LAST STARFIGHTER, THE - Blu-ray review

...a fun old film that seems far cheesier now, but it is fun to sit back and enjoy to help celebrate its quarter century.

DeanWink

The new "25th Anniversary Edition" of "The Last Starfighter" is just the latest indicator that I'm getting old. I remember loving this film growing up and now it is celebrating its 25th birthday. Hopefully, I've held up better than this film. "The Last Starfighter" is one of those films that has not stood the test of time, but we still hold it close to our hearts. With its primitive special effects, Eighties' hairstyles and clothing, thin characters and even thinner plotlines, "The Last Starfighter" is still a fun film. However, the older it gets, the more its luster diminishes. Capitalizing on the emerging technologies of computer animation and popularity of arcade games, as well as building on the science fiction craze generated by the "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" films, "The Last Starfighter" became one of the very first films to have a majority of its visual effects built from computers and used a Cray X-MP supercomputer to build its spaceships and spacescapes.

Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) lives with his mother and brother in a small trailer park. He spends most of his time fixing up neighbors problems in the trailer park and running odds jobs for his mother. He often must miss out on having fun with his girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and is looked upon as an outsider by many of the others that are his age. His brother Louis (Chris Hebert) looks up to him and cheers Alex as he partakes in one of his few escapes in life, a "Last Starfighter" arcade game that exists at the trailer park. Alex pines to leave the trailer park behind and attend a nice college and not live his entire life in the same geographical area and not make something of himself. He hopes to take Maggie with him and begin a new life.

One night Alex captures an amazing high score on the arcade machine. The entire trailer park rallies as Alex racks up the high score and defeats the mother ship. Later on, a man named Centauri (Robert Preston, in his last film) drives up in an exotic car and persuades Alex to take a ride with him when Centauri tells Alex that he is the creator of the game that Alex has mastered. The ride doesn't take him to the next town, instead Centauri drives him through space and they arrive at a distant planet many galaxies away. The game Centauri invented was no ordinary arcade game, it was a training simulator and Centauri and others now want Alex to become a Starfighter and pilot one of the starfighters that he controlled in the game. He meets a friendly alien, Grig (Dan O'Herlihy), who would serve as his navigator. Alex simply wants to return home and doesn't feel he has what it takes to save the galaxy from the evil Xur (Norman Snow).

When Alex returns home, he finds himself slapped by Maggie and also finds an android has taken his place. The ‘Beta' unit explains that he serves as a temporary replacement until Alex is done fighting in the intergalactic war. Alex tells the android to leave, but plans are abolished when an alien assassin attempts to kill Alex. Alex realizes that he is not safe on Earth and must now embark on the journey offered to him by Centauri. During the fight with the assassin, Centauri is shot and critically wounded, but he is able to make the journey home. When they arrive, they discover that Xur has attacked the starfighter hanger and all of the spacecraft and pilots have been killed. Grig had been working on a prototype of a new model and was spared. Together, Grig and Alex must pilot the prototype and that Alex is now the last starfighter.

"The Last Starfighter" is both corny and primitive when viewed nearly a quarter of a century after the film first appeared in theaters. The computer generated imagery lacks the textures and details of modern effects and the entire film now has a video game look and appeal, with graphics that cannot match what is now capable with the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation 3. Whereas this was an impressive film in 1984, it now looks horribly dated and lacks the wow factor it originally possessed. The plotlines of the film have also not held up well. The premise of "The Last Starfighter" is nicely thought out. Unfortunately, the execution falls on the weak side. Alex and countless others are ‘volunteered' into the Starfighter Legion, but when Alex finally defeats the massive armada of Xur, the fleet numbers one relatively non-offensive mothership and a couple dozen starfighters. This mighty armada of evil could hardly make a dent on any of the capital sized starships from "Star Wars" and certainly does not seem like the mighty force it is stated to be in the film.

"The Last Starfighter" was a pioneer in digital effects. The film was the first picture that attempted wholly computer generated based effects that tried to pass off as photo-realistic objects. The first shot shown in the film to showcase these effects was the blast off of Centauri's spacecar. The film contains a number of alien costumes and futuristic sets that help augment the computer based imagery with real-world effects. Regardless of the style of visual effects used in the film, "The Last Starfighter" looks terribly dated. The computer graphics of the various monitors contained in the film look about as impressive as early Eighties Earth technology and are hardly believable as super advanced alien technology.

There are other serious flaws in the plot of the film. However, it still manages to entertain. "The Last Starfighter" does not pretend to be an Academy Award winning film and only the late Robert Preston adds any credence to the production. The characters are not overly fleshed out. They have enough of a story arc to have Alex change his mind a couple of times, but Grig and others are as flat in dimension as the film's CGI textures. This film was created to embrace emerging technology and surpass the work done with the two year older "Tron." It was intended to capitalize on the popularity of arcade machines such as "Pac-Man" and "Zaxxon." "The Last Starfighter" was not created to rival the work done by George Lucas. It was not intended to become a massive space epic. The film was wholly intended to be innovative and immediately successful. In that regard it succeeded.

"The Last Starfighter" just has not stood the test of time. It is still a fun little romp across the galaxy. The film serves as another solid reminder of the odd decade we commonly call the Eighties. The neon clothing and synthesizer based music are in full display in the film. The sensibilities of the time and the overtones of the Cold War are readily apparent in the film. The Xur aliens wear Communist red, while the Starfighter Legion wears clean and pure whites and light tans. This is a film that is a museum piece of the decade in which it was produced. It is a fun little film to remind us of the times and the days when digitally created effects were primitive and reminded us more of arcade games than they did the dinosaurs of "Jurassic Park." The film did not hold a candle to the physical effects of the seven year older "Star Wars" in 1984 and even less so today. It isn't the classic that George Lucas' space opera became, but for many of us, "The Last Starfighter" is still guilty pleasure and a film that is enjoyable in its dated cheesiness.

Video:

This is the second outing of "The Last Starfighter" in high definition and it appears that Unversal has decided to show some love for the film for its quarter century birthday and "The Last Starfighter" is now far sharper and far more impressive on Blu-ray. Grain has been reduced and the level of detail is noticeably higher. Everything appears to be much cleaner than before and watching the film on Blu-ray was quite pleasing. The film is framed in 2.35:1. Black levels and shadow detail are both improved upon. Colors border from being good to showing their age, but I found the transfer a little more colorful. Fleshtones are still a bit pink and look partly washed out, but it wasn't as bad as before. The old CGI footage looks quite sharp with this new transfer. The best looking sequences are when Grig is on-screen. He seems to have the best detail to his face. The source print used was very sharp.

Sound:

I am a little more pleased with the sound quality of the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix that provides the audio for the Blu-ray release of "The Last Starfighter." This sounds to be a slightly louder remix of the Dolby TrueHD mix from the HD-DVD release and sounds effectively identical once you even the decibel level. Rear presence is again limited as real rear sounds in the film occur whenever the character of Xur is on-screen. The iconic "Death Blossom" sequence is another of the film's audible highlights. The .1 LFE channel has a little life throughout the film, but the bass is not very deep and hardly pushes the subwoofer. The front speakers are hugely in the majority in "The Last Starfighter" and they handle the sound effects and score by Craig Safan with efficiency. "The Last Starfighter" is nowhere near as aggressive or involved as films half its age and a few films of the same vintage. Dialogue is good, but a moment or two of clipping could be heard.

Extras:

Bill as the ‘25th Anniversary Edition,' "The Last Starfighter" Blu-ray doesn't come with anything exciting when compared to the former HD-DVD release. There is some new content, but it is blasé. This is disappointing. Universal's basic BD-Live access is included as well as My Scenes. The notable Feature commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb finds the two talking back and forth throughout and the commentary is engaging and involved. With much of the focus on the film's production being the computer generated effects, it makes sense to have Cobb involved and he points out many of the effects in the film. Castle is a laid-back individual and points out many obscure fun facts about the production. They are entertaining and never dull in this commentary. My only complaint was a buzz heard in the main speakers that seemed tied to Cobb's microphone.

The stand alone features should please fans of the film. Heroes of the Screen (24:19) is the somewhat lengthy remembrance by the cast and crew towards the film as they look back at "The Last Starfighter." It is certainly worth checking out one time and it was nice to see how everybody looks twenty five years later. Crossing the Frontier: The Making of the Last Starfighter (32:00) is a more informative documentary and this second retrospective feature includes star Lance Guest and a very nice look at the film. Mastered in 4:3 full screen, Guest narrates and includes comments by those in the commentary. Most of the documentary looks at the ‘groundbreaking computer-generated visual effects' and is an overall nice affair. A new Image Gallery is included and the film's Theatrical Trailer and Teaser Trailer finishes off the features that are contained on the Blu-ray.

Closing Comments:

Instead of just porting over the previous HD-DVD release to Blu-ray, "The Last Starfigther" celebrated the always important twenty fifth birthday and the ‘25th Anniversary Edition' of the film is a marked improvement over the old HD-DVD release. The film still doesn't hold up in story and visual effects, but it is a guilty pleasure from my childhood. The film is often compared to "Tron" and has not aged nearly as gracefully as the Walt Disney CGI pioneer. Regardless, I still enjoy "The Last Starfighter," and I am very happy with the cleaner transfer included with this release. There is still some grain and softness, but this is vastly improved upon. A brand new retrospective is included among the supplements and the old retrospective is still included and that one is more detailed. This is a fun old film that seems far cheesier now, but it is fun to sit back and enjoy to help celebrate its quarter century.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
6
Film Value
6