• The Last Starfighter (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review



    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: October 27th, 2020.
    Director: Nick Castle
    Cast: Lance Guest, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Preston, Norman Snow, Dan O’Herlihy, Chris Herbert
    Year: 1984
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    The Last Starfighter – Movie Review:

    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 – Blu-ray Review:

    Arrow brings The Last Starfighter to Blu-ray taken from a ‘brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative’ on a 50GB disc with the feature taking up 32.8GBs of space on the 50GB disc and framed in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.40.1 widescreen. This is a pretty substantial improvement over the old Universal Blu-ray release from 2009 that used a very soft VC-1 encode and which had some DNR issues. There’s a little aliasing in the scenes that use digital effects and a scratch or two here and there, but overall this is pretty clean and offers a whole lot more noticeable detail than past editions of the film on home video have offered. Colors can look just a tad flat in some spots, but they’re completely in line with how the film has looked before, so no points deducted there! Importantly, the transfer looks like film, so we get plenty of natural looking film grain and all the detail and texture that goes along with it. Black levels are solid if a small step away from reference quality and contrast looks nice throughout. All very minor quibbles put to the side, this is a very strong transfer and, again, a pretty huge upgrade over the past Blu-ray edition.

    There are three 24-bit audio options provided here – an DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo Master Audio track, a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track and a DTS-HD 4.1 Master Audio track. Subtitles are provided in English only. Interestingly enough, the 4.1 track was “originally created for the film's 70mm release – never included on previous home video formats.” The surround tracks provide stronger bass than the 2.0 mix does, and some nice surround activity as well, sometimes more subtle than others. There isn’t a huge difference between the 5.1 mix and the 4.1 mix to my ears, they sound pretty close, but it’s great to have options included here. Balance is never an issues, effects hit with the right amount of punch, dialogue is always clean and clear and the score sounds great.

    As far as the extras go, we start with a brand new audio commentary with star Lance Guest and his son Jackson Guest. This track, recorded in 'the jam room instead of a studio,' is a pretty fun track done with a good sense of humor. They talk about their collective love of eighties sci-fi movies, Jackson's thoughts on his dad's work in the movie, how much everyone loves Catherine Mary Stewart, what it was like working alongside the other cast member, having to do hand stretches due to all the 'game playing' scenes, minutia like why Lance bops him thumb on the bench before moving in for the kiss, which scenes were done using blue screen effects and plenty more. There's some dead air here and there but it's an enjoyable track regardless.

    A second new audio commentary gets Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast behind the mic to talk about the movie. Here he speaks about the quality of the score, gives some background on Nick Castle's career, details on some of the different characters that populate the movie and the actors that play them, the film's effects budget, the use of digital effects in the movie and the hardware used to create them and differences that exist between the original story and the version we see on the screen. He also covers how the movie ties into the original sixties Batman TV series and Star Trek, how the movie predicted the phenomena of recruiting video game experts to work in the military (the American drone program being an example), the connection to Dark Star and to Halloween, the costuming in the picture, the video game ties that do and do not exist and loads more. The track is quite interesting, delivered in White's amiable yet insanely thorough style.

    As to the featurettes, Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter is a new ten-minute interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart. She talks about landing the part, the role that it played in her career, where she was at during this point in her life and how she got along with the cast and crew. Into The Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter a twelve-minute interview with composer Craig Safan that details his work on the picture. He speaks a bit about his background, about how he got the job on this picture and his thoughts on the experience he had working on the movie. Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter is a nine-minute interview with screenwriter Jonathan Betuel that covers how he landed on this project, what he did with the writing on the script and how he feels about the way that his work was translated to the screen. Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating The Special Effects spends ten-minute with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike who shares some fun stories about his work in the picture, some of the challenges that he and his crew encountered on set and his thoughts on the picture. Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions is an interview with sci-fi author Greg Bear on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter that runs just under eight-minutes. He talks about the technology that was available at the time and how it was used to create some of the set pieces visible in the final version of the film. The last of the new featurettes is the Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game, an interview with arcade game collector Estil Vance on reconstructing the Starfighter game that lasts just over-seven-minutes. He talks about his initial thoughts on the game machine in the movie and the movie itself before then discussing how Atari bought the rights to and started making the game but never delivered, leading him to create his own version of the game seen in the movie over the span of three years. It’s the nerdiest feature on the disc for sure, but in some ways the most interesting. You’ve got to admire this guy’s dedication!

    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. Also carried over from the last 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.

    The Last Starfighter – The Final Word:

    Arrow has done an excellent job with this release, making the old Universal disc basically obsolete by providing a much improved presentation and a nice selection of extra features old and new. As to The Last Starfighter itself? 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.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Last Starfighter Blu-ray screen caps!








































    Comments 7 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Oh, man, I must have seen this a hundred times back in the day, in the theatre and then on Pay TV. I watched it again maybe 5 or 6 years ago, and yeah, those computer effects are something else haha. I read somewhere that Zurg from Toy Story was inspired by Xur.

      Side note, I wanted to be a goddam Starfighter SO badly. Hey, I was 9 or 10.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Oh yeah, you and me both. I was obsessed with this movie as a kid.
    1. Ryan K's Avatar
      Ryan K -
      Watched the heck out of this on First Choice Superchannel back in the 80's. It was exciting to find the first blu at walmart for $8. It's even more exciting that there's an upgrade.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ryan K View Post
      Watched the heck out of this on First Choice Superchannel back in the 80's. It was exciting to find the first blu at walmart for $8. It's even more exciting that there's an upgrade.
      First Choice Superchannel was my gateway drug. The Hidden, Blue Velvet, Last Starfighter, and all of those Cannon flicks. What a time to be alive that was.
    1. Ryan K's Avatar
      Ryan K -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mark Tolch View Post
      First Choice Superchannel was my gateway drug. The Hidden, Blue Velvet, Last Starfighter, and all of those Cannon flicks. What a time to be alive that was.
      Same. There is no question that channel is where it all started. I'd circle all the movies I wanted to watch each month in Primetime magazine. We'd even dig the Great Canadian Shorts Contest entries they played between movies. It's a shame what happened when it became, "The Movie Network". 4 channels of the exact same garbage. MPix was the only channel that slightly resembled First Choice Superchannel.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ryan K View Post
      Same. There is no question that channel is where it all started. I'd circle all the movies I wanted to watch each month in Primetime magazine. We'd even dig the Great Canadian Shorts Contest entries they played between movies. It's a shame what happened when it became, "The Movie Network". 4 channels of the exact same garbage. MPix was the only channel that slightly resembled First Choice Superchannel.
      Used to circle all of the entries in Primetime!!!!
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      Loved this film when I was a kid and i've watched it a few times with my boys. I'm sure we will watch it a few more times. Glad to hear its a worthwhile upgrade