The Last Starfighter could have been a hack job. Given its place in time, it served one purpose: to milk two popular aspects of popular culture for all it was worth. George Lucas had finished his Star Wars saga (or so we thought) and video games dominated TV screens.
Last Starfighter uses both, casting Lance Guest as Alex Rogan, a teenager who spends his little free time playing a “Last Starfighter” video game installed at his trailer park. Having beat it, Alex is swept into space to learn he was playing a training simulator for the real thing.
Much can be said for the visual effects of Last Starfighter. Hopelessly dated, certainly compared to some of the model work at time, they remain groundbreaking in terms of their use. All shots of space and the ships are rendered, minus the usual lighting and texturing effects that help modern day computer effects work as they do. It is funny to think that 10 years later, the PlayStation came along to match everything shown here in full.
Oddly though, they add a unique look and charm. In some way, it helps the film stand out from other Star Wars knock-offs of the period. There is gloss to the effects, a pseudo-realism that makes it look stolen from another universe. Despite the obvious lack of reality, they still pull you into the film.
Robert Preston gives his final theatrical performance as Centauri, an alien in human form sent to retrieve Alex because of his skill at the video game. He is lively, giving the film a comedic, fun, adventurous edge. His energy and charisma gives the film a sense of scale it lacks considering the enemy forces have all of 30 ships to rule the galaxy. Hopefully they plan to take over worlds and use the inhabitants as slave troops.
Last Starfighter takes place in one of those movie trailer parks where everyone knows your name, yet ends somewhat abruptly. Alex returns to Earth after completing his mission, talks briefly to his mom and girlfriend, only to return to the ship to continue fighting.
Apparently in the ‘80s, mothers were perfectly capable of sending their children off into an unknown intergalactic war in deep space without a tear. Maybe that’s why children of the ‘80s are so tough these days.
Universal uses a VC-1 encode, and the results are… rather awful. The studio made the choice to scrub this one clean, resulting in a complete lack of fine detail, waxy faces, and inaccurate flesh tones. Grain is nearly non-existent.
Despite the digital manipulation, minor print damage does remain. The transfer is still surprisingly sharp, with no edge enhancement to further cause problems. Some mild, forgivable artifacting in deep reds is noted, but certainly not part of the larger issue at work. The flickering and aliasing evident on the computer-generated ships has to do with the source given the undoubtedly low resolution used to create them.
Black levels and contrast are fine, save for a scene or two early where the blacks appear slightly murky. The film appears clean, and given the higher resolution, does look like a step up compared to what the movie has been given before.
This is not the worst DNR mess, which on HD DVD remains Tremors, and a few such as Gangs of New York and 40 Year Old Virgin likely hold the Blu-ray title. Given the time Universal had to make this right after the HD DVD suffered from the same complaints however, the disc screams laziness on the part of the studio. This would likely be quite impressive had the film been given proper treatment.
Universal at least has the decency to treat the film right in terms of audio. A DTS-HD Master mix is satisfying. The trailer park nicely captures the chatter of the residents, and the front channels are quite expansive. From the sounds of the arcade game playing in the proper channel to the cars/spaceships moving, everything is nicely caught by this mix.
The enemy ship carries a fun heartbeat sound underneath the dialogue, which nicely reverberates in the subwoofer without becoming overbearing. Laser blasts occasionally find their way into the surrounds, although the use is sporadic. Craig Safan’s wonderful score nicely bleeds into the surrounds, and the echo of the friendly command center nicely does the same.
An energetic commentary from director Nick Castle and Production Designer Ron Cobb details the usual production details. If the commentary isn’t what you’re looking for, two nice making-of pieces will suit your needs. Heroes of the Screen is a modern retrospective, while Crossing the Frontier is an older piece hosted by Lance Guest. Together, they run close to an hour. Galleries, typical BD-Live support, trailers, and D-Box support round this one off.