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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Starman



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#1 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 10 2009 - 12:09 PM

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Starman

 

Studio: Sony/Columbia

Year: 1984

Rated: PG

Program Length: 115 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p

Languages: English, French Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French


The Program


In 1977 NASA launched two Voyager spacecraft which were designed to explore our Solar System and beyond. Each of the Voyager spacecraft carried a Golden Record which included greetings in 55 different languages, a multitude of “Sounds of Earth,” 90 minutes of music, and a one-hour recording of human brain waves. The Voyager missions are expected to last for tens of thousands of years, and the records were put aboard in the event that someday there might be encounters with extra-terrestrials. The records are in effect time capsules of life on Earth as it was in 1977.

The premise of John Carpenter’s Starman is that one of the Voyager spacecraft did in fact have an encounter with aliens, and those aliens responded by making exploratory visits to Earth. When an alien spacecraft approaches Earth, headed for a landing in Winslow, Arizona, the U.S. Military cannot identify it and the decision is made to try to shoot it down. The spacecraft is hit by a missile and has a crash landing near a lake outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Aboard the spacecraft is a lone alien explorer, Starman (Jeff Bridges).

The crash takes place near the home of Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), a recently widowed woman who lives alone and drinks vodka while watching home movies of her husband, who was killed in an accident. Starman, who in alien form appears to be a glowing light, enters the house while Jenny sleeps. After looking through Jenny’s photo album, which contains strands of her dead husband’s hair, Starman clones himself to take on the appearance of the husband. Jenny, who awakens while this is taking place, can scarcely believe her eyes when she sees the transformation. But for his halting speech, Starman could easily pass for Jenny’s husband.

In the meantime, the U.S. government has called upon Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith), an expert who investigates UFO sightings, to go to the crash area and try to identify the object which was shot down. Shermin expects to find a meteor, but instead he discovers that the object is hollow and was suitable for carrying something or someone. Then he goes inside the spacecraft and finds that it contains one of the Voyager Golden Records. Meanwhile, Starman realizes that a search for him is underway by the people who shot him down, and in any event he must get to his destination in Arizona. He presses the bewildered Jenny into service and forces her to take him to Winslow in her 1977 Mustang.

Shermin believes that the alien most likely came in peace, but his superior, George Fox (Richard Jaeckel), will have none of it. Fox decides that the alien must be captured or killed, and the chase is on. Starman, we learn, has only a few days to get to Arizona, where he is scheduled to rendezvous with the spacecraft which will take him home. His ability to live on Earth (not to mention his ability to perform amazing feats) is apparently derived from several small balls which he carries with him, but they will not sustain him if he has to remain on Earth after the scheduled rendezvous.

What follows is less a science-fiction film than a road film which happens to include an alien. Jenny’s inclination is to flee from Starman at her first opportunity, but she gradually begins to sympathize with him. Although Starman is awkward in both his movements and his speech, he is a quick learner and never forgets anything. With the U.S. government hot on their trail, Starman and Jenny encounter various adventures and misadventures as they make their way from Wisconsin to Arizona.

The idea of calling a John Carpenter film “sweet” may sound like sacrilege, but that is exactly what Starman is. The plot follows a somewhat predicable path and has more than a few lapses in logic, and it is hampered by Jaeckel’s character, a stereotypical bureaucrat who is willing to destroy the alien on the dubious assumption that he must be up to no good. However, the film is redeemed by the wonderful chemistry between Bridges and Allen, both of whom give excellent performances. Starman and Jenny each have something to give to the other, and the two actors carry it off well enough that we really care about what happens to them. Besides, how can you dislike an alien who has taken the time to learn about the human reproductive process?

Starman certainly is a departure for Carpenter, as it contains very little violence and none of the darkness found in films such as The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape From L.A. It is not a particularly memorable film, but it is certainly an enjoyable one.

The Video


The 2.40:1 1080p transfer is excellent. Except for the fact that the special effects have a dated look (a look which is more obvious in high-definition than otherwise), this could be mistaken for a film of more recent vintage. Much of the action takes place outdoors, and the scenery is beautifully rendered, with vivid colors and excellent detail. Shadow detail likewise is quite good, which is important because there are a number of significant scenes which play out at night. The image is consistently sharp and satisfying. Film grain is a bit variable but it appears to accurately replicate the way the film appeared in theaters. All in all, this is another first-class Blu-ray presentation from Sony.

The Audio 

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is more than adequate, given the age of the film. The few very loud scenes do not have the same impact which we would expect from today’s movies, but it is more than adequate even though the subwoofers are not really challenged. The surround channels are kept busy with ambient noises, dialogue is clear and understandable, and Jack Nitzsche’s evocative score sounds terrific. 

The Supplements

Alas, Sony has decided to release the Blu-ray version of Starman with no extras at all. Even though a commentary by John Carpenter already exists, it inexplicably is not included here. It appears that there will be some BD-Live features, but they will not be activated until the release date.

The Packaging 

The single disc comes in a stand Blu-ray keepcase.  

The Final Analysis 

If you can get past the fact that this is a bare-bones Blu-ray release without a single extra, you will be pleased by the superb transfer. It is hard to imagine that Starman could look any better. Some people have found the performance by Jeff Bridges to be disconcerting, with perhaps a bit of Mork to it, but I feel that he really lost himself in the role. Karen Allen always gives a first-rate performance, so this is worth viewing if only to see two excellent actors at work.   

Equipment used for this review: 

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player

Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 THS Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen

Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver

BIC Acoustech speakers

Interconnects: Monster Cable


Release Date: August 11, 2009

 




Edited by Richard Gallagher - 8/11/2009 at 03:35 pm GMT

Rich Gallagher

#2 of 11 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted August 10 2009 - 02:16 PM

Thanks for the review, Richard. I'm a huge Carpenter fan so I'm glad to hear it's a winner in the video department and I look forward to picking it up soon.

#3 of 11 OFFLINE   Doug Otte

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Posted August 11 2009 - 01:03 AM

Thanks for the nice review, Rich.  I'm eagerly awaiting this one.  I've watched it many times over the years on cable, but have never seen it in its OAR.

I'm using IE6 here at work, and your review is in a box within your post.  In order to read everything, I have to scroll the box right and left.  Is anyone else seeing this?  Other reviews here at HTF don't need to be scrolled.

BTW, I have to use IE6 because an app we use here isn't compatible w/ IE7 or other browsers.

Doug

#4 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 11 2009 - 03:10 AM

I'm not seeing the same effect as you (I'm using both Firefox and IE 7), but the column is very narrow for some reason. We're still trying to figure out the best way of formatting reviews in this new environment.
Rich Gallagher

#5 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 11 2009 - 03:36 AM

I played with the formatting a bit and now it looks better. Let me know if you're seeing anything odd with it now.

Rich Gallagher

#6 of 11 OFFLINE   Walter Kittel

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Posted August 11 2009 - 03:43 AM

Using Google Chrome here, Richard.  The revision (as of post #5) looks much better; previously I was seeing everything sort of squished up in the right hand side of the main column.  Nice review, BTW - sounds like another nice disc from Sony/Columbia.

- Walter.

Fidelity to the source should always be the goal for Blu-ray releases.

#7 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 11 2009 - 07:05 AM

Thanks, Walter. I'm pretty sure that I figured what was causing the column to be squished.

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#8 of 11 OFFLINE   Doug Otte

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Posted August 11 2009 - 07:07 AM

It looks better, but not completely.  Don't worry about it.  I'm sure I'm in the minority w/ having to use this old browser at work.  I can deal with it.
Thanks,
Doug

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gallagher View Post

Thanks, Walter. I'm pretty sure that I figured what was causing the column to be squished.
 



#9 of 11 OFFLINE   John Sparks

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Posted August 11 2009 - 09:08 AM

Well, if we can just get the other companies to release just the movie only, then I bet there'll be a lot of happy campers out there.


...retired at last...and Ray Harryhausen at my side!!!

 

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#10 of 11 OFFLINE   Doug Otte

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Posted August 11 2009 - 10:34 AM

I'm looking at the review via Firefox from home, and it looks fine.
Thanks,
Doug


#11 of 11 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 11 2009 - 03:01 PM

Doug,

Thanks for tipping me off about it. Your note got me to figuring out how to fix the columns!

Rich Gallagher