Starman Blu-ray Review

Starman (1984) tells the tale, in a vein similar to E.T., of an alien who visits Earth and spends the movie’s run time trying to return home. Upon arrival, Starman (Jeff Bridges) befriends a lonely woman, Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), by taking the form of her deceased husband. Trepidatious at first (who wouldn’t be if your dead spouse suddenly reappeared), the widow warms to our visitor as she helps him learn Earth habits and human interaction. But of course the government wants to “study” our friendly extraterrestrial and is quickly in pursuit. This turns the narrative into a road movie with the duo on the run to get Starman home before being captured.

Director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York) was riding high on critical and fan support when he made this film before maligning his career with his 1990’s output (Escape from LA, Village of the Damned). Starman is by no means his best and in many ways is a flawed film, which judged against intelligent, adult sci-fi fails to impress. Not having seen it since being on cable or VHS in the 1980’s, I remembered an enjoyable sci-fi flick with cool special effects and a likeable alien who learns our customs such as “Red light stop, green light go, yellow light go very fast” and how to flip someone the bird. My recent viewing accentuated the sappy love story and brought out the goofiness in Bridge’s portrayal.

The lead character often annoyingly seems like someone with a mental disability pretending to be an actor pretending to be an alien. And there are some serious lapses in logic with how Starman assimilates experience and understanding such as watching the famous “make out” scene on the beach in From Here To Eternity and then suddenly being an expert at sex. You would think if he were this adept at absorbing knowledge that he would have learned to bend his knees to walk correctly and developed normal speech patterns. I could go on for several paragraphs about similar weaknesses but will not subject either of us to it.

An argument could be made this is when suspension of disbelief should kick in as we are presented with an entity trying to encapsulate the entirety of humanity in a few day’s time. At the film’s heart is the attempt to reveal unique facets of our existence that we take for granted so as Starman “learns” so do we. I just found it difficult to compartmentalize my issues with the script and lead performance to fully enjoy the show. If you are able to go in with the correct mindset, there is potentially a touching story here with a finale that remains very tense. And the effects, while dated, still look cool in a retro fashion.

Sony brings Starman to Blu-ray with video quality that delivers noticeable detail, most impressive in close ups, juxtaposed at times with a softer almost hazy texture (I am attributing the later to the shooting style). The 1080p 2.40:1 framed transfer exemplifies the look of film in the 1970’s and early 80’s with a naturalistic feel not pumped up with hyper-real sharpness or artificial contrast choices and is accentuated by a nice sheen of grain (though there are moments when it conspicuously spikes). Only ever having viewed in pan-n-scan (the title was never released domestically on DVD in its original aspect ratio), the widescreen composition holds up nicely especially in the southwestern desert shots. The realistic color palette utilized is well saturated though I did notice a bit of bleeding in the red hues, and contrast is generally solid throughout, most specifically in the frequent nighttime shots where shadow delineation rarely falters. This is yet another catalog title that shows its age here and there but has never looked better on home video.

The 5.1 English Dolby TrueHD (48 kHz) surround mix does not fare quite as well as the high-def video but gets the job done. Rears are only sporadically put to use yet never in a gimmicky manner and beneficially suggesting a nice sci-fi ambiance. The main defect is the limitation of the dynamic range that is not uncommon for films of this age. While my subwoofer was engaged, I could rarely tell from the lacking LFE response. For the most part this is a very natural audio presentation centered in the front channels that is dependably rendered without distractions. A French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix and subtitles in English (SDH) and French are also available.

For extras we get squat, not even a theatrical trailer. Well, there are previews for other Sony titles though I never consider those real extras. And the disc is BD-Live enabled but as is the case with most catalog titles these days, there is nothing specific to the film available. I am not particularly saddened by the lack of supplemental features, but fans might have enjoyed a Carpenter commentary or a retrospective look on the film’s 25th anniversary.

Starman does not hold up as well as I had hoped, but I do not overly regret giving it a spin 20 plus years later. My inability to accept the preposterous ways in which Jeff Bridge’s character learns to be human was a stumbling block for me, but there still were many enjoyable moments throughout. If you are a fan, Sony’s Blu-ray is a definite purchase since this is the first time since the laserdisc release almost 20 years ago we get the film in it’s original widescreen framing. There are no extras but the high-def video and audio faithfully support Carpenter’s dopey sci-fi love story.

– Robert Searle

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