Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Last Starfighter 25th Anniversary Edition

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, Aug 9, 2009.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    THE LAST STARFIGHTER
    25TH ANNIVERSARY BLU-RAY
     
    Studio: Universal
    Film Year: 1984
    Film Length: 1 hour 41 mins
    Genre: Science Fiction/Arcade Action
     
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
     
    BD Resolution: 1080p
    BD Video Codec: VC-1 @ over 25 mbps (live action) and over 30 mbps (CGI)
    Color/B&W: Color
     
    Audio:
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 @ an average 3.5 mbps (dialogue) and over 4 mbps (big music hits)
     
     
    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
    Film Rating: PG (Mild Language, Implied Sexuality, Mild Action)
     
    Release Date: August 18, 2009
     
    Starring: Lance Guest, Dan O’Herlihy, Catherine Mary Stewart and Robert Preston
     
    Written by: Jonathan Betuel
    Produced by: Gary Adelson and Edward O. Denault
    Directed by: Nick Castle
     
    Film Rating:    2/5
     
    The Last Starfighter arrives on Blu-ray just after its 25th anniversary of its theatrical debut. The film today is a curiosity more than anything else. Fans of the film still love it after all these years, but it was never a major hit in its day and time has not shown it to be more than the light, somewhat derivative adventure it was originally meant to be. Back in 1984, the film was a modestly budgeted sci-fi adventure with a simple plot about an arcade game actually being a test simulator for space fighter pilots. (The hook here was to appeal to arcade gamers with the story of a high score winning you more than momentary notice with your friends.)   Since the budget was relatively modest, the filmmakers chose to use computer graphics for their visual effects shots, as they could hopefully be produced cheaper than the traditional models employed by ILM, EEG, Apogee and the other major effects houses of the time. Even given that, the effects were still fairly costly, resulting in a lower budget for the actual production. Things weren’t as threadbare as one might see in really low-budget films, but this was not an extravagant production by any means.   The only star in the cast was Robert Preston, in his final screen role. Some other roles are taken by character actors (such as Dan O’Herlihy and Barbara Bosson), and the leads were played by young actors Lance Guest and Catherine Mary Stewart, who at the time had only been in a few projects, mostly as guests on TV shows. Location filming was mostly limited to a trailer park setup that was quickly filmed at the beginning of the shoot and a few simple sets. None of this would be as noticeable if the script and storytelling weren’t equally skimpy. While the filmmakers repeatedly stated that they were trying not to make a typical Spielberg-type fantasy, that was exactly what they made, only without either the depth of character or the sweep that Spielberg could deliver in his films. Once the young man got into space for the adventures, the film switched over to the computer graphics – but even at the time, these came across more as animation than as photo-realistic effects. (Nowadays, the shots seem closer to animatics than completed visuals – and the filmmakers admit on the disc that the work shown here could probably be done on a laptop today.)
     
    All of that said, the film still has a goofy kind of appeal to it. The whole thing is so earnest about itself that it almost won me over a couple of times. Guest and Stewart have a fresh appeal about themselves, and Preston is clearly having fun reprising his character from The Music Man, albeit with some alien attributes. The sheer effort being made by the cast to make this all believable almost gets the viewer past the rubber alien masks and the incredible leaps in story logic. (I’ll make one exception to this – Norman Snow as the villain of the piece is so over the top that he took me out of the movie as soon as he began speaking.) For fans of the film, and of arcade gaming, there’s a lot of fun to be had with all the elements here.  And I have a feeling that they’ll purchase this release as soon as it hits the street. But I do feel that I should caution more casual viewers to rent this first.
     
    The Last Starfighteris getting its latest home video release with this 25th Anniversary edition, having previously appeared on DVD for its 15th Anniversary in 1999 and in high definition on HD-DVD a couple of years ago. The Blu-ray incorporates all the special features from the earlier releases, and couples them with new HD picture and sound, as well as a new HD featurette about the production. I should note that other reviews are already mentioning there may have been some DNR applied here, but I did not see this in my viewing of the film. I encourage anyone with a large HDTV (60” or larger) to please comment in this thread if they see evidence of this problem.
     
     
    VIDEO QUALITY   3 ½/5
    The Last Starfighter is presented in a 1080p VC-1 2.35:1 transfer that varies between the earthbound trailer park scenes which to my eye showed a natural range of colors and fleshtones, as well as a pleasing, filmlike quality, and the CGI space shots, which come in crystal clear and sharp. If anything, the HD transfer really brings out the contrast between the live action and the CGI to the point that the CGI shots look even less photo-realistic, and even more like animation. This isn’t a problem with the transfer – it’s a problem with the film that has existed since it was first shown in theaters. So the transfer is a good one, but it points up a problem that can easily take the viewer out of the movie even faster than this would happen with an SD transfer. I should note here that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. As I said before, if anyone watching this film on a 60” or larger monitor is seeing any problems like DNR impacting the picture, please post a comment on this thread.
     
     
    AUDIO QUALITY   3 ½/5
    The Last Starfighter is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, which presents the dialogue clearly in the front channels and distributes music and atmospheric effects through the surrounds. When Craig Safan’s Williams-esque score really kicks in with the brass, the subwoofer comes to life – and this happens frequently during the film. There is also some great directionality in this mix, including things like a young boy firing a dart gun into a metal siding at screen right and getting a satisfying “tang!” out of the right channel.
     
    SPECIAL FEATURES      3/5
    The Blu-Ray presentation of The Last Starfighter comes with a fair amount of materials, but I should note that much of this stuff is duplicative, and some of it is actually inaccurate or misleading information.
     
    My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
    BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online. If you’re registered with Universal BD-Live, signing in makes it possible to activate various online funcitons. A “How-To” guide is also included for anyone that needs it.
    D-Box Motion Code – An option is presented to use this motion code in sound systems that can handle it.
    Commentary by Director Nick Castle and Production Designer Ron Cobb – The scene-specific commentary from the 1999 DVD is carried over to here, and it’s still fun to listen to the guys talk about and laugh through the film. As an interesting note, Castle shows up in the left channel and Cobb shows up in the right channel. Right off the bat, Castle establishes that this was not an extravagant production by noting that the studio would not even allow him to do the studio logo over his CGI planet for the start of the film.   Strangely enough, Castle takes all the way to the end of the film to acknowledge his start working with John Carpenter, and misses some obvious opportunities to note the more experienced cast that show up in the trailer park.   But Ron Cobb goes a long way toward describing the elaborate ideas he originally had, and how those had to be scaled down when it came time to making them actually work in the film.
    Heroes of the Screen (24:19, 1080i) – This is a new, HD featurette that more or less goes back over the ground already covered both in the commentary and in the 1999 featurette. But it is interesting to see everyone as they are today. The only problem here comes from producer Gary Adelson’s sometimes effusive descriptions of the success of this film. At one point, he mentions that the film is “at the top” of everyone’s list, and at another point, he talks about the film being made when video games were just becoming really popular. He’s wrong on both counts. For the latter point, even Nick Castle admits in his commentary that the film was made at the tail end of the second wave of video game popularity. (Having lived through the period, I can attest to the arcade gaming years being strong all the way from 1978 through to the mid-80s – and I no longer have the spent quarters to prove it…) For the former point, Adelson is giving the film a much higher popularity quotient than it actually had at the time.   It had its fans then, and it has its fans now, but showering it like that is a bit much. At least composer Craig Safan admits that it’s a little over the top to be titling this featurette “Heroes of the Screen”. As an added curiosity, this featurette is done in the form of a comic book, so that we scan over panels and pages to get to each interview segment.
    Crossing the Frontier – The Making of The Last Starfighter (Total 32:02,480p, Non-Anamorphic) – This featurette is preserved from the 1999 release, and is an interesting companion now to the new featurette, in that we can see the same participants in two times ten years distant from each other. Most of the ground here is the same as what is shown in the new featurette, so there is a lot of overlap.   The featurette comes in four parts, which can be viewed separately, or via a “Play All” function.
    Teaser Trailer (1:33, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – The original teaser for the film is presented here in standard definition, carried over from the 1999 DVD. It’s definitely showing its age, but it’s fun to watch nonetheless.
    Theatrical Trailer (2:47, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – The original theatrical trailer is presented in standard definition, again carried over from the 1999 DVD. The difference between this and the teaser is mostly that some of the CGI footage has been included in short bursts. 
    Image Gallery  – A series of galleries are presented for slideshow viewing, meaning that the disc automatically cycles the photos through every few seconds. If you hit fast forward, you can get them to go quicker, or you can pause them to stop on a particular image. This extra is sensibly arranged so that the viewer can select which area they wish to examine. The areas here are Cast, Starfighter Arcade Game, Starfighter Command, Starcar, Gunstar, Ko-Dan Armada, Alternate Ending, Anatomy of a Starfighter Computer-Generated-Image and Promotion & Merchandise. The “Alternate Ending” section shows photos of the original staging of a scene from the film’s ending – at a time when it was staged inside a theater. After preview screenings, Nick Castle convinced the studio to let him do some reshoots, including a restaging of that scene as an exterior. (The content is the same – only the location changed.)
    Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film. 
     
    IN THE END...
    The Last Starfighter is a curiosity from the 1980s, a throwback to a time when arcade gaming really was a big phenomenon, and when CGI was still a craft in its infancy. In watching the film, you can step back to a time before Jurassic Park or the Star Wars prequels, and before even Babylon 5 in the evolution of this technical area. It’s not a particularly great film, but it has an earnest appeal to it, and its fans will appreciate the new attention it has been given in this release.
     
     
    Kevin Koster
    August 9, 2009.

    Edited by Kevin EK - 8/10/2009 at 03:18 am GMT
     
  2. Ray_R

    Ray_R Screenwriter

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    So you give a Disney pre-teen film a three and this one a two and a half? When TRON is ever released onto Blu-ray, I certainly hope you're not the one reviewing it.
     
  3. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    I'm sorry, but I don't know what Disney pre-teen film to which you're referring. If you mean Coraline, I have to stand by my judgment on that.

    I willingly recognize that not everyone will share my opinion. I'm happy to see other opinions than my own. But for the purposes of my reviews, I have to go with my own tastes and reactions, and I do try to explain my positions each time.

    I'm not saying this is a bad film - just that it didn't add up for me. The same problems it had upon its release in 1984 are still with it,and if anything, the film hasn't gained from the passage of time. I have given the reasons for my valuation of the film and its special features. I am interested in your reasons - please feel free to post them here. It very well may be that many readers will go with your thinking on this. That to me is the whole point of the forum.

    And to be honest, it's unlikely I would get TRON for review, since I handle the Universal releases. I have done a few Disney titles over the past two years, but I guarantee that one would get snapped up long before I'd ever hear about it.
     
  4. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Kevin,

    Ray has mixed you up with me. I gave HANNAH MONTANA a 3/5. This is what he's referring to.
     
  5. Ray_R

    Ray_R Screenwriter

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    You honestly gave a Hannah Montana feature a 3/5 score?/img/vbsmilies/htf/laugh.gif And what did you give Big Trouble in Little China?/img/vbsmilies/htf/crazy.gif
     
  6. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Ray - surely it's ok to have a different opinion on a film than you? And have you even seen the Hannah Montana film that Matt reviewed?
     
  7. Jesse Blacklow

    Jesse Blacklow Cinematographer

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    +1

    Disagreeing with the technical aspects of a film is one thing, but each person interprets the content differently. Unlike the picture or sound, the quality of a movie to a person is entirely subjective. The constant near-personal attacks from Ray in several threads over this is in IMO way out of line.
     
  8. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    Just be glad that you're not a digital copy, you'd be really offended by him.
     
  9. SilverWook

    SilverWook Cinematographer

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    I'm a tad dissappointed they made a crappy new cover, when the HD DVD used the original poster art.

    And somebody should have thought to do a segment on the fans who have created an actual working Starfighter game!
     
  10. Ray_R

    Ray_R Screenwriter

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    Oh really? No I have no desire to watch some pre-teen Disney dreck.
    ONE MORE THING! How does the Death Blossom look in 1080p? I looked at the screenshots for the title on DVDBeaver and it appeared the background scenes had very fine film grain. This was shot in a slightly soft focus filter?
    And what about an eventual release of Conan the Barbarian on Blu-ray? BY CROM!
     
  11. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    Ray,

    The Death Blossom looks like the other CGI shots in the film - very sharp and clear, and very much like what we'd think a previz or animatic would look like today. It's a good looking shot, but would work better in an animated film.

    I noted the difference in the video quality in my review - in that the live action scenes have a film-like look to them - a slight softness to the focus in the background, etc. The CGI shots are all very sharp, and stand out more from the live action in 1080p than they would in standard definition.
     
  12. Ray_R

    Ray_R Screenwriter

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    It's funny how I remember even the Collector's Edition DVD how the scenes with the two in the Starfighter looked compared to the CGI. Death Blossom scene is always my favourite part of this film since it's the "last resort" weapon type trope. Or much talked about feature such as the Omega Thirteen?
    I'm hoping you're a fan of The Frighteners since the HDDVD suffered in the bitrate for the video because of the HUGELY extensive 4 hour some-odd features from the Signature Collection LD.
     
  13. Mark Walker

    Mark Walker Cinematographer
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    Kevin,

    Thanks for the excellent and precise review of the Blu-ray. No one on the verge of purchasing this Blu-ray is questioning the caliber of this film; We wanted to know precisely what you told us with your reviews of the bonus content and the picture and sound quality.

    On one hand, I wonder what it would be like if someone threw even another million bucks at the space sequences in this film, but their showing of their age is part of the cheesy charm of this film that has periods of both fun and pure crap.

    I really enjoy this film, but I cannot defend it.

    I am looking forward to purchasing the Blu-ray with confidence now because of your review.
     
  14. David Norman

    David Norman Cinematographer
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    This was a buy (again) from the minute it was announced. One of my favorite 1980's just plain fun films so obviously I'd rate it well above the 2/5 that Kevin rated it, but his opinion is still his opinion (**). Starting from a film I had no interest in even seeing when it was first released, it has continued to entertain me every time I see it and I thank the day that a friend literally dragged me out of my apartment to see it. It's not quite up the quality story level of Enemy Mine from the same era, but it certainly bests so many more serious science fiction films of the last 4 decades. It reminds me a lot of The Goonies being a film that's a lot better than it has any right to be.


    (**)I was going to write "as wrong as it might be in this case" but I just hate those silly teenie bopper smilies and elbow jabs don't translate over the web that well.
     
  15. Jonathan Kaye

    Jonathan Kaye Second Unit

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    I have fond memories of Last Starfighter, coming as it did the summer after Return of the Jedi and in the same summer as Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. I remember being impressed at the time by the technological achievement of its all-CGI effects - at a time when the acronym didn't exist! - while at the same time thinking that they weren't as 'real' as the model effects from those other two films I mentioned. Those that make the same claim now - and I can see where they're coming from - would do well to look at this film to see how far CGI has advanced./img/vbsmilies/htf/smile.gif
     
  16. Paul Hillenbrand

    Paul Hillenbrand Screenwriter

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    Haven't received my copy from Amazon as yet, but I'm very interested in the "film quality" likeness to the original theatrical presentation of the movie. Currently I have the 6/8/1999 DVD release and the 9/18/2007 HD DVD release that I have attempted to compare with my memory of the original film projected at the cinema in 1984.
    FYI: I remember actually thinking while watching the film at the cinema that animation was used like Disney used to do in a number of movies like "The Three Caballeros". i.e. The CGI graphics had that kind of look to me.
    Found some /img/vbsmilies/htf/confused.gif discrepancies with different reviews on the net:
    One review said the codec transfer was the same as the HD DVD release:
     
  17. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    Paul,

    I would like to hear what you think of the picture quality once you get your copy. I looked at the different reviews myself and went with my own gut on this one. But as I said in the review, I'm watching on a 40" monitor. If you have a 60" and you're seeing the DNR one reviewer thought he saw, I'd really like to know about it. My reaction to the picture quality is mostly a study of the contrast between the computer animation and the live-action footage. I think you'll find that it's a noticeable jump between the worlds.
     
  18. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer

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    I just came across this thread. I doubt that the computer graphics in this film would work very well in any animated film now. The graphics in this movie were crude even back during its initial release, especially when you compare it to the model work that was one of the mainstays of SFX during that period. I saw this film during its theatrical run and I have to agree with your assessment of its quality. It was average at best. I've been thinking of renting it just to see how badly it plays now.
     
  19. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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    I just watched the rental over the weekend and this movie does not pass the test of time, either cgi-wise, story-wise, or acting. I really couldn't recommend this movie at all.
     
  20. Brett_M

    Brett_M Screenwriter

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    Thanks for review. I got my copy from Netflix and watched with the whole family over the weekend. My two kids (ages 9 and 11) LOVED it.
     

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