The Dude goes Surfing With the Aliens
After Voyager II is launched into space with an open message for Alien visitors to come to Earth, one such Alien, Starman (Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart), does that despite a less than friendly welcome from the US Air force as they try to blow him out of the sky. Crash landing near Chequamegon Bay, Wisconsin Starman finds himself in the home of Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen - Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) and taking on the form of her dead husband Scott, causing Jenny to be understandably afraid and confused especially when she ends up driving Starman across country to Arizona where if he doesn't reach a landing zone in time he will die. With the Government hot on their trail it is a journey of learning for both Jenny and Starman as they both witness the best and worst of mankind.
Now it has to be said that the opening to "Starman" could seriously alienate you as we learn that NASA have sent up a satellite which is basically a welcome beacon for Aliens to visit our planet, it blasts out The Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" whilst showing video of the planet on a monitor whilst relaying greeting messages in 50 odd different languages. Maybe back in the 80s this opening worked a little better than it does now because frankly it is so painfully corny that it could put you off what is to follow. But don't be because shortly after we have the alien coming to earth in a surprisingly spectacular explosion followed by some solid special effects considering "Starman" is an 80s movie.
Anyway intro done and dealt with where we not only learn about Starman coming to earth but also learn about Jenny who is struggling to deal with the death of her husband Scott we get into the meat of the movie which is Starman and Jenny travelling to Arizona. Now this is no road trip movie despite the majority of "Starman" being set on the road but more a tale of bonding. We watch as Jenny goes from fear and confusion to genuinely liking Starman as she grows to realise that he is little more than a peaceful tourist. And as such after plenty of amusement as Starman learns about things from Jenny, we get what for me is the nicest part of "Starman" and that is the actual romantic feelings between them. It's a nice twist and for a sci-fi movie "Starman" is a surprisingly romantic movie, not big slushy romance but tender feelings and true emotion.
The reason why this romantic element works is very much down to the chemistry between Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen who really connect. And in fact it is Allen who sells this romantic element because she has a face which speaks a thousand words and director John Carpenter knows this as he gives us plenty of close ups. We appreciate her fear and confusion but you watch as her face softens as she grows fond of Starman to the point that she is in love with him and doesn't want to see him go. There is also a well worked twist to this which may get some sci-fi fans reaching for their buckets but for me it turns this Alien on Earth story into something more.
Aside from this romantic storyline you then have what in many ways is the cliche element as we watch Starman learn all about mankind whilst learning to be human. We get that obvious humour of Starman not understanding anything and finding himself getting in trouble due to misunderstandings. Plus of course any Alien which lands on Earth is going to be hunted down by the Government for some probing so we also get the cliche Agents on his trail with action as they throw up road blocks. But whilst this side of things is stereotypical of this sort of movie it is still entertaining.
And the reason why this is entertaining is because of Jeff Bridges who does a great job of delivering the humour of his naive character. Yes there are times when it seems that Bridges is almost playing it too dumb for laughs but then he makes it work mixing it with some surprising moment of amusement. And by the time "Starman" edges to a not so surprising ending the way his character has evolved, still having an element of awkwardness about him but mixed with the best of being human is a joy to watch.
What this all boils down to is that "Starman" whilst not being a great John Carpenter or great Sci-Fi movie is a very entertaining one. It takes the cliche Alien visitor on Earth formula and embellishes it with a romantic subplot to create something which feels different. Add to that equally good performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen and you have a movie worthy of numerous viewings.