A horror director creates a magical alien
By Janet Maslin
When Columbia turned down E.T. and instead elected to make STARMAN, the latter was pure science fiction. And it had a good deal in common with E.T., because both screenplays described visits to Earth by benign creatures from other planets. But now, having passed through the hands of such directors as Adrian Lyne (FLASHDANCE), John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) and Ridley Scott (BLADE RUNNER) before being taken over by John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN), STARMAN has changed its tone.
"I wanted to make a fairy tale rather than a sci-fi film," Carpenter said. "I think it's much closer to THE WIZARD OF OZ than to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Or you might say it's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT with a sci-fi premise.
Earlier attempts to shape STARMAN bogged down in debate over the extraterrestrial's superpowers, Carpenter said. Should he fly? (No, since the plot has him falling in love with a woman who drives him from Wisconsin to Arizona, and it would be ruined if he could make the trip under his own steam.)
"I wanted everything about him to be in the realm of magic," Carpenter said. "So he heals, he brings people back from the dead." With the help of technicians including Joe Alves, who had worked on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and Lucasfilm's Industrial Light and Magic special effects crew, the film was given a look Carpenter describes as "nontechnological."
And Carpenter himself, known for his horror films, adjusted easily to the change, saying horror had never been his only interest. "When I was in film school in the old days," he said, "I knew I was going to be a Hollywood movie director and I knew I could do anything - musicals, war films, gangster films, what have you. I thought I could express my own personal point of view through almost anything.
"But you're typed very quickly in Hollywood. Whatever you're doing, they want you to stay there and keep making money and not ever move."