The Starman project had been shipped around for a time by actor Michael Douglas who was then better known an active producer he had just made One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975) than as the big name actor he is today. The project was originally to have gone ahead with various names such as Randal Kleiser, director of Grease (1978) and Flight of the Navigator (1986), Tony Scott, director of The Hunger (1983), and Adrian Lyne, the director of Flashdance (1983), 9½ Weeks (1986) and Fatal Attraction (1987), all variously announced in the directors chair. Lynes stylish, visually dense chiaroscuro and exquisitely composed sense of mise en scene would have made for an intriguing film. The director eventually settled on was John Carpenter, the cult sf/horror director who was then a big name with the likes of Dark Star (1974), Halloween (1978), Escape from New York (1981) and The Thing (1982). Starman was certainly an unusual choice of film for John Carpenter a film 180 degrees further removed from The Thing one is not more likely to find.
As it goes, Starman is certainly one of the better E.T. copies contrast it to mawkish E.T. copies like Cocoon (1985), Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star (1986) and Purple People Eater (1988) to see how much it stands out from the crowd. It could be called an E.T. with adult, more complex emotions. The film was written by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, the writing team who would the next year go onto deliver the great childhood nostalgia film Stand By Me (1986), the less well-received but quite good afterlife drama Made in Heaven (1987) and the excellent serial killer film Mr. Brooks (2007). Evans and Gideon are clearly American heartland writers more so than they are science-fiction writers and Starman works better when you stop viewing it as science-fiction and see it more as fantasy Starmans balls (okay, make what puns you will about that) are magical objects more than they are tools rooted in science; while his impregnation of Karen Allen resonates with echoes of the Immaculate Conception. The script is certainly irritable in its frequent disregard of science and, at times, outright logic. Evans and Gideon abuse clichés wholesale the moment where Karen Allen loses her purse followed by Starmans professing interest in Las Vegas slot-machines brings a collective groan from an audience; and there are tired artificial suspense-sustainers like the pursuing military, missed stop-offs and the necessity of making the three-day rendezvous.
Evans and Gideon also succeed in making Starman an emotional paean for ordinary Midwest Americana and of a love of human individuality. Certainly, were it not for Jeff Bridgess performance, Starman would be far less a film than it is. Filled with painedly jerky mannerisms and uncadenced speech patterns, Bridges gives a performance of anguished exactness. It is a piece of acting that feels as though it is being delivered by an alien that is becoming used to a human body or speech for the first time. The slow but perceptible transformation that character makes, moving from harsh alienness to an emotional overture on the virtues of the human condition and kitsch culture Americana is by the end of the film heartfelt. In another directors hands, Starman may well have come out seeming simple-minded and cloying, but John Carpenter, Evans, Gideon and especially Jeff Bridges make it moving.
The film was later developed into a maudlin tv series Starman (1986) starring Robert Hays as the title character who returns and goes on the road with his now grown son. Hayss performance lacked any of the moving power of Jeff Bridges one here and the series only lasted for one season.
John Carpenters other genre films are: Dark Star (1974); the urban siege film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976); Halloween (1978); the stalker psycho-thriller Someones Watching Me (tv movie, 1978); the ghost story The Fog (1980); the sf action film Escape from New York (1981); the remake of The Thing (1982); the Stephen King killer car adaptation Christine (1983); the Hong Kong-styled martial arts fantasy Big Trouble in Little China (1986); Prince of Darkness (1987), an interesting conceptual blend of quantum physics and religion; the alien takeover film They Live (1988); Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992); the horror anthology Body Bags (tv movie, 1993), which Carpenter also hosted; the H.P. Lovecraft homage In the Mouth of Madness (1995); the remake of Village of the Damned (1995); Escape from L.A. (1996); the vampire hunter film Vampires (1998); the sf film Ghosts of Mars (2001); and the haunted asylum film The Ward (2010). Carpenter has also written the screenplays for the psychic thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Halloween II (1981), the hi-tech thriller Black Moon Rising (1985) and the killer snake tv movie Silent Predators (1999), as well as produced Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), the time-travel film The Philadelphia Experiment (1984), Vampires: Los Muertos (2002) and the remake of The Fog (2005).