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The Last Starfighter(1984)
An alien recruits a young video game expert into a real live-or-die battle in outer space.
For more about The Last Starfighter and the The Last Starfighter Blu-ray release, see the The Last Starfighter Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 17, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Lance Guest, Robert Preston, Dan O'Herlihy, Catherine Stewart, Barbara Bosson, Norman Snow
Director: Nick Castle (I)
» See full cast & crew
The Last Starfighter Blu-ray Review
A fantastic movie and a slice of Hollywood history arrives on Blu-ray with disappointing results.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 17, 2009
When it comes you gotta grab it with both hands and hold on tight.
One of the most unassuming but also most important films in the history of motion pictures, The Last Starfighter signaled the beginning of a new era of Hollywood filmmaking much in the same way that The Jazz Singer or The Robe revolutionized the industry. A wholesome and exciting little tale of a nobody trailer park resident finding himself whisked away to fight a battle for an ally in desperate need of his skills and against an aggressive and dangerous enemy he never even knew existed, The Last Starfighter mixes humor, action, romance, and an underlying sweetness to the entire experience that makes it one of the more pitch-perfect movies to come along in some years. Still, it's The Last Starfighter's groundbreaking use of digital special effects that have come to define it. There's no denying the film's importance to the history books, but it's a shame that the great movie behind the effects seems lost in the pomp and circumstance of the more evident -- but not necessarily more impressive -- achievement that has allowed The Last Starfighter to withstand the test of time.
Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), handyman extraordinaire, dreams of doing more with his life than repairing broken down appliances in the Starlite, Starbrite trailer park. He hopes to go to college; hang on to his longtime girlfriend, Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart); and escape the doldrums of small-town life. Though he's well-liked around town for the good he does, he finds both reprieve from the daily grind and minor celebrity status amongst his neighbors for his expertise at the "Starfighter" video game that has found its way into town. Alex, surrounded by a throng of townsfolk, one night breaks the game's all-time high score, earning not only the adoration of his friends but the attention of the game's developer, Centauri (Robert Preston). Alex soon learns that neither Centuari nor the game are of this world; the game was designed as a test of skill for the purpose of recruiting the best potential starfighters in the galaxy to join the war efforts of the Star League to defend the Frontier against the rebellious Xur (Norman Snow) and the venerable Ko-Dan Armada. Alex rejects the offer to become one of the Star League's warriors, but circumstances lead him to reconsider his options and take on a desperate fight in the gunner's seat of a prototype starfighter alongside his alien navigator, Grig (Dan O'Herlihy).
There are plenty great things to say about The Last Starfighter even before getting around to a discussion of the film's then-groundbreaking and, more importantly, trendsetting, special effects. Considering the film's lack of a true star performer in the lead role, the acting in The Last Starfighter is uniformly excellent. Lance Guest delivers a fun but also enthralling and somewhat moving effort as a teenager in search of his place in the world; one key sequence sees him in a dream-like trance of sorts as he marvels at a model solar system hanging from his bedroom ceiling. There's a palpable sense of not necessarily awe at the model itself, but rather at what it represents -- the unknown, adventure, purpose, destiny -- and the moment is brilliantly captured by Director Nick Castle (Major Payne) whose quality of leadership is evident throughout as he brings together both the primary components necessary to make any film a success but also completely succeeds at incorporating smaller details that make a good film great. He lends a tenderness to the picture in the midst of all the large-scale goings-on; from the peril-strewn universe to the incorporation of the special effects, there's always a sense of passion to the characters that lends to the audience a desire to cheer wholeheartedly for them even though the outcome of the film is never at all in question. The Last Starfighter's characters make the film; they are to a person lively and lifelike, each one with a unique heart and soul that brings their small community to vibrant life. The film paints its characters with a tender compassion; they each have real agendas, real hopes, real dreams, and real loves, with each performer capitalizing on the well-written script. Tying it all together is one of the finer scores in the history of cinema; Craig Safan's (Stand and Deliver) music is uplifting, robust, and slightly militaristic while at the same time playing as friendly and inviting. It's a near pitch-perfect Science Fiction score, and one that's wholly appropriate and perfectly tuned for The Last Starfighter.
Despite the many positive attributes that make The Last Starfighter a well-above-average film, such observations obviously play second fiddle to its groundbreaking, trendsetting, and even still today entertaining and visually appealing digital effects. Though 1982's Tron is packed with computer-generated visuals mixed with live action footage, The Last Starfighter took what Tron accomplished and greatly improved upon it by creating a series of photorealistic effects that seamlessly integrated into the real-world action around it. Its series of visuals -- the Gunstar, the Starcar, the enemy armada, and several interior and exterior shots of Rylos, for instance -- give to the objects a sense of dimension, weight, and realism that was never before so expertly and broadly integrated into a motion picture. Though the effects now appear as primitive at best by today's lofty standards, they retain a charm that fits wonderfully with the film's themes and setting and, far more importantly, remain memorable for what they represent. Perhaps just as fascinating is not only the visuals themselves, but the continuously evolving and innovating computer work employed to make them a reality at a time where there was no template on which to lay the groundwork. Lastly, The Last Starfighter's impact on the world of motion pictures both in the previous decade of the 1990s, in the first years of the 21st century, and no doubt well into the future, cannot be denied. The untold billions of dollars that have been generated thanks to the radical advances in computing and moviemaking technologies have redefined the business while simultaneously thrilling the moviegoing public like never before. Mega-blockbusters like Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Toy Story, The Lord of the Rings, Transformers, and Star Trek owe their success in part to the innovators and groundbreakers that made The Last Starfighter possible. Talk about stimulus.
The Last Starfighter Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Last Starfighter debuts on Blu-ray with a disappointing 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer. A mediocre-at-best presentation, The Last Starfighter appears to be the victim of rigorous digital scrubbing; plenty of fine details appear to have been washed away. The transfer lacks a sense of vibrancy and appears rather flat and drab throughout. Trees and bushes around the trailer park look like blobs of green mass with absolutely no definition to be found. There's little-to-no grain to be seen throughout, though spots and other debris do pop up from time to time over the image, and not just over the most extreme effects shots such as Xur's holographic appearance at Star League command. Detail appears appreciably higher in space than it does on Earth; the lines, ridges, and other features that make up the many alien faces, for instance, look fairly good, as do the varied alien uniforms that feature a high level of texture. It's a mixed bag to be sure, but The Last Starfighter never takes on a true film-like appearance, instead looking overly manipulated and artificial. Black levels are inconsistent at best, but flesh tones appear rather stable. In a way, the lack of absolute definition reflects the minimal graphical nature of the video game and, later in the film, the special effects, but it's still a rather disappointing visual experience.
The Last Starfighter Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unfortunately, The Last Starfighter's DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack doesn't fare much better than the video presentation. The clear-cut highlight here is Craig Safan's amazing score; fortunately, it sounds rather good all things considered, each glorious note pouring into the soundstage with a fair level of definition and clarity. Sound effects throughout the film do scatter about the soundstage nicely with the front right and left speakers carrying the load of center-channel support. On the downside, there's absolutely no sense of immersion into the experience. The lack of a strong rear-channel presence -- for instance during Alex's initial flight to Rylos with Centauri -- leaves the listener feeling cold and detached from the film. Explosions and general action scene mayhem don't pack much of a punch, the track delivering the basic necessities to move the film along but never truly engaging the listener and placing him or her in the midst of the excitement. Dialogue ranges from acceptable to muddled and harsh. The Last Starfighter's lossless soundtrack isn't a total loss, but it's far from exemplary at the same time.
The Last Starfighter Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Last Starfighter lands on Blu-ray with several bonus features, headlined by a commentary track with Director Nick Castle and Production Designer Ron Cobb. An interesting and well-spoken track, the duo discusses how the film was influenced by the video game craze of the mid-1980s, the easily identifiable nature of the characters and story, shooting locations and the trailer park in particular, the cast, the design of the game and the starfighter, making use of three-dimensional rather than two-dimensional space, the film's groundbreaking effects, and much more. Both fans of the film and anyone interested in learning more about an important slice of motion picture history should definitely give this one a listen from beginning to end. Heroes of the Screen (1080i, 24:19) is a solid retrospective piece that looks back on the standard the film set for the future of motion pictures in its special effects. The feature also looks at the movie's sweet and emotional core in which the action and effects are built, the construction of the script, setting the standard for acting against objects that aren't on-set, the budget, and more.
Crossing the Frontier: Making 'The Last Starfighter' (480p) is a four-part documentary that delves even further than the previous piece into the film's place in history. Segments include Introduction (1:27), Filming the Movie (10:33), A New Era of Visual Effects (18:08), and Reflections (1:52). Also included is the film's teaser trailer (480p, 1:33) and theatrical trailer (480p, 2:47) and nine image galleries presented in 480p standard definition: The Cast, 'Starfighter' Arcade Game, Starfighter Command, The Starcar, The Gunstar, Ko-Dan Armada, Alternate Ending, Anatomy of a Starfighter Computer-Generated Image, and Promotion and Merchandise. This disc is also BD-Live (Blu-ray profile 2.0) enabled and D-Box equipped.
The Last Starfighter Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
What's truly amazing about The Last Starfighter is that it's not just a test vehicle for a radical new breed of visual effects that would transform Hollywood forever. The filmmakers smartly told a story well worth telling and worked their magic into the story, rather than simply tacking a story onto the effects as a mere afterthought. The Last Starfighter is a great movie, and would have been equally great had it used models and miniatures or had it been made in the past several years where near-seamless effects now find their way into most any Science Fiction picture. Exciting, emotional, well-written, wonderfully acted, and boasting one of the finest scores of the past several decades, The Last Starfighter is simply one of the best of its kind. Universal's Blu-ray release, unfortunately, doesn't quite do the film justice. Boasting a problematic 1080p transfer, a mundane lossless soundtrack, but a solid collection of extras, The Last Starfighter nevertheless comes with a recommendation solely on the strength and historical importance of the film.
The Last Starfighter: Other Editions
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The Last Starfighter Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Last Starfighter Announced for Blu-ray - April 22, 2009
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring 'The Last Starfighter: 25th Anniversary' to Blu-ray on August 4th. This former HD DVD high definition exclusive title will be presented in 1080p VC-1 accompanied by a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio ...
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