Thursday, June 10, 2021


Another of the movies that I had the chance to catch courtesy of one of DirecTV's free preview weekends was Starman.

In 1977, the US launched Voyager 2, a probe designed to visit the outer planets of our solar system before continuing on into deep space. On the off chance that there is any intelligent life out there, NASA included a disc with greetings from Earth in 54 languages and pictures of our planet. Starman posits that an alien civilization found Voyager 2 and decided to investigate this little planet.

Except, of course, the visit doesn't go as planned. NORAD finds the alien spaceship on its radar and, not being able to figure out what it is, sends airplanes to intercept and possibly shoot it down if it's a danger. Ultimately, they do shoot it down, and it crash lands in Chequamegon Bay, an inlet of Lake Superior bordering northern Wisconsin. (It's a real place in case you were wondering.)

The crash landing causes a big fireball, and when NORAD figures out where the shot-down thing might have landed, they, led by NSA chief George Fox (Richard Jaeckel) send people in to investigate. Eventually word gets to Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith), who had worked with SETI in his days at Cornell and is an expert on this stuff.

Meanwhile, there was a living being in the spacecraft, and that beign looks for the nearest shelter it can find, which is a house owned by Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), a widow whose husband died a year ago. The alien, called "Starman", finds some strands of the dead husband's hair that still have DNA in them, and he uses this to clone himself into an image of Jenny's late husband, something which is understandably disconcerting to her.

Starman is a fairly quick learner, in that he's learned the entire disc that was on Voyager 2 by memory. But he still has a quite limited knowledge of the English language. He's able to communicate with some of his kind, learning that they'll come to pick him up at the Meteor Crater outside Winslow AZ in three days' time; otherwise they'll have to leave him behind and he'll die.

Starman has to get to Arizona, not knowing the geography of Earth, and not really being able to communicate to Jenny what exactly he needs. So he commandeers her and her car to drive him to Arizona, leading her to think he's kidnapping her. Jenny and Starman make their way to Arizona, while the authorities put the pieces together and try to intercept Jenny. George Fox wants to investigate Starman as a specimen, stopping him by force if need be, while Shermin thinks Starman has come in peace and doesn't want him hurt. Not that he has any influence.

Once the movie gets to the cross-country flight and pursuit, the movie becomes, if not quite predictable, a plot that is not unfamiliar. But Starman rises above that, in part thanks to a reasonably intelligent script and a very good performance from Jeff Bridges. Jenny's reaction is natural, starting off being frightened and angry that this thing has taken her with no good explanation of what he's doing, and slowly changes as the two begin to understand each other through Starman's increasing command of English. (I did, to be honest, wonder why the alien civilization didn't investigate Earth for longer before getting close enough to get shot down.) The military-as-bad-guys trope is old, but to be fair to them, they had no idea what they were up against.

Starman is absolutely worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

1 comment:

Cinematic Delights said...

Hi Ted. Nice write up. (I just spotted it while looking at this week's TMP.)
I saw Starman for the first time years ago and really enjoyed it. I enjoyed Bridges' extra-terrestrial turn, and felt that he had good chemistry with Karen Allen.
I remember hearing the 'Starman leaves' track sampled in a pop song a few years back, but I can't remember who the artist was now.