Sep 24, 2019

STARMAN (1984)

The beauty of Starman is not just the film itself, but who made it — horror director John Carpenter, who just a few years earlier had been lambasted and nearly run out of Hollywood for having directed The Thing, a nasty, gooey, and bleak alien thriller that had the misfortune of coming out not long after E.T., an admitted juggernaut that had audiences feeling the warm and fuzzies about alien lifeforms. Starman was Carpenter’s apology to audiences, which allowed him to show off a much different side of him than was essayed by his filmography up to that point. Produced by Michael Douglas and featuring perhaps the best cast ever assembled for a Carpenter film, Starman is a feel-good hybrid of nearly every genre there is — sci-fi, romance, drama, adventure, and comedy, all wrapped up into one of Hollywood’s oldest and most relied on locations: the open road.

Carpenter directs Starman with a gentleness not yet (or since) seen from the filmmaker, which is what makes the finished film so inspiring: from beginning to end, Carpenter willfully, gleefully embraces the romantic inside of him he modestly claims not to possess, and crafts, frankly, a beautiful story about love, loss, and hope, with a message that even he doesn’t believe in, but which is a touching way to end his story: when the Starman (Bridges) tells Charles Martin Smith’s scientist, “Do you know what I find most beautiful about your people? You are at your best when things are at their worst.” To echo Carpenter’s sentiments, it’s not at all true, especially during this particularly hateful era, but it is a beautiful way to end a film constructed on the most otherworldly love story one could imagine.

Along with a decidedly non-horrific, non-R-rated tone, Carpenter also eschews his scoring duties, allowing famed composer Jack Nitzsche to take on the task; he creates a gorgeous, ethereal score, some of which consists of vocal samplings from his wife and which are turned into galactic, unearthly tones.That aside, and the lack of usual Carpenter D.P. Dean Cundey, don’t think that Starman doesn’t feel like a Carpenter film, because it absolutely does — look no further than the tracking shot rushing in on Starman as a handful of good ol’ boys rush him in a truckstop diner parking lot.

I often wonder what could've been for John Carpenter, had The Thing been recognized on the spot for its brilliance and unrelenting horror, rather than taking years and years to develop the critical devotion and cult following that it's gone on to achieve. Would he have embraced more studio fare, working with increasingly bigger budgets? Would he perhaps have made the long mooted remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon? Maybe. But his frustration with the studio system, and his desperation for any job after The Thing nearly derailed his career, wouldn't have led to his independently produced features Prince of Darkness and They Live, and wouldn't have led to Starman, the sweetest film from a director not known for sweet things. Knowing what would be at stake, maybe it's best to step back from wondering what would've been, and instead, focus on what is

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