Starman – tape 830

This tape opens with a rather upsetting sight. It’s Gary Glitter performing a song called Red Hot.

And it gets worse, as the song ends and Jimmy Savile appears. Yes, this is Jim’ll Fix It.

I always thought Savile’s habit of including all his honours in his TV credits was weird. If only that were the sole extent of his weirdness.

There’s more unpleasant images during the credits.

Does anyone remember Space Shooters?

After this there’s a trailer for the Jeffrey Archer potboiler Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less.

Then, we have the network television premiere of John Carpenter’s Starman. This is a really odd entry in Carpenter’s filmography. It definitely marks a conscious move away from the horror or thriller films he’d been linked to. And the script had been under development for years, with several directors attached before Carpenter took it on.

It stars Karen Allen as Jenny Hayden, who is mourning the recent death of her husband in an accident.

Something falls from the sky, possibly a meteor, and Jenny wakes up in the night to strange sounds from her living room. She finds a baby laying on her floor, visibly growing before her eyes. This was a much vaunted special effects sequence at the time, so complex there were three different crews working on it, the cream of the special makeup effects world at the time, Dick Smith, Rick Baker and Stan Winston. So it’s odd that none of them could make a baby that didn’t look like it was about to grab a knife and kill someone.

It’s as if the actual transformation was beyond even these experts, as there’s very little of it on show here. And what is here doesn’t look great, like the strange stretchy face that looks like it might be stop motion.

But when he finally stops growing he looks exactly like Jeff Bridges. In fact, he looks exactly like Jenny’s dead husband, because the alien had sampled his DNA from a sample of his hair in a scrapbook.

It’s fairly obvious to her that there’s something otherworldly about the visitor.

Pretty soon they’re on a road trip as he effectively kidnaps her and gets her to drive him across the country to where he can be rescued. He even has alien Satnav.

While they’re travelling, and Starman learns about being human, Charles Martin Smith is helping the military track him down. He’s a scientist for SETI, so naturally he’s pitched against everyone else who seem gung-ho on straight-up murdering Starman.

Jeff Bridges got an oscar nomination for his performance here. I guess it’s one of those performances where it’s obvious he is acting, rather than just being Jeff Bridges. I confess it’s not one of my favourites of his. But there’s some humour to be had with him trying to learn about human interaction.

Starman learns to drive watching Jenny, which leads to him causing a bit of an accident at an interchange. “That was a yellow light!” “I watched you very carefully. Red Light – stop. Green Light – Go. Yellow Light – Go Very Fast.” Another one of those lines of dialogue that stick in my head, possibly it was used in trailers or as a clip on movie shows?

Jenny is still trying to get away from him, but as they travel, she’s starting to warm to him. At a truck stop, she intends to duck out and catch a bus, but she leaves the car keys with the waitress so he can continue on his own. But then she sees him raise a deer from the dead that was strapped to a hunter’s car, and decides she’ll stay with him.

The hunter and his good old buddies don’t take kindly to this, and beat him up a bit, so she has to save him by firing the gun she has and driving him away.

They stop in a motel, and there’s a nice scene where the local police roll up and spot her car. Then there’s a knock on the motel door, but it’s not the police, it’s another motel guest, a young man. “Hey buddy, it’s none of my business, but if that’s your orange mustang in the parking lot, there’s a couple of cops trying to jigger the lock.” They even distract the cops by pushing a vending machine down the stairs so Jenny and Starman can get away.

In the pursuit that follows, Jenny is shot by police as they’re driving, and Starman drives the car into a fuel truck, but then walks out unscathed, carrying Jenny. The science behind any of this is tenuous to say the least.

Then he hides out in a convenient mobile home, heals Jenny’s wounds, then leaves her there to continue his journey with someone else. But now she’s invested, so she hitches a ride and follows them, catching up with him at a road block.

 

They hitch another ride, then hop on a train car, and there’s the inevitable love scene.

It then descends into a biblical metaphor so huge, I’m surprised it wasn’t punctuated by a choir of angels. “I gave you a baby last night” has says. She protests that she couldn’t have children, but he assures her that she will, and it will be the son of her late husband, as well as him. “When he grows to manhood he will be a teacher.” I can’t decide if this is creepy or heartwarming. I should also mention that this is almost exactly the same plot point used in The Terminator which came out only two months prior to this film.

They overshoot their destination and end up in Las Vegas. How can they rent a car without any money? No problem, Starman can fix slot machines. “These guys become curious if you win too many jackpots at once” she warns just as he wins on the $500,000 jackpot machine.

They stop off at a remote diner, and the cops arrive, led by Charles Martin Smith. But after talking to them, he lets them go, telling the cops it’s the wrong people. Starman is grateful.

They get to the crater which is the rendezvous, but the army are in pursuit. There’s a lot of helicopters in these scenes, and in the pre-CGI days, these are probably all real.

After a bit of machine gun and rocket action – this army guy really isn’t much worried about Earth-Alien relations – Starman’s ride arrives. It’s big and shiny, and I’m sure ILM were pleased at being able to do all the reflections of the environment in the days before CGI.

Then Jenny has to say goodbye, and Starman tells her “I’ll be right here.” Oh wait, no, that’s the other lost alien film. It’s not surprising that this film took a while to be made, because, even after they tried to sand down the edges, this really is ET almost beat for beat. I wonder, if ET had never been made, if this story might have been a bit more successful? Hard to say, but I doubt it. ET is a film full of charm and wonder, and somehow, a grown-up saying goodbye to the creepy clone of her husband who kidnapped her can’t quite match the emotional peak of a ten year old losing his best friend.

BBC Genome: BBC One – 24th March 1990 – 19:05

After this, there’s a trailer for programmes for next Saturday.

After this, there’s the very start of the news, at which point the tape ends.

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6 comments

  1. They banned repeats of any Top of the Tops featuring Saville (and certainly any with Glitter performing) which makes this tape of yours something of a unique document. Whatever that means- that shot of the two of them together though, its like something from a horror movie now. Creepy.

  2. You can see why Starman was considered a disappointment at the time, especially from John Carpenter. The Thing hadn’t been a hit but he’d bounced back with Christine, two R-rated horror movies right there, and then… this schmaltz? Bridges overdoes the alien business in his performance, too, he’s not bad, because he rarely is, but he is silly. Big Trouble in Little China is silly too, I suppose, and that wasn’t a hit either, but it has twice the following Starman has. It’s an oddity.

    1. Yeah, Carpenter certainly tried to change tack when he went ‘mainstream’ and tried working in the Hollywood system. I liken it to how Ridley Scott moved onto Someone To Watch Over Me after Blade Runner and Legend both flopped- at the time it seemed a betrayal of his genre-themed background and while its a nice enough ‘little’ movie it’s still a waste of his talent. It would be some years until Scott raised his head up out of work-for-hire movies and made some more challenging (visually) films, but it ultimately worked for him. Carpenter didn’t manage it though, unfortunately. The Hollywood stuff shows he didn’t have his heart in it, and while he thankfully retreated back to some success in indie movies afterwards, he never really had the toybox he deserved. He had some great ‘dark’ Hollywood films in him but we’d never see them. Scott, meanwhile moved on to bigger and better things (his directors cut of Kingdom of Heaven is a particular favourite).

      1. The latter day Ridley Scott film I thoroughly enjoyed was The Counselor, which was little-loved but I found so nutty it was hugely enjoyable. So nice to see him prepared to take chances at that stage in his career. I even enjoyed his daft Alien prequels, maybe I didn’t take them that seriously, but I had fun with them.

        As for Carpenter, he did try to get back to his roots in the late 80s, and Prince of Darkness and They Live are legitimate cult movies, but the 90s were patchy at best (In the Mouth of Madness is entertaining). Now he’s concentrating on his love of music, successfully too, maybe it was a pity he gave up directing, but maybe he ran out of things to say. It happens.

        Tom Berenger is surprisingly great in Someone To Watch Over Me, incidentally.

  3. Funny how in the TV series Starman was played by an actual “Airplane!” cast member instead of the son of one.
    Beware of people who insist on putting their honours in their credits see William H. Cosby Jr. Ph.D…

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