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80s Sci-fi romance is an entertaining road trip flick from director John Carpenter and is probably one of his most underrated movies. The film has an alien race accepting the Voyager probe’s invitation and sending a representative to check us out. The poor explorer is shot down by the U.S. Air force and crashes in a remote area of Wisconsin near the cabin of recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). Using a strand of her dead husband’s hair, the alien takes human form, physically replicating Jenny’s deceased spouse (Jeff Bridges). The terrified women is then basically kidnaped into taking the alien visitor to a rendezvous point to meet his mother ship or he’ll die. As the two travel across country with the police and U.S. Government in hot pursuit, Jenny starts to fall in love with this extraterrestrial being with her husband’s face.
To be honest, the script by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon is corny and clichéd, but it is the skilled direction of John Carpenter that makes it so fun, heartfelt and entertaining. After a string of violent action, horror and Sci-fi flicks, Carpenter showed he can direct with restraint and versatility with this romance heavy road trip/chase thriller. What elevates the movie above the simplistic and sometimes silly script is the emotional depth that Carpenter gives the sequences and the strength he gives the relationship between Allen’s terrified and confused widow and the peaceful and naive visitor so well played by Bridges. He deftly guides his actors through a relationship that starts out based on fear and grows by the film’s bittersweet finale into love. Sure some of it is downright cheesy, but Carpenter gives it the right touches at the right times to make it work. He knows when to take it seriously and when to have a little fun with it, such as Bridges’ Starman trying earth food for the first time and learning his first obscene hand gesture. The romantic elements are also quite effective, but Carpenter keeps them from getting too overpowering, so not to neuter the drama and action. All the elements blend very well and it is highlighted by a very atmospheric score by Jack Nitzsche and some great cinematography by Donald M. Morgan.
Of course Carpenter also gets great performances from his cast, especially his leads. Bridge’s is wonderful as this curious being trying to learn how to be human in a short time and the subtle nuances and facial expressions are borderline brilliant even when the script is at it’s corniest. He earned a well deserved Oscar nomination for his work and deservedly so. Karen Allen deserved one, too, as she is equally strong as a woman facing the impossible. Not only is this charming widow seeing the face of her husband again, months after his death, but also in the company of a being from another world…one she grows to have feelings for. She handles the transition from terror to sympathy to love deftly and her chemistry with Bridges is perfect. The two are great together. In support, we have Charles Martin Smith, in of the weakest written roles, as a sympathetic SETI scientist and Smith does good work to make him endearing despite the clichés. Rounding out is veteran actor Richard Jaeckel as the stereotypical government security agent bad guy and he also wades through a river of clichés to make the role work. A good cast that make the best of a cornball script.
Is it silly?…yes…is it corny?…yes…but skilled direction from John Carpenter and great performances from his lead actors overcomes all that for a touching and entertaining romance/chase thriller about a marooned alien being learning first hand about what it means to be human and falling in love. Carpenter shows he is more than just a horror director and gives a weak script some strong dramatic moments and gives emotional depth to some two-dimensionally written characters. Bridges gives one of many Academy Award nominated performances and Karen Allen might also have given one of the strongest performances of her long career. It may be a little dated now, but there is the heavy 80s nostalgia and the SPFX still hold up after over three decades. An underrated film from a director whose versatility is still overlooked.
3 and 1/2 resurrected deer.