Last Starfighter: 25th Anniversary, The (US - BD)
Gabe realizes that hours of Double Dragon didn't make him a good fighter...
Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) lives in an impoverished trailer park where he works as a handyman. His job keeps him busy and away from his girlfriend, but he finds time to play a coin operated arcade game, and eventually sets a point record. Following this seemingly unimportant event Alex is approached by a mysterious man named Centauri (Robert Preston). It turns out that there is a real intergalactic war going on, and the arcade game was made as a recruitment tool. Alex is whisked away to a galaxy far, far away, and given a chance to kick evil alien ass.
I’m not sure if I’ve made it clear enough to DVDActive readers over the years, so let me reiterate: despite being a child of the ‘80s, I don’t look back on the films of the decade with a whole lot of joyful nostalgia, especially not those aimed at children and teens. Fortunately, in the case of The Last Starfighter I remember almost nothing about the film outside of the parts the Clerks Animated Series spoofed, and have no sense of nostalgia, joyful or otherwise, attached to the film. As a kid it was just ‘that movie that isn’t actually Star Wars’ (you can’t fool me mom), and I don’t think I’ve watched it in its entirety more than once.
The consistent criticisms levied against the film concerning its status as just another Star Wars cash-in are warranted based on cosmetic reasons, and the timing of its release was obviously not an accident, but looking outside of the specifics of release dates and outer-space locals, Starfighter and Star Wars also both happen to follow the ever adapted ‘hero’s journey’. There are times where director Nick Castle (the original Michael Myers, by the way) is obviously trying to evoke Lucas’ films specifically, but for the most part he’s creating his own little universe in which a modern version of the classic hero can find his true calling. Though Starfighter features onslaughts of specifically ‘80s imagery (the arcade game alone will date it for future generations, who may not know what the hell an arcade is in the post-Playstation era), it follows a this traditional story trajectory, and isn’t overflowing with too much dated dialogue, which makes it much more tolerable for someone like me, who kind of hates most of the era’s pop culture.
The oft-lampooned special effects are actually quite charming, and are somewhat acceptable in their anachronism considering the video game themes. Even more charming are the physical effects, including the costumes, the B-Movie-licious sets, and the adorable creature effects. The charm extends to the cast, who never overstate their presence, but (save Alex’s little brother) never annoy to the overwhelming degree of so many era ensembles. Pacing is a bit slow by modern standards, but mixing the space and trailer park stories makes for a more original thread within the familiar narrative. The problem is that despite the possibility of a sequel (they leave the door wide open), the victory comes as too quick and easy, leading me to think the film would’ve worked better as a television series.
Though it was a frontrunner in the digital effects revolution, The Last Starfighter is a pretty analogue feature, and isn’t exactly ‘made’ for 1080p. This 25th anniversary transfer is a little hit a miss, but very colourful and even tones (apparently there was some colour correction and digital clean-up done specifically for the release). The details are inconsistent, but definitely sharper than a standard definition DVD could ever muster. Once Alex gets off Earth and into a spacecraft things do start to look a bit cleaner, mostly due to the brighter lighting and cleaner sets. Still, even at its best the print is grainy, and features plenty of flickering artefacts, though compression noise is only light. Special effects, of course, look a little less special, including the boxy digital effects, and some really obvious matte shots. It’s a little jarring how grainy the digital stuff is (featuring much darker and thicker grain than the rest of the transfer), but I suppose the process in 1984 required old fashioned film printing.
So far as music and sound effects are concerned, this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is great, easily matching the similarly aged and themed Star Trek releases from Paramount. The space battles are lively, featuring aggressive dynamic ranges and directional effects. The sound design is never as original or involving as other sci-fi series with ‘star’ in the title, but are placed in a more modern sound field effectively. Surround and stereo channels are loud without becoming obnoxious, though they’re always secondary to the centre. The centre channel is a sliver of a problem. The dialogue and most obvious on-set sound are mostly delegated to the centre, and sound quite a bit ‘older’ than the rest of the sound. The vocals are all over the place in terms of volume levels, and natural textures, and the incidental effects are flat. But back on the good side of things, Craig Safan’s score sounds quite rich and it danced throughout the stereo and LFE channels with wonderful abandon.
Extras start with an endearing and informative commentary track with Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb. The team is realistic concerning the film’s shortcomings, and makes the whole thing a bit more charming by pointing out the film’s low budget, short shooting schedule problems. The track features a little too much blank space and the commentators spend a little too much time talking about on-screen action over technical or behind the scenes information, but fans should be very satisfied.
Next up is ‘Heroes of the Screen’ (24:20, HD), a new retrospective documentary about the making of the film. In-keeping with the commentary track the tone is self-effacing and sweet-natured. Interview subjects include director Castle, writer Jonathan Betuel, producer Gary Adelson, stars Lance Guest and Catherine Mary Stewart, composer Craig Safan, and production designer Ron Cobb. Subject matter includes early choices made to set the film apart from Star Wars and E.T., casting relative unknowns, working with known actors Robert Preston and Dan O’Herlihy, the difficulties of the special effects, issues with getting the film out on time and budget, composing the music, and the lasting effect of the film. The special effects stuff takes over a bit, but in the end the use of digital effects is really the only thing that places the film in an important place in the pantheon. The producers use some raw behind the scenes footage and production photography to support the stories, and despite some repetition from the commentary track things are informative in an entertaining fashion.
‘Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter’ (32:00, SD) is a three-part featurette that starts with an introduction with Lance Guest. These were available on the previous Special Edition DVD release, and repeat several elements from the commentary and retrospective doc, but there’s also some exclusive information, most of it pertaining to the technical aspects of the digital effects. The brief period interviews and vintage behind the scenes info is a good addition, as is the X-Wing fighter digital test from 1978(!). The extras are completed with eight image galleries, a teaser, and a trailer.
The Last Starfighter holds up about as well as I was expecting, which is pretty well, but only as B-movie entertainment, which is just fine and dandy in my book. This Blu-ray presentation is up and down in the A/V field, but surely an upgrade for DVD owners. The 25th Anniversary specific extras aren’t a huge improvement on the previous special edition DVD release, but taken as a whole I can’t imagine much of an improvement on this collection of behind the scenes information.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 18th August 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish
Extras: Director/Production Designer Commentary, Heroes of the Screen, Crossing the Frontier: The Making of The Last Starfighter, Image Galleries, Teaser, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nick Castle
Cast: Bruce Abbott, Marc Alaimo, Ed Berke, Al Berry, Ellen Blake
Genre: Action, Adventure and Sci-Fi
Length: 101 minutes
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