Dir: John Carpenter
Star: Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Jaeckel

A radical contrast to Carpenter's other alien-on-Earth worrks, The Thing and They Live, this depicts an extra-terrestrial (Bridges) here for kinder, gentler motives, shot down by the US military. He takes the form of Scott Hayden, the deceased husband of Jenny (Allen), who is understandably startled by her dead spouse's return. But she agrees to help him get across country to Meteor Crater in Arizona, where he'll be picked up; meanwhile, both science (Smith) and the military (Jaeckel) are hot on the starman's trail. If that sounds more than a touch similar to E.T., yeah, it is. At one point both films - E.T. at that stage called Night Skies - were in development at Columbia, before the studio decided to stop their option on the Spielberg project. The rest, as they say, is history, E.T. going on to become the biggest-grossing film of all time to that point, while this languished in development, going through a series of directors, including Adrian Lyne, John Badham and Tony Scott, before Carpenter came on board. The net result of said languishing, is a script that perhaps feels less polished than ground down.

Still, if it doesn't pack anything like the emotional wallop of E.T. [let's face it, when it comes to tugging on the audience's heart-strings, Spielberg is Paganini], that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it takes a more mature look at the same scenario, with an adult perspective on love, loss and letting go. Bridges' performance is a decently subtle one, drifting slowly from being entirely alien, just possessing human form, eventually becoming someone who has a foot in both worlds. That said, I don't get why Jenny is so utterly uninterested in the alien: if I was driving across country with one, I'd be pressing him for details on every aspect of his culture, and making copious notes on inter-stellar travel or whatever. However, it is more of a love story than "hard" science-fiction, which likely also marks a unique position in Carpenter's filmography. He's not bad at handling these aspects, but the fact he immediately scurried back to genre, with Big Trouble in Little China, probably tells you he wasn't comfortable here. Not awful, yet I wanted substantially more than E.T. for grown-ups.

[June 2015]

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