Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Greetings, Starfighter! You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada."

CGI is a given for modern movies, but in 1984 it was a new and largely untapped medium. The Last Starfighter was a modestly budgeted science fiction flick that took the bold step of using computer effects instead of models.

Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is a teen with ambition. Unfortunately for him, he lives in a fairly run down trailer park. Alex has two things going for him: his girl Maggie Gordon (Catherine Mary Stewart) and he’s something of a whiz with the Starfighter arcade box in the park. One night, Alex breaks the high score record of the game and some time later a strange man in a strange car arrives looking for Alex. His name is Centauri (Robert Preston in his last film) and he invented the game.

Centauri takes Alex up to Rylos where he gets recruited (with a lot of reluctance) into the Star League, which is fortunate, because Rylos is under attack by the renegade Xur (Norman Snow) & Lord Kril (Dan Mason) of the Ko-Dan Armada. Alex tries to quit and goes home, but after an alien assassination attempt, goes back to space to fight for the galaxy (a Beta Alex robot (also Lance Guest) is left behind to cover for him). Alex and his alien co-pilot Grig (Dan O’Herlihy) find that their entire squadron has been effectively destroyed, leaving their remaining Gunstar fighter the last starfighter (Dun Dun Dun!) capable of defeating the Ko-Dan Armada.

Directed by Nick Castle, the movie is for the most part a typical 80s kind of ADVENTURE! movie. On the other hand, it was also the first major movie to go for computer generated, photorealistic visual effects. Photorealistic is the key here, since Tron already had been out for two years, but the effects there were more abstract and surreal. Nowadays, the spaceships are quite obviously digital, but the designs are still solid and some of the digital shots are still quite nice, especially considering that they were pretty much figuring this stuff out as they went. And the Gunstar is still a really badass design.

Written by Jonathan Betuel, the plot follows a pretty standard Hero’s Journey storyline, but the writing is competent, the lines generally witty and the delivery is excellent, so hey, nothing wrong with that.

Original music by Craig Safan, and it is full of epic ADVENTURE! fanfares, but also some sweet down-to-earth themes too. Its fun when the two merge together.

Yeah. I love The Last Starfighter. I always have. There’s something about the goofy premise of a trailer park teen who’s good at an arcade game (and one specific one) being selected to join an elite fighting force to SAVE THE UNIVERSE! that appeals to me on a primal level. Star Wars knock off? Sure. But it’s a good Star Wars knock off.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it's hero's journey; see Kal's excellent analysis at