On Dec. 14, 1984, Columbia Pictures bet on Jeff Bridges as Starman in a PG sci-fi action romance that garnered positive reviews but faltered in its initial box-office debut. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
It would not be surprising if Starman outdistanced, by a quantum leap, its sci-fi Christmas competition. An amusing and appealing storyline plus the winning performance of Jeff Bridges as a friendly extraterrestrial lend it major box-office potential. Starman looks like it may cross over from an initial sci-fi audience, combining sci-fi with an on-the-road action romance.
Bridges stars as an Earth-visiting alien whose starship has been shot down by U.S. missiles over northern Wisconsin. The ship’s slower than orbital speed has aroused security suspicions. Bridges is in fact on a good-will mission, his species having received a shot-into-the-skies invitation kit from this planet; the kit contained the word “greetings” in 54 languages as well as a letter of invitation to other beings, from U.N. secretary general Kurt Waldheim, to visit the planet earth. So, with a superficial knowledge of languages plus some curious insight into the planet (the Stones’ “Satisfaction” was sent along as part of the kit, for instance), the shot-down Bridges must elude the American military, plus make it to a crater outside of Winslow, Ariz. There, he is to be picked up to return to his world.
In order to best survive, Bridges is cloned from a piece of the dead man’s hair to resemble the dead husband of a young Madison, Wisconsin, woman (Karen Allen). This new resemblance will theoretically put Allen more at ease and ensure Bridges’ safety. But she’s fearful, not surprisingly, and he has to kidnap her. Together they take off toward Arizona in her bright orange ’77 Mustang with all sorts of hyped-up military types in pursuit.
On this cross-country chase, Starman takes gentle and often humorous swipes at everyday culture. Bridges is in fact the embodiment of that storytellers’ classic character, a “Man-from-Mars” type who views with an innocent and questioning eye our cultural practices. Everyday customs from eating dessert to hunting deer come to this eager, probing curiosity. In short, Starman is an often on-target look at current American culture.
Along the way, the initially terrified and hostile Allen falls in love with Bridges. In one of the film’s tenderest sequences they make love — he gives her the pregnancy she has never been able to have. Still, only Bridges’ extraterrestrial powers (his species is 100,000 years ahead of us technologically) save him from the voracious pursuit of the American military.
While Bruce A. Evans’ and Raynold Gideon’s script is one-dimensional in certain plotting aspects, especially in regard to the single-minded military forces, it has an uplifting and humane message. Bridges, in fact, falls in love with the country — “I will miss the cooks, the singing and the dancing…. You are a strange species. Unlike any other, you are at your best when things are worst.”
Perhaps the film’s best asset, the ever-versatile Bridges is at his hang loose best as the gentle alien. He brings a wonderous child-like sense to the role. Allen also deserves plaudits for her appropriately vulnerable portrayal, as does Charles Martin Smith as a GS-11 public servant who works to save Bridges. Give ample credit to director John Carpenter also for his fluid storytelling.
Technical credits, including Jack Nitzsche’s evocative score and the special visual effects, are all first-rate. While not the raison d’etre for the film, Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic effects are, not surprisingly, excellent. — Duane Byrge, originally published Dec. 3, 1984.