Quantcast

Starman – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

If there is one director that has been tied to brand, in terms of Blu-ray labels, its John Carpenter and Scream Factory. One of his most acclaimed and biggest box office hits, Starman, is now receiving the Collector’s Edition treatment (Which kicked off the label back in 2012 with two Carpenter produced Halloween sequels, mind you). Starman also lead actor Jeff Bridges to his first Academy Award nomination. Its a big film that’s notoriety just kind of went away over time. Back in the day, this title would be used to sell other Carpenter films whereas they never would have sold him on ones that would instantly get attention today like The Thing or They Live. Starman will have a new transfer and documentary and be available for purchase on December 18th, giving you plenty of time to stuff the John Carpenter obsessed loved one’s stocking in time for the Christmas holiday if you use the Amazon link below.

Film 

Answering a NASA message intended for aliens, a space being tries to contact mankind, but an American missile grounds his ship. Scrambling, the so-called Starman (Jeff Bridges) inhabits the body of a late Wisconsinite and kidnaps the dead man’s widow, Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). Determined to reunite with a vessel from his home planet at a predetermined site, Starman and Jenny travel to Arizona. Pursued by military officials trying to kill him, Starman forges a lasting bond with Jenny.

As mentioned above, its interesting how the John Carpenter appreciation has evolved over the years. With the passage of time and a renaissance in the appreciation of the filmmaker happening during most of this decade, one of the former peaks of his catalog has seen itself maybe taken for granted during the reassessment of his contributions. Starman is probably the most prestigious film from John Carpenter. The film is his most successful at both the box office and critical appreciation. As I mentioned in my In The Mouth Of Madness review when talking the trailers, Starman used to be the film that you sold other John Carpenter films on (“From the director of Starman”). The film also is one of his only films to receive notable Academy Award notoriety in its nomination of actor Jeff Bridges for Best Actor In A Leading Role. Now, Starman probably falls toward the lower half of fan Carpenter filmography rankings and might be one of the films the fans have never even seen. Its an interesting turn of events as it used to be THE film to have seen from him.

Starman actually holds up brilliantly and is quite a deep, touching story that combines and digs deeper into the same kind of elements as Spielberg was exploring in both ET: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Watching it, you’ll see similarities to both of them, while the film has a mind, heart and philosophy all on its own. Themes of grief, acceptance and both the ugliness and triumphs of humanity all come into play here in one of Carpenter’s most dramatic and exploratory films in tackling the human element. It may be his most on the nose film, but don’t let that get to you, this is Carpenter’s version of on the nose. And while his career has been one to develop a feeling and impact on a viewer, this may be the only time he’s done it in a more personal and emotional way.

Starman has some bigger set pieces and spectacle on display, but overall, it still feels low key, which I say as a compliment. It delivers the effects and the grand showcase in spades and for the most part they still hold up and even if they slightly don’t, they still work for the film. Carpenter delivers how they should, but never makes it the prime importance of the story this movie is telling. This is the story of two “people”, and Carpenter never once gets carried away and forgets that. If anything, because of how different the film is, its a standout in his catalog and one many should really consider going back to or checking out for the first time.

Driving the film, not just the car in it, are its two stars; Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. Now, obviously Bridges is great as he was nominated, but still he’s a marvel to watch. Its incredible how transformed he’s become. We get a little bit of what he really is view some 8mm videos Allen watches at home for good comparison. Bridges “Starman” character feels like a walking, talking mannequin. Just his looking at someone feels like artificial eyes staring through the wall. Its so “into it” that it flirts with absurdity at times, but thanks to the actor’s commitment, its fully functionality and ridiculously real. It turns from haunting, to silly to absolutely moving by the end of it. In a career of amazing and legendary performances by one of the greatest actors we’ve had, Starman is one of his tops still to this day. This is an incredibly challenging role and Jeff Bridges makes it look really easy, lifelike and natural.

But, his performance doesn’t 100% if his co-star isn’t up to snuff and Karen Allen is dynamite in one of her career best performances too. She should have been given equal recognition for the film, but alas, everyone can see by going back to the tape. We see Allen through a whirlwind of emotional character development that is both believable and essential for Bridge’s performance to be as good as it is. She’s giving him the realism he needs to fuel his performance. Without it, the movie is probably really goofy and doesn’t work when tugging at the heartstrings. As a younger viewer I was more drawn in by Bridges performances, but as an adult, its being captivated and taken with Allen’s side of the story that makes the film great for me.

As far as Carpenter goes, everything you want from him is here, but two essential elements that people love from his film have two one-time collaborators on them. The look of the film feels right at home with his other work, even stepping things up a notch with many of the grand science fiction elements being introduced. It looks like a traditional Carpenter film though he’s using a different director of photography for the film. When it comes to the score, Jack Nitzche really understand and channels what Carpenter has done previously for his films and gives one the allusion that this is how the master would have scored it had he taken on the responsibility. Its quite good and probably doesn’t get mentioned among great scores on John’s work because he wasn’t the one who composed the film.

Its odd having to defend or act as if Starman is a discovery or needs another look in 2018. For much of the 2 decades that followed its release, the film was one of the cornerstones of his work. But, its also refreshing that time has found its way to rediscovered or reanalyzing his more overlooked titles in his catalog. However,  Starman still stands above and might be notable as quite possibly the best performances John Carpenter ever delivered in one of his films. All his natural film elements come together in great harmony here to deliver an emotional, inspiring film that also has a wonderful understated spectacle to it. Starman certainly argues to be held as high up in the John Carpenter canon as many of his far more popular genre films are.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Starman returns for the second time on Blu-ray on what I can only image is the same transfer and source used in the 2009 release from Sony. I didn’t see any mention of a new transfer anywhere, but that’s okay, the original was pretty fine. While not boasting anything jaw dropping, it still has some terrific details and coloring apparent on a crisper image. The vintage special effects actually hold up well here in the transfer and while some are a little more evident, they come across in a respectful way where there’s a forgiveness for seeing the strings a little, deepening the appreciation for the older craft.

Depth:  Depth of field here is above average, looking pretty nice but nothing that really jumps out at you. The final moments in the film do look really good with great spacing on display in the medium shots during the big event. Movements are cinematic and natural and no signs of blurring or jittering occurred with rapid movement during the action sequences.

Black Levels: Blacks are good and very deep in this presentation. Sometimes a bit too consuming out in the nighttime sky. While in Karen Allen’s home things can be a hair grainy, but nothing distracting, but just worth noting. No crushing issues witnessed during this viewing.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty solid and natural. This film takes places in the mountains and deserts and the places visit reflect a lot of small town normalcy, rustic and non-flashiness. There’s a lot of browns, greens and “regular” colors going on. Reds tend to shine when used on the car or a flannel. The blues used in supernatural special effects do become a highlight and are represented here with a nice glow, but some natural sense of restraint.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures like Karen Allen’s freckles, wrinkles, stubble, sweat and more come through pretty well in close ups and most medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: For the most part, no real concerning issues occur.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Starman’s previous release was a TrueHD track, and I’m sure that same mix has just now lent itself to DTS-HD MA. Its a fine, above average track that will leave you wanting just a little more power to it. The mix and playfulness of speaker interplay is surprisingly there for this older film. One of my biggest things with this is that it needed to feel and play louder than what we are given here.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: This doesn’t quite hit the deep levels you’d expect some of the more fantastic moments to, but it does enough to compliment what’s going on onscreen.

Surround Sound Presentation: There are some nice delights to be found in this mix as spacecraft moving from rear to front and side to side is a treat. There are also little nuances captured in the mix as well.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras 

Starman – Collector’s Edition comes with a reversible cover featuring the original theatrical poster.

Audio Commentary

  • With director John Carpenter and Jeff Bridges

They Came From Hollywood: Re-visiting Starman (HD, 23:55) – Featuring  interviews with director John Carpenter, actors Jeff Bridges, Charles Martin Smith and script supervisor Sandy King-Carpenter. A wonderful look back at making the film that is tightly pieced together with no bullshit (In both fat and interviewer thoughts) and many fun stories from the film, including Sandy King Carpenter’s story of how she got involved. It lacks Karen Allen’s inclusion (Though I’m sure she was asked), but they are all very glowing in discussing her with Carpenter mentioning there was no one else he wanted or could have done it. Bridges even mentions Allen as the one that pushed him and started his tradition of giving everyone involved with a film a photo scrapbook souvenir of the pictures he takes during his time on set as a gift.

Vintage Featurette (SD, 11:20) – And EPK from around the time the film was made. Features interviews with cast and crew, so you can get some Karen Allen, who isn’t present for the new one.

Teaser Trailer (HD, :50) 

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:18) 

TV Spots (SD, 1:51)

Still Gallery (HD, 8:02)

Summary 

We forget what a big deal Starman was back in 1984. Heck, it wound up having a short-lived television series spun off of it. This was John Carpenter’s biggest film of all time. We should still be talking about it in the same realm as ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind with which it shares a lot of themes with. Yet, here we are almost rediscovering this touching science fiction drama. Scream Factory has given its Blu-ray life an update, retaining the same presentation, but finally adding some wealthy, fulfilling bonus features to make a complete release.

Share

Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

1 Response to “Starman – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Such a great movie with a perfect final shot (one of many for Carpenter). Sad Karen Allen couldn’t step in to say a few things about the film.