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Oeuvre: Carpenter: Starman

Oeuvre: Carpenter: Starman

Starman is a road trip movie, a romance and a science fiction epic with aliens brought to life by the always impressive efforts of Carpenter’s special effects team.

“I can’t get nooo… satisfaction” rips through the landscape of space, filling the deep blackness with echoes of the Rolling Stones. We’re only moments into John Carpenter’s Starman and the director has already given us a contradiction as the film is as satisfying as they come. Perhaps one of Carpenter’s funniest films (bolstered by an excellent screenplay by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon) and also one of his most adventurously exciting, Starman is at once a road trip movie, a romance and a science fiction epic with aliens and special powers and body morphing and so many other fantastical elements brought to life by the always impressive efforts of Carpenter’s special effects team.

In telling the tale of a sentient alien being who recreates the body of a recently deceased husband (Jeff Bridges) and kidnaps the man’s grieving wife (Karen Allen), Carpenter blends suspenseful, tactical filmmaking in union with bristling humor and character chemistry. Bridges and Allen are both a hoot and a humanistic portrayal of a relationship growing between not two people, but two beings.

All of this is owed to the phenomenal performances executed by Bridges and Allen, as well as Carpenter’s well-observed attention to detail. Bridges—assuming the role of an alien slowly understanding both his body, mind and social interaction—is aces. In a performance filled with facial tics and physical humor, Bridges is always entertaining to watch.

Allen, as Jenny Hayden, offers up a performance based on fear, intrigue and an array of other complicated emotions. Imagine the scenario; your husband dies and then reappears as a being that is evidently not him. You’re forced to drive this “something” to a specific area in Arizona so he can reconnect with his own kind, and all the while you find yourself falling for the being. She’s also sneakily hilarious. There’s a moment where she’s escaping from the house and puts her boots on before putting on her pants, and it’s the films most uproarious moment. Simple yet perfect.

It’s a wild plot, but Carpenter, Bridges, Allen and everyone else involved with the film bring it to life flawlessly. Another strong performance and driving force in the film’s kinetic energy is Charles Martin Smith. As federal scientist Mark Shermin, on the hunt for Starman and Jenny, Smith brings a raw dynamism to his role that makes his plight just as exciting and cheer-worthy as that of Starman’s. He’s no villain; he’s just a man who wants to help, and we spend the film rooting for the three characters to finally join forces. What will happen when they do? That’s all a part of the movie’s spirited suspense. We don’t know.

But once we do know, Carpenter delivers a grand finale worthy of the science fiction record books. Combining painterly aesthetics and emotional grandiosity that blatantly copies E.T. (right down to the final shot structure, editing and score swells), Carpenter is pulling out all the stops. In what is arguably his most performative movie, the final performance is that of Carpenter himself. And when the curtain’s finally drawn, it’s hard not to find yourself begging for an encore.

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