Matinee: Starman

In an age when the John Carpenter canon is revered and well-known by film fans, and when Jeff Bridges is more popular than he’s ever been, it’s strange that this weekend’s Matinee should be such a blind spot in their respective careers. Starman has become the very definition of a cult film, despite a warm reception by critics and a Oscar nomination (the third of six for Bridges).

One of many post-E.T. pictures which tried to emulate the box office heat of Spielberg’s film, Starman follows an alien who crashlands to Earth in 1980s America. Setting off to rendezvous with his people in Arizona, he compels Jenny (Karen Allen) to accompany him on his journey. It’s a compelling spin on familiar sci-fi tropes, the kind of film which experienced a real renaissance in the 1980s; including The Last Starfighter, Alien Nation, even Ghostbusters. It’s also warm, visually striking and pretty damn funny – the incredulous reactions which Bridges elicits are priceless.

So why does Starman have such a low profile? It’s a string of bad luck, essentially. Debuting at only number six in the US box office, Starman didn’t quite perform to expectations. Bridges, Allen and the film itself were all nominated for major awards, but only won the 1984 Saturn Award for Best Actor (Bridges). Even John Carpenter dismissed the film: years later, he’d claim to have only directed the film to bounce back from the failure of The Thing (notoriously sunk by E.T. in 1982). The Thing is now regarded as a masterpiece, but Starman wasn’t so lucky. Maybe when they write the history of Carpenter’s films Starman will get a reappraisal, but for now it’ll be our little secret.

Starman – Channel 5, Sunday 19th February, 3:10PM

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