panic when she see her dearly departed standing in her living room. The alien knows rudimentary English and asks/commands Jenny to drive him to Arizona. She feels that she's being kidnapped, but she also finds herself unable to resist this man who looks like her dead husband. Thus, they begin a cross-country trip. Meanwhile, government officials, led by Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith) and George Fox (Richard Jaeckel) have found the crash site and have ascertained where the alien is headed. The two men are at odds with one another: one sees this as a chance to communicate with a visitor, while the other sees the alien as a threat. As Jenny and the alien get closer to their destination, they also enter a deadly race to beat the military.

Again, E.T. and Starman have some similarities on the surface. Both deal with an alien visitor coming to Earth. Both show this alien forming a bond with a human(s). Both show the military trying to apprehend the alien. But, that's where the similarities end. E.T. is a sci-fi fantasy which is aimed at children of all ages. Starman is obviously science-fiction, but it's more of a road-movie cum romance with a dose of action-adventure.

And if you want to find a problem with Starman, then that would be it. The movie may be too much of a cross-over film. In theory, it should please many types of audiences and should be that rare film on which men and women can agree. I can certainly see how some could find the film "wishy-washy" and wouldn't like the fact that it's not just one thing. No, there are no alien creatures in the movie and no, no bikes fly past the moon. Those looking for a traditional science-fiction film will walk away disappointed.

However, for the open-minded who aren't super nitpickers, Starman is a great movie. The film should be applauded for the fact that it's able to blend so many different genres. It goes from exciting to funny to touching without missing a beat. The alien is experiencing our world for the first time (through an unfamiliar body) and the movie adopts this sense of wide-eyed wonder. While Starman deals with mature themes, it does so with a certain kind of innocence.

The movie's likable tone gets a huge boost from the talent both in front of and behind the camera. Jeff Bridges received an Oscar nomination for his performance here and it's richly deserved. He transforms himself into this alien presence simply by using odd mannerisms and a choppy cadence when he speaks. He is never threatening and we like him immediately. Karen Allen once again using her "girl next door" nature to slip into a role with which the audience can easily relate. The most surprising aspect of Starman may be the involvement of Director John Carpenter. Known for his horror films, such as Halloween and The Fog, Carpenter didn't seem like the obvious choice for this film. But, the man has a passion for science fiction and he does a great job of keeping the film grounded in reality while interweaving the fantastic story.

It seems as if every few years we get a John Carpenter revival. In the past two weeks, we've seen the release of Big Trouble in Little China and now Starman. It's interesting to note that while Carpenter has continued to work in the realm of sci-fi and horror, he's never made another movie similar to Starman. While the film will forever reside in E.T.'s shadow, it's certainly worth seeing to experience a movie which shows that love is a universal constant. And it's got to be a great movie because it shows a guy wearing a UNC jacket.

Starman loves Dutch apple pie on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an averate of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, although there is slight grain visible. There are no notable defects from the source material. The colors look good, but the image is slightly dark. Is this a result of the transfer or is this due to the fact that Carpenter shoots all of his movies in a dark style? The level of detail and depth are both OK. This isn't a perfect transfer, but it looks better than the old DVD. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good and are nicely detailed -- they always match the on-screen action. The surround sound is decent, but it's not very powerful. The same can be said for the subwoofer action. The crash at the beginning makes only a soft rumble.

There are no extra features on this Blu-ray Disc, which is a shame, as I have the Region 2 DVD of Starman and it contains an audio commentary with Carpenter and Bridges, as well as a music video where Bridges and Allen sing a duet. Why couldn't Sony spring for these bonus features?

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long