The Last Starfighter
I confess to a serious weakness for The Last Starfighter. Even by 1984 standards, the year of its release, it wasn't a great science fiction film. But there is something immensely appealing in its old-fashioned innocence.
Yes, it's derivative. A young man plucked from obscurity to save the universe, together with aliens and space battles, echoes Star Wars. A con man is right out of (literally) The Music Man. And the bittersweet but uplifting ending is reminiscent of E.T.
But The Last Starfighter is clearly not as ambitious as any of those films. It's simply a modest space opera with two highlights: a primitive but effective early use of computerized special effects and actor Robert Preston's final movie appearance.
The special effects won't wow anyone who has been exposed to 20+ years of subsequent, computerized filmmaking, but they were groundbreaking for their day. They still work for me, probably because of my innate fondness for the film. How well they'll work for someone seeing the movie for the first time today is a question I can't answer. But the effects are still nicely done, despite the fact that they never look "real."
Preston revisits his Music Man shtick for the last time here, and it's as endearing as ever. As Centauri, a sort of interstellar, talent scouting bounty hunter, he convinces Alex Rogan, an 18-year old whiz at the Starfighter video game, to help save the Star League, and ultimately the Earth, from the evil Zur and the Ko-dan Armada. If that description makes it all sound a bit silly, so be it.
But it's also a charming, lightweight, coming-of-space-age story that holds up nicely in repeated viewings. Its PG rating is a soft one, and the film is suitable for all but the youngest viewers, who may find some of the aliens scary. And while the movie is never preachy, it has important things to say about growing up, how life often spins us off in unexpected directions, and about accepting responsibility for more than your own little corner of the universe. As Centauri says to a reluctant Alex, who doesn't think he's good enough to be anything but a kid from a trailer park, "If that's what you think, that's all you'll ever be."
This is a solid HD DVD transfer. The dark scenes near the beginning of the film, and occasionally later, look a bit crushed. But despite some unevenness here and there the image often looks startlingly good. It was never an amazing-looking film to begin with, but it's safe to say that its 2.35:1 widescreen images have never looked better than they do here, either in the theater or on any previous video format.
There isn't anything particularly impressive about the sound, however, despite the available Dolby TrueHD audio track. It's perfectly adequate and never distracting, but it's also as dated as you might expect from an early 1980s production. The dialogue sounds canned, and the sound effects aren't particularly ambitious. And while I've always liked the film's appealing music, with its weighty brass, it sounds distinctly left-right oriented here, with little sense of spread across the front soundstage.
Despite these limitations, I strongly recommend this HD DVD to fans of this film. And may it create many new ones.
Picture: 8.5….Sound: 7.0….Film: 8.5
(Reviewed on an InFocus IN82 1080p projector and Stewart Studiotek 130, 78" wide, 16:9 screen, with a Toshiba HD-A20 HD DVD player, an Onkyo TX-SR875 Surround Sound Receiver (used as a pre-pro) and an Anthem Statement P5 power amplifier. Also a Revel B15 subwoofer with Revel Ultima Studio2, Voice2, and Gem2 speakers.)