Another classic movie which turns 30 this year is Starman, a science fiction drama which, as far as I’m concerned, is the last great movie from John Carpenter.
The title character is an alien from an unknown, far off world who travels to Earth in response to Voyager II’s invitation for all life to visit our planet.
Ironically, the alien does not get what one would call a welcoming reception when the U.S. Air Force shoots down the alien’s spacecraft. This causes it to crash near an isolated cottage in Madison, Wisconsin. The alien then travels to said cottage, which is occupied by recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). She is awakened by the alien when it obtains a sample of the DNA of her late husband Scott (Jeff Bridges), and proceeds to use it to take Scott’s form in order to adapt more easily to Earth’s environment.
The alien contacts his people and then forces the shocked Jenny to take him to the Barringer Crater in Arizona, where his people are set to pick him up within three days.
It is not long before authorities, led by narrow-minded NSA chief George Fox (Richard Jaeckel) to find the remains of the spacecraft and attempt to track down its occupant. But scientist Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith) begins to realize that the visitor may not be hostile when he finds a disc from Voyager II inside the spacecraft.
During their journey to Arizona, Jenny eventually overcomes her fear of the person resembling her late husband when he tells her he is not malevolent. He later proves it to her when he brings a dead deer back to life, while she shows him that humanity can be peaceful. He also informs her that he will die if he does not reach Arizona in time.
As they get closer to their destination and with Fox and Shermin in pursuit, Jenny and the alien express the love which has formed between them. The alien later informs her that Jenny will soon be a mother. She, in turn, promises to tell their child about him.
In lesser hands, this could have simply been a rip-off of E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). But this film, which was co-produced by Michael Douglas, manages to be unique in many ways. First of all, the alien in this movie is not simply a creature from outer space, but one which, like the more-vicious title character in Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), takes human form.
What makes this film special, though, is the love story which eventually develops between the two leads. Both Bridges and Allen are wonderful, and Bridges earned his third Academy Award nomination (and his first in the Best Actor category) for his performance here. Curiously, this remains the only John Carpenter movie to get an Oscar nomination.
The movie spawned a TV series on ABC in 1986. The show chronicled the alien (now played by Robert Hays) attempting to bond with his son (Christopher Daniel Barnes). It lasted only one season.
This movie marked the end of an impressive run of movies for Carpenter, which consisted of classics such as Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), The Fog (1980), Escape From New York (1981), The Thing, Christine (1983) and, most famously, Halloween (1978). It’s a shame that his subsequent films have not reached this level of greatness.