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3 Stars out of 5
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Release Date: August 18th, 2009
Movie Release Year: 1984
Release Country: United States
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The Last Starfighter

Review Date October 8th, 2009 by
Overview - Millions of light-years ago, a great frontier was constructed in the universe to protect the Syar League of Planets from its enemy, the evil KO-DAN. But now a defector has given the key to the frontier to the KO-DAN, and Starfighters from throughout the galaxy are needed to defend the peace. One recruiter, the alien scalawag Centauri (Robert Preston), visits Earth to fill his quota of recruits and finds Alex (Lance Guest), an 18-year old Earthling with an extraordinary talent for video game wizardry. Alex is quickly propelled into the regions of outer space to join others from planets throughout the Star League to fight a war to save the universe.
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For Fans Only
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  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: Blu-ray,BD-25 Single Layer Disc,D-Box Motion Code Enabled,BD-Live (Profile 2.0),Region Free
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
    Length:101
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):2.35:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround,English Dolby Digital 2.0
    Subtitles/Captions: English SDH,Spanish Subtitles,French Subtitles
    Special Features: Audio Commentary
    Featurette
    Documentary
    Still Galleries
    Theatrical Trailers
    Movie Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release Date: August 18th, 2009

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

3.5 Stars out of 5

Somehow 'The Last Starfighter' flew under my radar when it was released back in 1984. Maybe I was still recovering from 'Star Wars' fatigue when Nick Castle's gentle, hokey, crowd-pleasing sci-fi adventure hit the screens, or maybe my lukewarm reaction to 'Tron' soured me on any subsequent films with an interactive video game slant. Whatever the reason, the movie escaped my notice until it arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago and my wife shared her fond remembrance of it. "Fondness," in fact, seems to be the prevailing emotion this coming-of-age space story invokes. I mean, let's face it, even its passionate aficionados will concede 'The Last Starfighter' is hardly a work of cinematic art (despite pioneering the use of computer-generated special effects), but its warm, fuzzy innocence and sappy inspirational spirit often eclipse its cheesy elements and help the movie wend its way into our hearts against our better judgment. While I still can't call myself a fan of the film, I can't dislike it either. With so much goodwill and sincerity on display, criticizing it seems almost criminal.

Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is an affable, starry-eyed teen with big dreams that far exceed the limited ambitions of his small-minded friends. Longing to leave the dumpy trailer park where he lives with his mother (Barbara Bosson) and little brother (Chris Hebert) and make his mark on the world, Alex funnels his pent-up energy and mounting frustration into the Last Starfighter arcade game, and one magical evening crosses a new scoring threshold as he obliterates a particularly pesky enemy. Though the euphoria is short-lived, the ramifications are not. For little does Alex know that the Last Starfighter game is really a recruitment engine for intergalactic warriors, and his supreme prowess summons the game's creator, Centauri (Robert Preston), who believes him to be a prime candidate to fight real-life aliens in space. Alex may be the trailer park's handyman, but is he skilled enough to play Mr. Fix-It in the Great Beyond and protect the galaxy from peril?

The greatest asset of 'The Last Starfighter' is the way it evokes the wonder of discovery and depicts the burgeoning confidence of a downtrodden teen on the cusp of manhood. Such feelings are universal, and they never get lost amid the battle scenes and campy creatures that populate the alien world. Castle works hard to keep the picture grounded, wisely expanding the Earth-bound scenes so we never lose touch with Alex's reality – his family, girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart), and the pressure that comes with trying to keep his new identity a secret. And though the ultimate message – when opportunity knocks, you've gotta answer the door and grab the chance or else life could pass you by – may seem trite, the film's out-of-this-world framework makes it easier to swallow.

Unfortunately, budgetary constraints and weak direction drag 'The Last Starfighter' down. Despite all the hullabaloo over the movie's special effects, the lame battle sequences look only slightly better than their video game counterparts, which significantly minimizes the impact, while Castle's pedestrian handling of his actors and camera lend a decidedly small-screen feel to this big-screen adventure. Stewart's fresh-faced beauty (even in her off-the-shoulder 'Flashdance' top) and Guest's wholesome persona mesh well, however, and their solid chemistry keeps us involved in their romance. Preston's energy enlivens the film, too, as he cleverly brings components of his patented 'Music Man' character to his role. Now if only the aliens didn't look like they were wearing costumes left over from a 'Lost in Space' episode, we might take the whole enterprise more seriously.

'The Last Starfighter' may not have directly influenced the creation of Pixar's Buzz Lightyear and his arch nemesis, the evil Emperor Zurg, but the movie's golly-gee-whiz story and cartoon style (not to mention its villain, the similarly named Xur) kept Buzz's image buzzing about my brain throughout. (I half-expected Centauri to crow "To infinity…and beyond!" after he abducts Alex and heads for outer space.) Elements of 'The Wizard of Oz' also crop up, with a pig-tailed Maggie looking suspiciously like Dorothy in one scene, and the detached head of Xur recalling the bellowing wizard in a few others. And, of course, an unavoidable 'Star Wars'-ian aura pervades the film as a whole. Such derivations, however, don't really harm 'The Last Starfighter'; on the contrary, they strangely enhance the nostalgia that's such a major part of the movie, at least for today's audiences.

Like the game on which it's based, 'The Last Starfighter' is a relic of a bygone decade, and as the years go by, its appeal will assuredly dwindle. But for those of us who still look with some degree of fondness on the '80s, it's a sweet, enjoyable, kitschy trip back in time. And there's a lot to be said for that.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray,BD-25 Single Layer Disc,D-Box Motion Code Enabled,BD-Live (Profile 2.0),Region Free
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:101
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround,English Dolby Digital 2.0
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH,Spanish Subtitles,French Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentary
    Featurette
    Documentary
    Still Galleries
    Theatrical Trailers
    Movie Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release Date: August 18th, 2009

Video Review

3 Stars out of 5

For a mid-1980s, budget-constrained film, 'The Last Starfighter' looks okay on Blu-ray, but this BD-25 from Universal certainly won’t be one of your demo discs. The 1080p/VC-1 encode doesn't seem to have been upgraded since its HD-DVD release a couple of years ago, despite the anniversary edition moniker. Sadly, the picture never achieves the vibrant levels of color and sharpness a movie like this demands, and instead flaunts a flat, muted look that diminishes impact. Dimensionality comes at a hefty premium; even close-ups don't achieve the hoped for high-def pop. The wrinkles and leathery texture of Grig's face, however, are very well rendered, and fabrics, for the most part, exhibit a realistic feel.

Though the image is clear enough (despite a smattering of print defects), fine details tend to blur into the background, and the overly smooth presentation smacks of digital noise reduction. Colors are drab, but fleshtones appear natural and stable throughout, and thankfully, black levels are rich, so the vast expanses of space look deep and foreboding. Because all the special effects are digital, they take on a crisper appearance than the rest of the film, and while I have to cut the primitive CGI some slack, the enhanced definition still emphasizes its clunky aspects.

All in all, the film is watchable, but looks decidedly retro – not a good thing for a sci-fi flick.

Audio Review

3 Stars out of 5

'The Last Starfighter' comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that provides periodic bursts of impressive sound, but lacks the overall firepower I expected and craved. For a film that uses an arcade game as its central element, viewers should be thrust into that environment, and although the weapons employed in the intergalactic battle sequences emit distinct tones, surround activity is frustratingly slim, keeping us detached from the action. Explosions lack the heavy weight strong bass frequencies would normally provide, and though the majestic and rousing music score nicely fills the room, it doesn't possess the full-bodied shadings finer audio tracks provide. Dialogue is generally clear and comprehendible, and range levels handle the highs and lows well. Unfortunately, here was a chance to catapult a 25-year-old film into the next century, but the middling audio often keeps 'The Last Starfighter' mired in a bygone era.

Special Features

2.5 Stars out of 5

All the extras from the HD-DVD release have been ported over, with a couple of notable add-ons to spruce up this anniversary edition.

  • Audio Commentary – Director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb settle in for a relaxed, interesting commentary that will engage both the film's faithful followers and those just now discovering it. Castle admits he never dreamed he'd ever do a special effects movie, as he envisioned himself to be the Vincente Minnelli of the '80s and '90s. As such, he compares the structure of 'The Last Starfighter' to a "musical without music," and says he tried to avoid Spielberg and Lucas touches as much as possible, but didn't always succeed. (He also feared the movie would end up looking like "Gumby in outer space.") Castle likens Lance Guest to a teenage Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda, and divulges that the original names of the two lead characters were Skip and Penny. Cobb discusses the film's primitive digital effects, and the challenges involved in creating procedures that are easy to perform today. Straightforward but never dull, this is an engaging dialogue that matches the film's laid-back tone.
  • Featurette: "Heroes of the Screen" (SD, 24 minutes) – This all-new featurette treads much the same ground as the 1999 documentary (see below), but the appearance of Catherine Mary Stewart (who looks great at 50) punches up the piece, as does the enhanced picture quality. Cleverly laid out in a comic book format, the featurette details the film's shooting, with a large chunk focusing on the groundbreaking computerized special effects and the make-it-up-as-we-go-along attitude of the production team. Other topics include casting, music, storyboards, and memories of Robert Preston. Though not particularly insightful, this stroll down memory lane will surely warm the cockles of most fans' hearts.
  • Documentary: "Crossing the Frontier: Making 'The Last Starfighter'" (SD, 32 minutes) – A bit more in-depth, this production chronicle from 1999, hosted by Guest, delves into the film's inspiration, includes rare on-set footage featuring Robert Preston, and provides a more lengthy discussion of the CGI effects – their design, execution, budget limitations, and the long hours required to produce and perfect them. Technicians recall the excitement of discovery as they blazed the CGI trail, and how they fit the newly minted effects into the picture. The featurette above somewhat renders this documentary obsolete, but completists will enjoy both.
  • Image Gallery (SD, 85 minutes) – Nine subsets of photos comprise this massive gallery, ranging from cast and crew shots to stills of space vehicles, the alternate ending, promotional materials and tie-in merchandise. Image quality is subpar, though welcome captions provide bits of trivia and background info.
  • Theatrical Trailers (SD, 4 minutes) – A teaser trailer and full-length preview are included.

Final Thoughts

More Buck Rogers than Buzz Lightyear, 'The Last Starfighter' recalls the cheesy space serials of yore, but does so with such good intentions and youthful exuberance, it's hard to resist this wholesome sci-fi fantasy. A couple of new supplements set this Blu-ray apart from the previous HD-DVD, but the video and audio remain just as problematic as before, so fans should make their upgrade decision accordingly. Still, the 1080p transfer beats standard DVD by a mile, and should please the legions of diehards for whom this 25th Anniversary Edition is tailor-made.

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Sale Price $5.99
List Price $5.99
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3rd Party $2.99
Usually ships in 24 hours
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  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray,BD-25 Single Layer Disc,D-Box Motion Code Enabled,BD-Live (Profile 2.0),Region Free
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:101
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround,English Dolby Digital 2.0
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH,Spanish Subtitles,French Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentary
    Featurette
    Documentary
    Still Galleries
    Theatrical Trailers
    Movie Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release Date: August 18th, 2009