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Star Wars clone gets a new SE release 4.5 Stars

Following the surprise and runaway success of the now classic Star Wars (1977), many studios were itching to cash in on the space opera craze. Some have gone on to achieve cult status (Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash & the Roger Corman produced Battle Beyond the Stars come to mind) while others fell short with both audiences and critics alike (Message from Space quickly comes to mind). Released a year after Return of the Jedi, The Last Starfighter is an unapologetic yet delightful riff on the formula; previously released on DVD and Blu-ray by Universal, Arrow Video has licensed the movie for a brand new Special Edition Blu-ray release.

The Last Starfighter (1984)
Released: 13 Jul 1984
Rated: PG
Runtime: 101 min
Director: Nick Castle
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Cast: Kay E. Kuter, Dan Mason, Lance Guest, Dan O'Herlihy
Writer(s): Jonathan R. Betuel
Plot: Video game expert Alex Rogan finds himself transported to another planet after conquering The Last Starfighter video game only to find out it was just a test. He was recruited to join the team of best starfighters to defend their world from the attack.
IMDB rating: 6.8
MetaScore: 67

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Arrow Video
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English PCM 2.0, Other
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG
Run Time: 1 Hr. 41 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Clear keep case with reversible cover and slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 10/27/2020
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 4/5

In a small trailer park nestled in the Southern California foothills, young Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) has dreams of finding his way in the world and getting far away from home. He gets more than he bargained for after he sets the highest score on the Starfighter game and is greeted by its creator Centauri (Robert Preston). Alex is soon whisked off to the planet Rylos, where he learns that the game is a training tool designed to find fighters in an interstellar war; reluctant at first, he soon learns he’ll have to embrace his destiny if he’s going to not only save Rylos, but Earth as well!

Unabashed and unapologetic in riffing on past tropes, The Last Starfighter revels in its B movie status from start to finish. Jonathan Betuel’s script does appear derivative from both Star Wars and E.T. in some ways, but also seems to make a passing reference to the Arthurian legend in a way that the Starfighter game is much like the sword in the stone; director Nick Castle does a solid job of making the formula work with being too derivative or heavy handed. The real draw here is the fact that the movie was one of the first to extensively utilize CGI effects in lieu of traditional models and trick photography to display the interstellar combat scenes and the starcar, just to name a few examples. There’s really not much to complain about here, except for the fact that the plot does cover familiar territory albeit with a few twists to the formula. While it does riff on some established norms in the genre, The Last Starfighter has withstood the test of time as an effective sci-fi movie and a cult favorite that’s deserving of wider recognition for helping to blaze the trail for CGI to become more widely used in Hollywood.

As the lead, Lance Guest does a solid job of playing Alex, the reluctant hero of this space opera; he also pulls double duty by portraying Beta, the android version of Alex while he’s away training to be a starfighter. In what would be his last theatrical film appearance, Robert Preston is a delight as Centauri, the alien con man who created the game to recruit Alex into the war to save Rylos; the part is a clear riff on Preston’s most famous role of Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man (1962). Although nearly unrecognizable underneath the lizard makeup, Dan O’Herlihy is also a joy to watch as Grig, the fellow starfighter pilot that Alex befriends; Catherine Mary Stewart admirably fills the girl next door part of Maggie, Alex’s main love interest. Rounding out the cast here are Norman Snow as the main villain Xur, Barbara Bosson as Alex’s mother, Chris Hebert as Alex’s brother Louis, Dan Mason as the Ko-Dan commander Lord Kril, Vernon Washington as Otis, the manager of the local store in Alex’s trailer park, Peggy Pope as Elvira, who can’t go without watching her soaps, Meg Wyllie as Maggie’s grandmother and a young Wil Wheaton as a friend of Louis.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 2:39:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. Film grain is faithfully represented, including fine details, shadows and color palette; the original Universal Blu-ray was reported to have excessive DNR applied to the transfer – I can gladly report that’s no longer the case here. For the most part, issues like scratches, tears, dirt and dust are minor here – there some scenes that do display a vertical scratch on the left side of the screen, but that’s not too distracting here. Overall, this is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily surpasses the old Universal Blu-ray.

Audio: 5/5

There are three audio options on this release: a 2.0 PCM track, a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track (carried over from the Universal Blu-ray) and a 4.1 PCM track (created for the movie’s 70mm release and unavailable on home video until now). Each track showcases a strong dialogue track, with equally faithful representations of the sound mix and Craig Safan’s scintillating John Williams flavored score. There’s little to no issues with distortion, dropouts, crackling or hissing here, which means that this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 5/5

Commentary with actor Lance Guest and his son Jackson – Newly recorded for this release, father and son share their feelings on the movie, with Lance providing some details on the film’s production while Jackson chips in some humorous analysis; overall, an entertaining track.

Commentary with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast – Also newly recorded for this release, White provides some analysis on the theme of the movie as well as some cultural context as well.

Commentary with director Nick Castle & production designer Ron Cobb – Carried over from previous Universal DVD and Blu-ray releases, the director and production designer go over several details on the film’s production.

Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter (9:28) – In this newly filmed interview, Catherine Mary Stewart shares some of her memories of working on the movie.

Into the Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter (12:20) – Composer Craig Safan shares some of the challenges of composing a hybrid orchestral and electronic score in a limited time during the film’s production in this new interview.

Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter (9:27) – Screenwriter Jonathan Betuel talks about how the legend of King Arthur – specifically The Sword in the Stone – was a major inspiration for him in this new audio interview.

Interstellar Hit Beast: Creating the Special Effects (10:14) – Kevin Pike, a special effects supervisor, talks about some of the challenges of creating the groundbreaking CGI effects used in the movie in this new interview.

Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions (7:24) – Science fiction author Greg Bear talks about the production company responsible for creating the extensive CGI effects used in the movie in this new featurette.

Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game (7:24) – Arcade game collector Estil Vance talks about the Starfighter game seen in the movie and how it was reconstructed in the real world in this newly filmed featurette.

Heroes of the Screen (24:19) – Carried over from the 25th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray release, a brief look at the making of the movie; among those interviewed include Castle, Guest, Stewart, Betuel, Safan, producer Gary Adelson and visual effects supervisor Jeff Okun.

Crossing the Frontier (32:02) – Carried over from previous Universal DVD and Blu-ray releases, the program – hosted by Guest – goes over a more extensive look at the movie’s production and challenges; additional interviewees include production designer James D. Bissell, associate producer John H. Whitney Jr., visual effects artists Dennis Muren, John Knoll, and an archival interview with Robert Preston.

Image Galleries – Nine still galleries, with over 600 stills between them, showcase the film’s cast, conceptual sketches, CGI effects, promotional material, and even an alternate ending to the movie.

Theatrical Trailer (2:47)

Teaser Trailer (1:33)

Reversible Foldout Poster

Booklet feat. an essay by film historian Amanda Reyes & a reprint of a 1984 article by Greg Bear

Overall: 4.5/5

While it may not win awards for being completely original, The Last Starfighter is still a fun nostalgic thrill ride that helped break new ground in terms of extensive CGI use in movies. Arrow’s new Blu-ray release is likely the definitive edition on Blu-ray with a great HD transfer that blows the old Universal Blu-ray out of the water and a great slate of new and vintage special features. Very highly recommended and definitely recommended that you upgrade from said Universal Blu-ray.

Amazon.com: The Last Starfighter [Blu-ray]: Lance Guest, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Preston, Dan O’Herlihy, Wil Wheaton, Cameron Dye, Nick Castle: Movies & TV

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Johnny Angell

Played With Dinosaurs Member
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I bought the blu ray and watched it a while back. I had fond memories of the movie and was shocked to discover how much I now dislike it. It just didn’t stand the test of time for me. I even got tired of Dan O’Herlihy’s breathy laugh.