Someday, Judge Eric Profancik will be whisked away to help defend the galaxy. Someday.
Our reviews of The Last Starfighter (published August 10th, 1999), The Last Starfighter: 25th Anniversary Edition (published August 31st, 2009), and The Last Starfighter (HD DVD) (published October 4th, 2007) are also available.
"It'll be a slaughter!"
Uh oh, I'm revisiting a movie from my youth of which I have fond memories. Will The Last Starfighter be another link in the ever-growing chain of memories that are diminished when revisited so many years later?
Facts of the Case
Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), his little brother Louis, and his mom live in the Starlite Starbrite trailer park. It's a quaint, cozy community where Alex has a great girlfriend, Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart, Night of the Comet), and everyone likes him. He's a good teen that everyone can count on, but Alex feels trapped. He wants more from life, an opportunity to get away from the simple, limited path that is unfolding in front of him. On the night that he learns that his plans to go away to college may not happen, he sets the high score on the Starfighter videogame in the park. Doing so begins a series of events where Alex soon learns that the videogame was a test; and by his breaking the record, he has been recruited by the Star League to defend The Frontier from Xur and the Ko-Dan armada. Is Alex ready for an opportunity beyond his wildest imagination?
When one discusses The Last Starfighter there's always one topic that has to be discussed: computer generated imagery, or CGI. Back in 1984, CGI was very much in its infancy, and it was sparsely used to create effects for movies. Mostly, CGI was used to create computer images/displays in a movie. In other words, CGI created images on computer screens. It wasn't used to create aliens, backgrounds, or anything else. While today's movies are nothing but CGI, twenty years ago CGI was just a shining possibility. But this movie was the impetus of change. It was the first movie to use CGI in bolder strokes, to use it beyond computer displays. The Last Starfighter was the first movie to use CGI to create entire scenes filled with alien planets and funky spaceships. And back in 1984, it was the bomb.
I most certainly remember watching this movie ad naseum on cable. It was one of my faves, and I always wanted to be Alex Rogan, being whisked away on some exciting adventure in space. (Actually, I dreamed about that a lot. Why didn't I become an astronaut or at least study astronomy more?) There was a simple joy in watching the movie; the escapism working perfectly for me. And then to add all that fancy, high-tech, cutting-edge CGI graphics was just a glorious frosting on the cake. I was so wowed by all that stuff. Today, watching the movie presents such an odd duality of sentiment. On the one hand, what you're looking at is just so barbaric—almost laughably bad CGI. On the other hand, you're astounded to realize just how far we've come. Seeing the effects on the screen, knowing they ran a CRAY to its limits, only to realize that a netbook today could do better…ain't technology grand.
Twenty-five years later, The Last Starfighter is still a charming, sweet trifle of a movie whose simple story still resonates with dreams of bigger and better things to come. Outside of the CGI, everything still holds up well: the acting, the story, the directing, and the overall movie. I'm glad to say that this is one fond memory that isn't fully tarnished. It's just added a layer of joviality to the viewing.
This Blu-ray release should be viewed with lowered expectations, as it's not a sparkling release. The primary problem is with the 2.35:1, 1080p video transfer. In a word, it's subpar. I'm deducing that owing to the age and the presumed limited resolution of those CGI graphics that an honest-to-goodness high def upgrade was just not feasible. So the video—sporting the correct aspect ratio—is marred with all manner of imperfections and flaws. Overall, colors are muted, blacks are a bit soft, and detail is a bit wanting. I did find that in some scenes where there's a simple background and just one actor that the picture was much better—with richer colors and more detail. But most of the movie is just littered with dirt speckles and other sloppy video problems, the most notable of which is an odd flickering on Alex's helmet when he's in the gunstar. From my little bit of research, it appears that these problems were evident in the previous DVD release, so I posit that this Blu transfer is the same as the last one with no extra cleaning or processing applied. Tsk tsk. On the audio front, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is nothing to get excited about either. While dialogue is always clear and free of any defect, the track has little else to offer. Aside from a few instances of ambience and an occasional laser shot during the battle, the surrounds get very little use. And the bass has nothing of consequence to do.
There was more bonus material than I expected, albeit most of it comes from that previous DVD release. First up is an audio commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb. Though a few years old, the commentary is a nice listen as the two reveal a lot about the making of the movie. Next up are two making of featurettes that say more or less the same thing but were filmed 25 years apart. "Heroes of the Screen" (24:19) is the new feature, and it's a sold behind-the-scenes look at the movie. I enjoyed this one as many of the original stars are back, offering their reflections on the movie all these years later. And then there's "Crossing the Frontier" (32:02) that was made soon after the film's release. It too has much of the original cast in it, talking about the making of the movie. They're both good, just a bit too repetitive. Also included is an image gallery, trailers, D-Box functionality, and BD-Live capability.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Throughout the commentary track, it's mentioned how the creators tried to steer clear of Star Wars. They did pretty well except for the hanger scene on Rylos. From the video screens to the aliens to the ambassador's speech, it all felt like Episode IV to me.
And for the Trekkie connection, this movie stars both Marc Alaimo (Gul Dukat from Deep Space 9) and little brat Wil Wheaton, whose role was pretty much cut but can be seen in the background of the trailer park.
In one of the featurettes, Lance mentions that The Last Starfighter was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a unique conglomeration of events that crafted a movie that was cutting-edge back then and still resonates today. As with all things, once-in-a-lifetime isn't as long as it seems, for a quick stop at IMDb led me to small surprise: Norman Snow, who portrayed Xur, shows a listing for Starfighter in 2010. It's detailed as a clear sequel to this movie. Oh well, I'll admit I'm curious. If it is real and it does come out, there's a pretty darn good chance I'll be seeing it. Funny how this movie and its technological "rival" TRON both return to the big screen next year.
On the recommendation front, while the movie is still a pleasant delight to watch all these years later, the disc itself doesn't offer the big Blu pop. With such lackluster transfers and most of the bonus material available on DVD, I'm going to have to give this one a pass and cannot recommend for purchase.
The Last Starfighter is hereby found not guilty of prematurely using
the death blossom.
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