Starman: Columbia Classics – Volume 4 (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Mar 25, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Starman: Columbia Classics – Volume 4 (4K UHD Review)


John Carpenter

Release Date(s)

1984 (February 13, 2024)


Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A+

Starman (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


[Editor’s Note: Though we’re reviewing the films in the set one by one, Starman is currently only available on physical 4K disc in Sony’s Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4 box set. It’s available on Amazon by clicking here, or on any of the artwork pictured in this review.]

Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4 (4K UHD)

While John Carpenter is a noteworthy director for many different reasons, there are three primary things with which he’s been heavily associated all throughout his career: the horror genre, the world of independent filmmaking, and his fine work composing his own scores. Starman is none of those things. Of course, it wasn’t his first time working for a major studio, and it wasn’t even his first time stepping into a project that had already been initiated by others. That honor would go to Universal’s The Thing in 1982, although Carpenter still became involved early enough during the development process to shape the film as he saw fit (or as far as the studio would allow him to shape it, anyway). His next film Christine was already in development at Columbia, although once again he was able to guide that development process more directly (even if he’s always had ambivalent feelings about the final results).

Starman was different, in more ways than one. It had been in development for years at Columbia under the tutelage of executive producer Michael Douglas, with the script passing through many different hands during that time, and a variety of different directors as well. By the time that Carpenter accepted the assignment, the broad contours of the story were already in place, although he was still able to influence some of the smaller details in the final script. The original script for Starman was by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, but according to Carpenter, the actual shooting script was primarily written by Dean Riesner. (The Writer’s Guild disagreed, which is why Riesner received no screen credit for his work on the film.) Still, the most significant thing about Starman in terms of Carpenter’s career is that it’s decidedly not a horror movie, and while it does have plenty of science fiction elements in it, it’s not really a science fiction film, either. Instead, it’s a blend of two different genres: romantic comedies and road movies. The two main characters hit the road in an orange 1977 Ford Mustang Cobra II, and fall in love before they reach their destination. All other considerations in Starman are secondary.

Starman opens with the Voyager 2 encountering an alien planet, where the residents respond to the message on the gold phonographic disc that it carries by sending a craft of their own back to earth. The United States government responds back in predictable fashion, opting to shoot it down, and it ends up crashing in northern Wisconsin. The occupant finds a nearby cabin where the recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) has been mourning her lost love Scott (Jeff Bridges). The alien finds a lock of Scott’s hair and uses it to fashion a human body in Scott’s image, as a way of appearing less threatening to Jenny. She’s understandably terrified anyway, but the two of them end up traveling south in Jenny’s Mustang, with government agent George Fox (Richard Jaekel) and SETI representative Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith) hot on their heels. While their final destination is of life and death importance to the alien, as is often the case, the journey itself ends up becoming even more important for both of them. Starman’s supporting cast contains familiar faces like Lu Leonard, Dirk Blocker, Mickey Jones, George “Buck” Flower, and stuntperson Ted White (fresh off his memorable turn as Jason in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter).

Intentionally or not, there’s some weirdly multilayered Christological typology going on in Starman (spoilers follow, so caveat emptor). The film opens with Starman’s spirit moving across the waters to create a new Adam out of the dust of a hair sample from the old one (hey, at least it wasn’t a rib). When he uses this body to impregnate Jenny Hayden later in the film, it’s not exactly going to result in a virgin birth, but the fact that she was previously barren places it into a similarly miraculous category. Their offspring will still be both Son of Man via a human mother, and son of a celestial god through supernatural means. Starman also prophecies to her that their son will be a teacher, and that he’ll be one with his father, since he’ll possess all the knowledge that his father did. While Starman himself could be seen as a type of Christ in some respects, it’s really his unseen son who will end up fulfilling that role—after all, Starman makes it clear that he’s not going to return via a second coming, although the developers of the later television series clearly had different ideas. Starman may not really be a science fiction film, but all of these layers of allusions do give it an interestingly mystical flavor that goes beyond the superficial narrative elements.

Where Starman does falter a bit lies in the way that it pushes an otherwise understandable mistrust of government a little too far. That was a common trope in Eighties genre fare, where the government always seemed too eager to kill and dissect anything alien despite the fact that it could learn much more from a living specimen instead (see also Splash and Iceman in that regard). Still, as missteps go, that’s a minor one, and the reality is that neither malevolent government figures nor any amount of Christological symbolism can take away from the true heart and soul of Starman: namely, the growing relationship between Jenny Hayden and this reincarnated version of Scott.

There are really two love stories at play in Starman, with Jenny still struggling to let go of her lost love Scott while also learning to love the alien who has taken on his form. As a result, Starman is about different kinds of love, and it’s also about different ways of letting go. Jenny has lost her way in life because of her inability to let go of her love for a dead man, but in learning to love the living again, she’s also going to have to learn to let go one more time. If her new love stays with her on earth, he’ll die, and the only way to keep him alive is to help him to leave, and to leave her behind in the process. Thus, she’s forced to make the biggest sacrifice of all in Starman. Of course, this new version of Scott has left her a gift in the form of her unborn son, so she’ll have new love and new sacrifices to deal with going forward (and as with any parent, she’ll also have to face yet another form of letting go as the child matures).

That’s all in the future, though, so Carpenter made the shrewd decision to close Starman with an extended closeup of Karen Allen, completely wordless, but with Jenny’s growing strength and determination clearly readable in Allen’s extraordinarily expressive face. It’s one of the most effective final closeups in any film regardless of genre, and it ends Starman on exactly the right note—and it’s aided greatly by Jack Nitzsche’s soaring title theme. Starman isn’t a horror movie, John Carpenter made it at a major studio, and he didn’t get to write his own music for it, but all of the pieces still fell into place for him anyway.

Cinematographer Donald M. Morgan shot Starman on 35mm film using Panavision Panaflex Gold cameras with Panavision C-Series and E-Series lenses. The majority of theatrical release prints were anamorphic 2.39:1, but there were also a few 70mm blowup prints framed at 2.20:1 instead. As Rita Belda explains in her restoration notes, the previous Blu-ray versions were based on a scan of an interpositive. This new master is based on a 4K scan of the original camera negative that was completed by Cineric, Inc. in New York, which also handled the initial restoration work. Color correction and grading were performed at Roundabout Entertainment in Santa Monica, including the new High Dynamic Range grades in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. To say that the results are up to Sony’s usual high standards would be an understatement. This may well be the best-looking 4K version of a John Carpenter film to date, rivaling Sony’s own 4K release of Christine. That’s not a coincidence, since Morgan shot that film as well. While John Carpenter generally worked with Dean Cundey during this period, Starman was the second time in a row that used had Donald M. Morgan instead. (It was actually their third collaboration counting the made-for-television Elvis.) As distinctive as Cundey’s cinematography could be, Morgan’s was no less distinctive, and his style lends itself well to 4K with HDR.

Typical for the anamorphic lenses that Morgan used (especially the older C-Series lenses), the focus is generally shallow, and there’s some softness at the edges of the frame. Yet the primary plane of focus is still razor-sharp, especially during the extreme closeups of Karen Allen’s face as she sleeps while the preincarnate Starman is exploring her house. The extreme closeups of Jeff Bridge’s face while he phones home are no less sharp, and all other textures are equally well-resolved throughout the film. Any shots that involve optical effects were scanned from dupe elements instead of the camera negative, but as Belda notes, the optical work in Starman was of unusually high quality. While they’re still noticeably different, they do integrate better with the surrounding material better than in most other productions from that era.

Still, the biggest benefits with this new master come from the HDR grade. Morgan’s cinematography was naturally high-contrast, and that contrast has been accentuated here without ever exaggerating it too much. The blacks are deep and true, but there’s still just the right amount of detail visible within the shadows—although colorist David Bernstein wasn’t afraid to let things fall off into pure black where appropriate. The highlights also burn just the right amount brighter than they did before, with the fireballs from the crashing spaceship and the exploding tanker displaying brilliant oranges against those deep blacks. If you’ve seen Sony’s UHD for Christine, the contrast during these scenes is reminiscent of Christine’s explosive attack on Buddy Repperton’s gang at the service station. Just like that disc, this new 4K version of Starman is an unambiguously reference-quality presentation of the film.

Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Starman was released theatrically in matrix-encoded Dolby Stereo on 35mm prints, while the 70mm prints were offered discrete six-track mag mixes (“baby boom” format, so there weren’t any split surrounds). The 2.0 track here is the theatrical Dolby stereo mix with encoded surrounds. The 5.1 track may have been based on the 70mm mix instead, although there’s no information available about that. Belda’s restoration notes don’t offer any detail about the audio, so there’s also no information about the new Atmos mix. It’s nice to have the original theatrical mix included here, but it would be mistake to dismiss the Atmos track without auditioning it first. Frankly, neither the 2.0 nor the 5.1 can hold a candle to it. It builds on the work that was done previously without ever losing the original sonic character. The sound effects have been redirected throughout the soundstage more precisely than they are in either of the previous mixes, with all channels engaged—the helicopters now fly through the overheads when appropriate. The bass has been sweetened, too; there’s some genuine punch when the spacecraft crashes at the beginning of the film. Jack Nitzsche’s score really sings in this rendition, with a greater sense of presence and robustness. Carpenter is understandably legendary for doing most of his own scores, but Nitzsche had a firm grasp on what Carpenter’s own intent for the music would have been.

Additional audio options include German and Italian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; French and Spanish (Spain) 5.1 Dolby Digital; and Spanish (Latin America) 2.0 mono Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, Arabic, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.

Sony’s 4K release of Starman is the fourth film in their Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4. The set also includes His Girl Friday, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Kramer vs. Kramer, Sleepless in Seattle, and Punch-Drunk Love. The packaging is similar to the other three volumes, with two wings that open up, each of which houses three films in individual Amaray cases with slipcovers. (The inserts use the original theatrical poster artwork, while the slipcovers offer new artwork.) At the back of the box is a separate compartment that houses a hardbound book featuring essays on each film by different authors (Mike Ryan, in this case) as well as individual restoration notes by Grover Crisp, Rita Belda, and the late James Owsley, who passed away in 2022.

All of the films in the collection include a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, most of them based on the same 4K masters as the UHDs (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Kramer vs. Kramer are the exceptions.) Starman is actually a four-disc set that includes the feature film on both UHD and Blu-ray, with the complete television series spread out over two more UHDs. There’s also a paper insert tucked inside with Digital codes for each film. There are no extras on the UHD with the feature film, but the following extras are included on the other three discs:


  • Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Jeff Bridges
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • Sleeping Pills (HD – 1:45)
    • Self-Discovery (HD – 1:30)
    • “We Must Go” (HD – :43)
    • SAC Alert (HD – :37)
    • Positive Identification (HD – 2:35)
    • House of God (HD – 1:31)
    • The Cloning Question (HD – :43)
    • “You Could Take the Car” (HD – :33)
    • A Theory (HD – 1:09)
    • Happy Pills (HD – :26)
    • Mating Ritual (HD – :57)
    • Learning to Dance (HD – 2:14)
    • Vending Machine (HD – :32)
    • CB Warning (HD – :31)
    • ID Verification (HD – :19)
    • “We Want Him Alive” (HD – :30)
    • Fugitives (HD – :33)
    • Colorful Language (HD – :14)
    • “Keep Her at 60” (HD – :26)
    • “Little Bit Tired” (HD – :43)
    • “Take ‘Em Out” (HD – :32)
  • Behind-the-Scenes Time Lapses:
    • The Light at the Window (HD – 4:58)
    • Pep Rally Prep (HD – 4:46)
  • They Came from Hollywood! Remembering Starman (HD – 23:23)
  • Making-of Featurette (SD – 11:24)
  • All I Have to Do Is Dream Music Video (Upscaled SD – 3:59)
  • Still Gallery (HD – 5:44)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:09)

The commentary pairing John Carpenter with Jeff Bridges was originally recorded for the DVD release of Starman, sometime circa 2000. For some reason, it was only included on Region 2 DVDs, and never made its way to disc in North America until Shout! Factory’s 2018 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. Carpenter’s commentaries tend to be a bit dry when he’s working solo, but he does spring to life a bit more when paired with someone else. This commentary can’t hold a candle to classics like the one that he did with Kurt Russell for Escape from New York, but it does have its moments. Carpenter goes out of his way to praise his other collaborators like Donald Morgan, Jack Nitzsche, editor Marion Rothman, and especially uncredited screenwriter Dean Riesner. Dick Smith, Rick Baker, and Stan Winston all worked on the transformation scene, and if you’re wondering which legendary makeup artist contributed each of the effects during the transformation process, Carpenter breaks it all down for you. He also talks shop about the challenges of shooting the film out of sequence, and how he was amazed that Bridges could keep track of his own performance, but it’s mostly a relaxed, conversational track. Carpenter offers an explanation for why he finally gave up flying helicopters, and Bridges makes the surprisingly prescient observation that he wonders how long it will be before actor’s images are put into a computer. A few years later, he would have his own visit to the Uncanny Valley in Tron: Legacy.

While most of the rest of the extras are also archival, there are two new ones included in this release. The first is a welcome (and surprisingly extensive) collection of Deleted Scenes. Most of them are relatively brief trims, but they total over 18 minutes of material. (There’s a helpful “Play All” option.) They mostly provide more flavor, like expanding on Starman’s learning experiences, but there are a few moments that do fill in some gaps. For example, Sleeping Pill explains why Jenny was able to sleep through Starman’s initial visit to her house, and Vending Machine sets up why the guy at the motel warns them about the cops breaking into their car. Note that Learning to Dance is missing its audio, but the rest are as complete as possible. The second new extra is the Behind-the-Scenes Time Lapses, which are interesting, if a little odd. They consist of silent time-lapse footage of the crew working on two different scenes, set to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor and blues like Aaron Kaplan’s The Truck Stops Here. Why they were shot is a mystery (as is the choices of music to accompany them), but if you’ve been dying to watch sped-up footage of John Carpenter smoking, then these are the montages for you.

They Came from Hollywood! Remembering Starman is a retrospective documentary that was produced for the 2018 Shout! Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, featuring interviews with John Carpenter, Jeff Bridges, Charles Martin Smith, and script supervisor Sandy King Carpenter. Carpenter says that he jumped at the opportunity to direct Starman even though it was already in development because it was the chance to do something different—a chance that no one else was giving him at the time. They discuss how Bridges built his performance, with the actor giving full credit to Karen Allen for helping to create the reality that gave him something to play against. The contributions of Donald M. Morgan and Jack Nitzsche are also given their proper due; Carpenter affirms that Morgan does “great with dark.” Everyone agrees that the ultimate message of Starman is that humans are indeed at their best when things are at the worst.

Most of the rest of the extras date back to the Region 2 DVD releases of Starman. The Making-of Featurette was actually produced back in 1984 to promote the film, featuring on-set interviews with John Carpenter, Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, and special effects coordinator Roy Arbogast. There are a few interesting moments showing Bridges using his legendary Widelux camera, which would become an increasingly significant factor in his work after this. The All I Have to Do Is Dream Music Video is another promotional item from 1984, with Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen doing an in-studio version of their performance of All I Have to Do Is Dream from Starman, accompanied by clips from the film. There’s also a Still Gallery that appears to be the same one that was on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray, but the Jeff Bridges Widelux pictures have been omitted from it (this version runs a couple of minutes shorter).


  1. The Return (HD – 47:46)
  2. Like Father, Like Son (HD – 48:01)
  3. Fatal Flaw (HD – 47:59)
  4. Blue Lights (HD – 47:25)
  5. Best Buddies (HD – 48:02)
  6. Secrets (HD – 48:02)
  7. One for the Road (HD – 48:00)
  8. Peregrine (HD – 48:02)
  9. Society’s Pet (HD – 48:01)
  10. Fever (HD – 48:02)
  11. The Gift (HD – 47:58)


  1. The System (HD – 48:02)
  2. Appearances (HD – 48:02)
  3. The Probe (HD – 48:02)
  4. Dusty (HD – 48:03)
  5. Barriers (HD – 48:04)
  6. Grifters (HD – 47:03)
  7. The Wedding (HD – 48:00)
  8. Fathers & Sons (HD – 48:01)
  9. Starscape, Part 1 (HD – 48:10)
  10. Starscape, Part 2 (HD – 48:05)
  11. The Test (HD – 47:57)

You want value-added content, you got it here. Undoubtedly the single most unexpected extra in the whole Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4 set is the inclusion of the entire seventeen-and-a-half hour run of the Starman television series, which was previously available only on DVD. All 22 episodes are spread out over two BD-100s, with the show itself presented in standard HD with English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, plus optional English SDH, French, and German subtitles. Starman ran for a single season from 1986-1987, with Robert Hayes playing the newly reincarnated Starman, Christopher Daniel Barnes playing his teenaged son Scott, and Michael Cavanaugh representing the threat of the U.S. government that’s always on their heels. (Erin Gray takes over for Karen Allen as Jenny Hayden in the two-part episode Starscape.) Like most television dramas from the era, Starman was shot on 35mm film, and while opticals like the title sequences don’t look much better than upscaled SD, the rest of the material looks quite good. It’s crisp and detailed, with only minor damage visible.

Starman (4K UHD) Starman (4K UHD)

Save for the missing two minutes from the Still Gallery, that’s pretty much every previously available extra for Starman, along with roughly eighteen hours of new ones. The presence of the Starman television series naturally makes this the most stacked set of extras in the entirety of Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4. While some people are inevitably going to criticize some of the tiles that were selected for each of these volumes, I’ve enjoyed my entire run through Volume 4 so far. There’s more than enough fantastic material here to make the set worth the hefty purchase price—for me, anyway. As always, your own mileage may vary.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)



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