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Starman (1984)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

The credible first premise of Starman is that after we ask for alien visitors via the Voyager spacecraft, we receive one. Besides the science fiction and fantastic elements, the story is a very charming romance played by two attractive actors.

The movie begins by telling the story of Voyager and its outreach to the stars embodied in its plaque. The scene then switches to a cabin in the north woods and Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen, Raiders of the Lost Ark) a recently widowed woman who lives there. Jenny is watching home movies of her life with her husband before he died and attempting to drown some of the sorrow of that loss. That same evening “the visitor” (Jeff Bridges, Tucker: A Man and His Dream) arrives at planet Earth attracting the attention of NORAD (North American Air Defense) and a high ranking National security bureaucrat, George Fox (Richard Jaeckel, Dirty Dozen) who contacts a SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) scientist, Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith, American Graffiti) who is also on the federal payroll reporting to Fox, with orders to investigate the “meteor” at its impact site.

The visitor’s spacecraft is shot down by NORAD (a strange thing to do to a “meteor”) and crashes in the northern Wisconsin woods, not far from Ashland and near Jenny’s lonely cabin. The visitor escapes the burning wreckage and finds her cabin. He also finds the home movies and photos (along with a lock of Jenny’s husband Scott’s hair). He uses the DNA available in the hair to assume Scott’s form. While much of this is happening Jenny is asleep, but wakes to discover the visitor going through a transformation from baby to manhood. Like many/most northern Wisconsinites, especially those in remote cabins, Jenny owns firearms and retrieves a pistol to defend herself from this strange home invasion. However, at about the time that she would be pulling the trigger, the visitor turns revealing Scott’s form and face. Jenny is awestruck and after some brief exchanges she faints.

While Jenny is out, the visitor begins familiarizing himself with Scott’s form and reviews more of the memorabilia of Scott and Jenny's life together. The visitor transmits a distress call and receives instructions to rendezvous with a rescue craft in Arizona in three days. He convinces Jenny (via several methods) to take him there in her car. Meanwhile, Mark Shermin (the SETI scientist) discovers that whatever crashed near Ashland was no ordinary meteor. He informs Fox of this and starts gathering strange stories from various road travelers which all point to Arizona. The journey of Jenny and the visitor becomes more contested as authorities of all types attempt to stop them. As Jenny and the visitor/Scott travel their relationship deepens.

This may be one of Director John Carpenter’s (They Live, Escape from L.A.) best films. Jeff Bridges does a wonderful job with this very different role. He received an Oscar nomination for his work on Starman. I’ve enjoyed Karen Allen’s work ever since she played Abra in the excellent early 80’s TV miniseries of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (which I would relish having on DVD, if it were available). She is superb in this movie as Jenny Hayden. Though this movie’s storyline is ostensibly about an alien visitor to Earth, it is really about what it is to be human. Starman is a joyous celebration of life on Earth.

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