What happened to John Carpenter?
For a while there, from the mid 70s to the mid 80s, he was a force to be reckoned with. He produced two out-and-out genre classics, Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982). Halloween made a ton of money, whereas The Thing, as good as it was, was a flop. He also made several other memorable and well-loved films in this fertile period, including the highly-atmospheric ghost story The Fog (1980), the diverting sci-fi action flick Escape From New York (1981), the Stephen King killer car adaptation Christine (1983), and the ahead-of-its-time martial arts/fantasy goof Big Trouble in Little China (1986).
Then it seems as if Carpenter’s mojo just slowly disappeared. Did he just get tired and burn out? Get fed up with battling the B.S. from the studio suits? Had he simply run out of ideas? Whatever actually went down, there is a clear demarcation point between when Carpenter was making interesting movies and when he began to phone it in.
Oh, there were still a few moments here and there. They Live has some good satire, Prince of Darkness has a strong central idea, Vampires has a ferociously entertaining performance by James Woods. But clearly, the magic of making movies had gone out of Carpenter.
That’s OK. He has nothing to be ashamed of (well, except for Ghosts of Mars…) The man produced, directed and even scored several movies that will stand the test of time, and with Halloween, arguably set the standard for an entire subgenre, the slasher film, for generations to come.
Executive produced by actor Michael Douglas, Starman (1984) came toward the end of Carpenter’s creative peak, and is something of an oddity stacked up against his other works. It’s a warm, gentle and low-key little film, with minimal violence and a subtle message. It actually plays more like a lost Spielberg film, from the period when he also was at his creative peak. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of Carpenter in Starman, really, but he does a bang-up job directing this riff on the "Aliens Are Among Us" theme.
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