'Starman' is getting remade by Shawn Levy because of course it is
The first film set I ever visited was for John Carpenter’s Starman. I was 13, and the film was shooting just outside Chattanooga, TN, where I lived at the time. When I was leaving the set at the end of the day, the unit publicist (the great Peter J. Silbermann) gave me a copy of the script by Bruce A. Evans & Raynold Gideon and Dean Riesner, the first actual film script I ever read. It could have been anything I read first, but I’m glad that as I started try to break down structure and character and the crazy magic trick that is writing words on a page that then come to life on a film set, it was that script which I was studying. It’s a lovely piece of writing, and there’s a reason Jeff Bridges got nominated for an Oscar playing the lead role of an alien who borrows a human body for a joyride for a few days.
Here’s what I don’t understand about how things get selected to be remade these days. If something was a big hit the first time, I get it, because the name itself has value. If something was terrible the first time, I get it, because there’s a chance to take a good idea and make it work. But if something was executed well the first time and was, at best, a modest hit, then I start to feel confused. After all, Starman was considered an also-ran, even with that Academy Award nomination. It started life at Universal, and when that studio negotiated a trade of two scripts, Sony ended up on the losing end of the deal. The other script was E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which of course went on to become the biggest film of all time when it was released, and Starman ended up going through a lot of hands before John Carpenter ended up attached to it. What made the film work was the way John stripped the much busier script down to a very pure place. It’s almost all emotionally driven, and they don’t really make the mistake of cranking up the government conspiracy side of things. By the time it came out, it did less than $30 million in total domestic gross. It was 1984, so things were slightly different in terms of box-office expectations, but that’s not a monster hit, and it’s certainly not a film I see referenced non-stop these days.
Whatever Starman is, it’s not a big huge brand for Sony, and it’s not a potential franchise no matter how frantically you hope it’s one. Now, if director Shawn Levy happens to adore the original and he really wants to tell that story, fine. It still strikes me as a very expensive and time-consuming way of saying, “I like this movie!” Obviously, I have no idea what they’re planning to do with it. Arash Amel is writing the film, and I don’t know his work enough to know if that’s exciting or not. Erased was a forgettable thriller and Grace Of Monaco was an outright disaster. It’s interesting that Amal is also attached as a screenwriter on a WarGames remake since John Badham is one of the people who almost directed Starman before Carpenter, and when Badham left, it was to go work on WarGames.
I can’t even get angry about this sort of thing. I think it’s a terrible idea. I don’t want to see this film remade. And since this was my very first set visit, I feel nostalgic and somewhat possessive of the movie. But there are ten terrible ideas a week out of the studios these days, and this is just one of many, and not even the worst of the worst.
No word yet when they’re looking at releasing the film. Shawn Levy’s a busy dude, attached to no less than 43 “in-development” projects according to IMDbPro, although he hasn’t finished a film since 2014’s Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb. We’ll see what he picks as his next film, and I hope he carefully considers why this one has to happen.