Next Tuesday (Aug. 11), “Starman” will be available for the first time on Blu-Ray. Dennis Lim went back to reevaulate the film and its director, John Carpenter, in this piece from the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times.
John Carpenter, who has not directed a feature film since “Ghosts of Mars” in 2001, seems to recede further into the margins of American pop culture with each passing year. Even in the more productive phases of his career, he was damned with faint praise, as a B-movie or horror specialist who never matched the promise of his breakthrough film, the slasher landmark ” Halloween.”
This was not lost on Carpenter, who supposedly once observed that while he’s considered an auteur in Europe, “in the U.S., I’m a bum.”
This month sees the Blu-ray release of the director’s “Starman” ( Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $28.95) and “Big Trouble in Little China” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $29.99). These two ’80s films reinforce the sense of Carpenter as a kind of shadow Steven Spielberg, a deft, sometimes ingenious commercial craftsman who recognized the unpretentious pleasures as well as the subversive potential of genre entertainment but was inevitably eclipsed by that decade’s dominant American filmmaker.
Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), a remake of Howard Hawks’ Cold War allegory “The Thing From Another World,” opened within weeks of Spielberg’s much cuddlier and vastly more popular “E.T.:The Extra-Terrestrial.” “Starman” is a transparent stab at atonement, a friendly-alien weepie to file alongside “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
In response to the invitation of the Voyager space probe, an extraterrestrial being lands in the Midwest, where it assumes human form as a young widow’s recently dead husband. After a superbly tense opening sequence, in which Karen Allen’s terrified heroine watches her visitor grow from infancy into Jeff Bridges in a matter of seconds, the film settles into the familiar rhythms of a romantic road movie…
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– Dennis Lim
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CREDIT: “Starman” photo — Sony Pictures