Last Starfighter, The (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1984 (October 27, 2020)
Studio(s)Lorimar Productions/Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
The Last Starfighter was a modest success when it opened in the summer of 1984. With comparisons to Star Wars firmly laid by critics at the time, the film had an even better afterlife on cable and home video. One of the first films to take full advantage of the burgeoning field of computer generated graphics, it’s also considered a bit of a pioneer. Today it’s fondly remembered as a laid-back and enjoyable space opera of a sort, but with genuinely likable characters and story dynamics that work better than many of its contemporaries. Directed by Nick Castle (the original Michael Myers) and featuring conceptual art and design by the late, great Ron Cobb, The Last Starfighter is an evergreen title for a certain generation (and older) of moviegoers who first saw it and were blown away by its cutting edge special effects and won over by its enjoyable (and well-executed) premise.
Located in the middle of nowhere USA is the Starlite Starbrite trailer court—a small, tight-knit community of mobile home inhabitants. Among them is the teen-aged Alex (Lance Guest), a bright and resourceful young man who helps his mother and the community with their problems. Dreaming of one day leaving the trailer park behind, he spends much of his free time with his girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart), parked in front of the Starfighter arcade game. In the game, he pilots a Gunstar spaceship and fights off the invading forces of Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada for the sake of “The Frontier.” One night after a record-breaking performance, he is visited by Centauri (Robert Preston), an alien who takes him to meet the Rylan Star League. Learning that the game he’s been playing has actually been a test of his skill for joining their cause and taking up the fight against the Ko-Dan Empire with the help of a fellow pilot named Grig (Dan O’Herlihy), Alex eventually takes to the stars to defend not just alien worlds, but his own.
Arrow Video brings The Last Starfighter to Region A Blu-ray for a second time utilizing a brand new 4K restoration of the film’s original 35 mm camera negative, besting the previous Blu-ray transfer in every category. That release carried an overt amount of DNR and edge enhancement, burying detail until smear. That is now completely absent as a well-refined layer of grain is on display, allowing for more depth in the image and fine detail to shine through. The color palette is also slightly warmer and blacks are much deeper. It also doesn’t appear overly bright or blown out. Everything appears crisp and organic. The CGI, as dated as it is, blends with the live action elements much better now. The presentation is stable while minor, though infrequent, instances of light streaking and speckling are all that’s leftover. It’s an otherwise beautiful presentation.
The audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD (the original DVD remix), English 4.1 DTS-HD (the 70mm theatrical mix), and English 2.0 DTS-HD (the stereo theatrical mix). Subtitles are also included in English SDH. The inclusion of the 4.1 mix is icing on the cake. It’s marvelous in terms of staging and low frequency activity, particularly when it comes to the rumbling of spaceships and the deeper tones of Craig Safan’s marvelous score. The 5.1 mix is missing a music cue at around the 00:28:40 mark when Maggie checks in on Alex, who is really the Beta Unit transforming into Alex. This mistake was also present on the previous Blu-ray release as well, meaning that Arrow likely just carried the same track over. Dialogue is also clear and precise on all of the tracks. The stereo track is the less expansive option as a few moments are lacking in surround quality, but its inclusion is still welcome. The 4.1 option is definitely the way to go.
The following extras are also included:
- NEW – Audio Commentary by Lance Guest and Jackson Guest
- Audio Commentary by Nick Castle and Ron Cobb
- NEW – Audio Commentary by Mike White
- NEW – Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter (HD – 9:28)
- NEW – Into the Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter (HD – 12:20)
- NEW – Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter (HD – 9:27)
- NEW – Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating the Special Effects (HD – 10:14)
- NEW – Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions (HD – 7:46)
- NEW – Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game! (HD – 7:24)
- Heroes of the Screen (HD – 24:19)
- Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter (SD – 32:02)
- Image Gallery: The Cast (SD – 26 in all)
- Image Gallery: Starfighter Arcade Game (SD – 42 in all)
- Image Gallery: Starfighter Command (SD – 216 in all)
- Image Gallery: The Starcar (SD – 82 in all)
- Image Gallery: The Gunstar (SD – 76 in all)
- Image Gallery: Ko-Dan Armada (SD – 89 in all)
- Image Gallery: Alternate Ending (SD – 44 in all)
- Image Gallery: Anatomy of a Starfighter (SD – 37 in all)
- Image Gallery: Promotion and Merchandise (SD – 29 in all)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:47)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:33)
- NEW – Easter Egg #1 (SD – 0:48)
- NEW – Easter Egg #2 (SD – 0:55)
- NEW – Easter Egg #3 (HD – 2:17)
This release carries over all of the previous bonus materials from the film’s various DVD and Blu-ray releases (meaning that they can all be safely retired). The first audio commentary features Lance Guest and his son Jackson recording remotely. They watch the film with Lance reminiscing and his son asking him questions as they go along. The second audio commentary, which is carried over from the Laserdisc and every disc release since, features director Nick Castle and conceptual designer Ron Cobb discussing the film as they watch it together. The third and final audio commentary features Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast who goes over the film’s content and provides background on the cast and crew. Maggie’s Memories features an interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart about getting the role of Maggie, working with Lance Guest, and dealing with the special effects. Into the Starscape features an interview with composer Craig Safan who speaks about composing music for a film with early CGI, writing the main theme, and learning from John Williams. Incredible Odds features an interview with writer Jonathan Betuel about working with Lorimar and Nick Castle, how the script was written, its comparisons to Star Wars, and the possibility of a sequel. Interstellar Hit-Beast features an interview with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike about working on his first big movie, how he approached his work, and detailing the various effects. Excalibur Test features an interview with Greg Bear about the company Digital Productions who produced the film’s CGI, detailing the various aspects of the work that they did. Greetings Starfighter! interviews arcade game collector and console creator Estil Vance about building a real Starfighter arcade cabinet and how and why a real game was never released. Heroes of the Screen is an archival featurette about the making of the film, featuring interviews with most of the main cast and crew. Crossing the Frontier is a similar multi-part documentary about the making of the film from the original Laserdisc release. The image galleries are carried over from the original DVD release.
All of the Easter eggs can be found within the Extras menu. To find Easter Egg #1, press right when Greetings Starfighter! is selected, which will take you to a brief bit of footage used for the arcade game in the film. To find Easter Egg #2, press right when Audio Commentary by Lance Guest and Jackson Guest is selected, which will take you to an outtake from Crossing the Frontier in which Lance Guest checks out the custom-built arcade cabinet. To find Easter Egg #3, press right when Audio Commentary by Nick Castle and Ron Cobb is selected, which will take you to a humorous commentary outtake of Lance Guest bringing actor Cameron Dye in to explain a half-told joke that he tells in the film.
Also included within the package is a double-sided poster featuring new artwork on one side and the original poster art on the other, as well as a 40-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, “I’m a kid from a trailer park”: Blue Collar Heroes in Outer Space and the American Dream by Amanda Reyes, The Machineries of Joy by Greg Bear, and restoration information. All of this content is housed in a clear amaray case within a slipcover featuring the new artwork.
Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray of The Last Starfighter is a staggeringly excellent upgrade in every category. The film itself is like a warm blanket—perfectly cozy and a much-needed shot of good ole positivity. With a nearly perfect presentation and a wonderful assortment extras new and old, this is definitely the kind of upgrade that fans of the film will appreciate. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons
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