Released by: Universal Studios Released on: 8/18/2009 Director: Nick Castle Cast: Lance Guest, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Preston, Norman Snow, Dan O’Herlihy, Chris Herbert Year: 1984 Purchase From Amazon
A film that’s often forgotten about in the shadow of massive eighties blockbusters like the Indiana Jones films and the Star Wars sequels, Nick Castle’s 1984 family-friendly sci-fi picture has never the less remained a popular film in the memories of those who saw it hit screens that summer… some of us even saw it in the theaters more than once (and thus, my bias towards this film is now obvious so forgive further gushing).
The movie follows a teenager named Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) who lives out in a remote trailer park with his mother and his Playboy-lovin’ little brother, Louis (Chris Herbert). There isn’t much to do around the trailer park, it’s a pretty low key place, but Alex is hoping to make something of himself and is eager to whisk his girlfriend, Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) off to college with him. One night, while at the local convenience store, Alex manages to beat the Starfighter video game he’s been pumping quarters into for some time now, and this unwittingly changes his life forever. Beating the game has brought him to the attention of a talent recruiter named Centauri (Robert Preston) who shows up in a car that looks like a rejected DeLorean from Back To The Future and flies him off into outer space where he tells him he’s been selected to serve as a Starfighter for the planet Rylos in their efforts to quash the villainous Xur (Norman Snow).
Alex, however, wants no part of this war and he insists that Centauri return him home. When he gets rejected for the college of his choice he changes his mind and returns to Rylos to do his part with the help of a friendly alien named Grig (Dan O’Herlihy). While all if this is going on in space, a cybernetic clone hangs out in the trailer park back on Earth doing his best to make sure that no one knows Alex is missing…
Unashamed to dive deep into the pool of sappiness, The Last Starfighter might not be as tough or edgy as the competition was but it sure was a fun film full of likeable characters. You really can’t help but feel for Alex and want him to save the day and win the girl and his compatriots hanging out on Rylos all seem like a nice bunch of space warrior types. You want Alex and Maggie to get together, and you want his mom and his screwy little brother to be happy. Xur is as despicable as he needs to be and the periodic interludes in the story where he sends assassins to Earth to take Alex out of the picture add some interesting tension to the storyline. Throw in some charming and funny supporting characters like Centauri and Grig, played perfectly by Preston and O’Herlihy, and you’ve got a well rounded group of good guys to root for and who you can actually care about by the time the inevitable battle scene rolls around.
While the film isn’t as action packed as it could have been (it doesn’t really get to the big space war stuff until about an hour in) it does feature some pretty interesting effects. A great example of how early digital effects work hasn’t aged well, it seems very clunky and awkward in this department but nostalgia buffs will appreciate the movie’s old school charms here. At the time, these effects were pretty mind blowing and it’s easy to lose sight of that in this day and age of far more realistic CGI work, but the picture has some historical importance in this area and for good reason.
Ultimately, yeah, the picture has some flaws, some pretty obvious ones at that, but it’s got heart and character to spare and it’s still a whole lot of good, clean fun.
The Last Starfighter’s 1080p VC-1 encoded 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is inconsistent. For every shot that looks nice and sharp, there’s one that looks equally soft and some very obvious digital clean up and scrubbed the grain out of a lot of the film and has given many of the actors a very waxy and soft looking complexion. Color reproduction looks pretty good, with a lot of nice greens, reds and blues present in the film showing some nice range while black levels tend to be a bit all over the place. Detail varies quite a bit from scene to scene and contrast fluctuates quite a bit as well.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track isn’t going to floor you, in fact on some levels it’s a bit of a disappointment in that there just isn’t all that much surround activity present. This is a very front heavy mix, the film’s 2.0 stereo origins made quite obvious, and while it all sounds clear and well balanced, it’s all very average. There aren’t any glaring problems with the audio, it sounds fine, but you can’t help but wish that maybe there’d been a bit more rear channel action in certain scenes. The score sounds fine and the dialogue is clear enough, it just doesn’t have much punch to it. Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH, French and Spanish.
Carried over from the previous DVD release is the commentary track with director Nick Castle who is joined by his production designer, Ron Cobb. This is a pretty lively and intelligent discussion about the history and making of the picture, covering the early ideas and intentions behind making the picture and taking it right up to the post production process by discussing the film’s digital effects and its lasting and enduring appeal. There’s a good sense of humor here and a nice, infectious sense of enthusiasm for the material that makes this very much worth listening to.
Also carried over is the thirty two minute featurette Crossing The Frontier: The Making Of The Last Starfighter which is a nice collection of cast and crew interviews mixed up with some very cool behind the scenes footage. Exclusive to this new Blu-ray release is a very similar documentary entitled Heroes Of The Screen. At twenty-five minutes in length it isn’t quite as detailed but there isn’t much here that isn’t covered in the commentary track or the older featurette.
Rounding out the extra features is a decent sized still gallery, a teaser trailer, a theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selections. All of the supplements are presented in standard definition except for the Heroes of the Screen featurette.
The Final Word:
Despite the inconsistencies with the transfer, this release is still worth a look simply because the movie is so much fun. Maybe it’s the nostalgia creeping in but The Last Starfighter should have been a bigger hit than it was back in 1984. It holds up well simply because it’s an hour and forty minutes of pure, unadulterated escapism.