The Last Starfighter is a bit clichéd and overly reminiscent of other science fiction movies, particularly Star Wars: A New Hope, but according to the makers is historically significant in terms of special effects as the first movie to use CGI to create photo-realistic images, as opposed to the stylistic images of Tron.
The Last Starfighter tells the tale of Alex (Lance Guest), a young man trapped in a small-town trailer park where he works as a handyman for his mother, who serves as park manager and holds a second job as a waitress to support him and his younger brother. He dreams of getting away with his girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart), whether it being going off to college or even farther.
One night, he sets the record on a Last Starfighter video game, which the residents surprisingly gather around to watch and celebrate like he won the Super Bowl, revealing how uneventful the town is. Soon after, a car similar to Doc Brown’s from Back to the Future pulls up and a man named Centauri (Robert Preston in his final role) pulls up looking for the person who broke the record. Turns out Last Starfighter was not a game, but a secret recruiting tool to help the Star League find recruits in their battle against Xur and the Ko-dan Armada. So no one will know of Alex’s absence a look-alike robot named Beta will take his place, although he has trouble assimilating.
Like the Green Lantern, the other starfighters Alex meets are aliens. During the mission briefing on Rylos, Xur (a hammy performance by Norman Snow) appears via hologram and informs when the Ko-Dan Aramda will strike. Alex wants no part of this, so Centauri takes home. However, he is not safe on Earth because a Zan-Do-Zan assassin has been sent to kill him. Centauri saves Alex’s life by shooting off the creature’s arm, bringing to mind the Star Wars cantina scene. Understanding the danger involved, Alex agrees to return to Rylos where they discover he has become the title character after an attack by the Ko-dan Armada has killed all the other starfighters. It’s up to Alex, along with star-navigator Grig (Dan O'Herlihy), to defeat the Armada and save the people of Rylos.
The video is presented in 1080p High-Definition Widescreen with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, although for a movie that was a trendsetter in tems of visual it’s surprising it doesn’t look better. Dirt and imperfections are noticable. The blackness of space during bluescreen effects shots loses its color. Some DNR appears to have softned the daylight, outdoor shots. From a historical perspective, the CGI is intriguing as any early technology.
Some of the film’s visuals suffer in the high-def format as well. Night scenes shot on sets posing as outdoors are more obvious, and the combining of CGI and real explosions doesn’t mesh well at all.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and from the opening frames during the credits Craig Safan’s John Williamsesque score pumps through the surround and the bass drums pound out the subwoofer. The dialogue is clear and comes from the fronts. The surround fills with music and game effects, but doesn’t immerse the viewer like it should, especially during action sequences.
A Blu-Ray exclusive is “Heroes of the Screen,” a new 24-minute feature about the film. Additional features, which are available on the DVD edition as well, include two from the 15th Anniversary Edition in 1999. “Crossing The Frontier: Making of The Last Starfighter” is a 32-minunte feature and a commentary track by director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb, whose animation background was very instrumental in the movie’s creation. The disc also has BD-Live and D-Box Motion capabilities.
Although dated and simplistic in its story and technology, The Last Starfighter should be a fun, adventure for young boys that feeds into the fantasy of any person who played a video game. While it worked in 1984 as video games were really taking off, I am not sure how it will hold up with modern-day children because the CGI is very primitive. Adults watching without children would likely need to make a drinking game out of spotting each reference to other works because it is very derivative.