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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

The Last Starfighter  [Blu-ray]

(Nick Castle, 1984)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz + Colin Zavitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Lorimar

Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment / Arrow

 

Disc:

Region: ALL / Region 'A'

Runtime: 1:40:34.194 / 1:40:29.898 

Disc Size: 36,514,128,886 bytes / 48,319,229,722 bytes

Feature Size: 28,233,154,560 bytes / 32,840,066,496 bytes

Video Bitrate: 31.31 Mbps / 31.93 Mbps

Chapters: 18 / 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray case / Transparent Case

Release date: August 18th, 2009 / October 27th, 2020

 

Video (both):

Aspect ratio: 2.4:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1 Video

 

Bitrates:

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3929 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz /
3929 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz /
192 kbps / Dolby Surround

 

DTS-HD Master Audio English 1557 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1557 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio English 3305 kbps 4.1 / 48 kHz / 3305 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 4.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio English 3730 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3730 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit)
Commentaries:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / DN -31dB
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / DN -31dB
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / DN -31dB
 

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, French, Spanish, none

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

• Feature Commentary with Director Nick Castle & Production Designer Ron Cobb.

• Crossing the Frontier: Making of The Last Starfighter – in SD (32:02)

• Heroes of the Screen: a retrospective documentary with cast & crew - in HD (24:19)

• Image Gallery: Production photos, Promotional material & an Alternate Ending.

• BD-Live 2.0

• D-Box Motion Enabled

 

Brand new audio commentary with star Lance Guest and his son Jackson Guest
Brand new audio commentary with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast
Archival audio commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb
Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter – a new interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart (09:28)
Into the Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter – a new interview with composer Craig Safan (12:20)
Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter – a new interview with screenwriter Jonathan Betuel (09:27)
Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating the Special Effects – a new interview with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike (10:14)
Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions – a new interview with sci-fi author Greg Bear on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter (07:46)
Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game – an interview with arcade game collector Estil Vance on reconstructing the Starfighter game (07:24)
Heroes of the Screen – archival featurette (24:19)
Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter – archival 4-part documentary (32:02)
Image Galleries
Theatrical (02:47) and Teaser (01:33) Trailers
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Ferguson
FIRST PRESSING ONLY
– Limited Edition O-Card
– Limited Edition Reversible Poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
– Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes and sci-fi author Greg Bear’s never-before-published Omni magazine article on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter

 

 

The Film:
One of the perks about writing for my fellow Beavers is that I can expect a certain level of familiarity with movies made before The Bourne Identity. I dare say many of you out there know more than I about classic and obscure films, so when I relate The Last Starfighter to Tron, Toy Story 2 or This Island Earth, you all know what I'm talking about without my having to detail the allusion. Galaxy Quest did not leap out of the head of its creator without films like Starfighter dancing around the brain like sugarplums.

Once called "One of the best B-movie ever made" The Last Starfighter lives up to its calling even 25 years later. That's one of the nice things about B-movies – production values are not so high that we go crazy picking at this or that shortcoming. In the commentary, Director Nick Castle and Production Designer Ron Cobb speak at length about this movie being on the cutting age of cinema digital effects. These effects look primitive now. So too is the Atari vintage video game that our hero plays outside his trailer. We can but smile.

 

With consciously applied cues from Steven Spielberg (especially CE3K and E.T.) especially in his portrayal of Americana (familiar and comforting) and the music scoring (unimaginative and repetitive), Castle and writer Jonathan Betuel have fashioned a thoroughly likeable fantasy about an unlikely – and, of course, reluctant – hero who saves the day and the galaxy. Throw in a little romance with the girl next door, some outer space combats and Voila!

Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is the son of the manager of a rural trailer court, who aims to quit this place and go on to bigger and better things – like college or something one can actually wrap one's mind around. In between fixing the plumbing and the occasional smooching with his girlfriend (Catherine Mary Stewart), he challenges the record for the arcade video game "Starfighter," which was accidentally dumped here instead of Vegas. One night, as neighbors crowd around to cheer him on, Alex breaks the record, which, in turn, signals a visit by a dapper man driving a slick gull wing car in a stylish hat. He calls himself Centauri (Robert Preston) and claims to be from the Star League of Planets, for whom he invented Alex's video game to test the skills of potential starfighters - as well as a novel method for learning to play to tuba, we should imagine.

 

A short ride, and Alex is transported to Centauri's home planet to be inducted into a desperate fight against the Ko-Dan. Alex gets the deadly point of all this rather quickly and chooses necking over fighting. So back home he is whisked. Meantime the Ko-Dan levy their first attack, pretty much wiping out the defenses of the guys in the white suits. One thing leads to another and back Alex goes, where he, still very reluctantly and fearfully, fine-tunes his craft with the help of his navigator/guru/mentor, Grig (Dan O'Herlihy).

The Last Starfighter makes for a thoroughly likeable popcorn movie - but, even with the assistance of Preston and O'Herlihy (both of whom are priceless here), this is not major league material. Clearly, it doesn't pretend to be, and for that reason succeeds beyond its wildest imagination.

 

 Image:  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were obtained directly from the Blu-ray disc.

 

Alas, I have not seen Universal's early HD-DVD transfer of this movie but, from all reports, it was not representative of the medium - probably about as good as how I remember seeing it in not so good projection at the local dollar cineplex. My, that was an unhappy experience! From the look of the Blu-ray, I would guess that some effort went into re-imagining this movie for
high-def. Colors are bold, Blacks are deep. Everything looks clean and sharp. I can say with some certainty that I've never seen The Last Starfighter looking this good. But, hold on a moment – perhaps, too good. A little too smooth, perhaps. Could this be the dreaded DNR at work! I daresay. Still, I am not deterred. The spongy look seems to fit somehow with the territory. Perhaps I am merely making excuses. Doesn't matter.

 

According to Arrow Video, this new Blu-ray is newly restored from a 4K scan of the original negative and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 (though it looks more like 2.35:1 to my eyes). Most importantly, the old Universal Blu-ray's excessive digital noise reduction (DNR) is gone, gone, gone. What now shows up is an image with beautiful fine grain, even in some of the special effects sequences (this was one of the first films to utilize CGI, and although some shots are a tad corny, the effects hold up quite well and aren't any more conspicuous than they were with all that DNR. Faces appear natural, with a certain warmer (yet more varied) color tone. Detail is also amplified due to the absence of DNR smoothing. The film is housed on a dual-layered Blu-ray with a rather high bitrate. This benefits the film allowing deep blacks to shine (so to speak) during various nighttime/space exterior shots. You can most definitely get rid of your old Blu-ray. The image alone is worth the upgrade. Arrow includes the following info in their accompanying booklet, "The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution at EFILM. The film was graded and restored at R3Store Studios in London."

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Subtitle Sample - Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray TOP

2) Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/6
Dynamic and clear though the uncompressed audio mix is, the great majority of it plays stereo front, even in the battle sequences, which are not many. In such moments, there is some localization of effects as we should hope when Alex's starfighter is under attack by a small armada. Dialogue has some treble boost to it – for the sake of clarity, one imagines - making it more unnatural than it needs to be. Craig Safan's music score is unabashedly stolen from John Williams' Raiders of the Last Ark.

 

Not to be outdone by the stellar image, Arrow Video's new Blu-ray of "The Last Starfighter" also features 3 audio choices (well, 6 if you include the 3 commentaries). The following DTS-HD Master audio tracks are available from the audio menu; 2.0 stereo, 5.1 audio and a 4.1 mix created for the film's 70mm release (this 4.1 mix was originally created for the film’s 70mm release and never included on previous home video formats). Purists may normally consider the original stereo, but this 4.1 track is a rather welcome inclusion here, and is more than just a curiosity. When going back and forth between the 4.1 and 5.1 audio tracks on my home surround system, I was rather shocked at how different moments can sound. To be fair, I think the 5.1 is the most evenly balanced choice of the 3, with the 4.1 track sometimes veering into excessively bombastic territory. Craig Safan's playful music shines on all three tracks, and dialogue is never too muddled and justifiably foregrounded. There are optional English subtitles on this Region 'A' Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

 

Extras: 7
The commentary by Director Nick Castle & Production Designer Ron looks back fondly at the good old days, how this project came into being with its special, special digital effects, unique for its day. The on again, off again train of thought covers casting, characters, story and filming philosophy.

 

With the stellar picture, multiple audio choices, Arrow Video could have had a winner on their hands, even without many extras....but alas, this thing is loaded to the brim with bonus features. The old commentary with director Nick Castle ('The Shape' aka 'Michael Myers' from John Carpenter's "Halloween") and production designer Ron Cobb is included here, as are 2 brand new commentaries. The first is with star Lance Guest and his son Jackson Guest, the second with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast. While only diving into these tracks momentarily, they certainly cover different aspects of the film and its production, and I look forward to listening to the rest of these in the near future. Up next are a handful of interviews (mostly audio with behind-the-scenes footage and split screen visuals). The first is the 10-minute "Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter" with actress Catherine Mary Stewart. "Into the Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter" is a 12-minute interview with composer Craig Safan. "Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter" is a 10-minute interview with screenwriter Jonathan Betuel. "Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating the Special Effects" is a 10-minute interview with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike. "Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions" is an 8-minute interview with sci-fi author Greg Bear on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter. "Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game" is an 8-minute interview with arcade game collector Estil Vance on reconstructing the Starfighter game. The previous Blu-ray's making-of featurettes also appear here, "Heroes of the Screen" and "Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter". There are a ton of image galleries, a theatrical and teaser trailer, and the first pressing features a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes and sci-fi author Greg Bear’s never-before-published Omni magazine article on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter. Also, there is a limited edition reversible poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Ferguson.

 

Universal - Region FREE - Blu-ray

 

 

Arrow - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 

Recommendation : 8

I can't help liking this movie, for all its limitations. It's playful, witty, and a bit romantic. It has nothing important to say and never takes itself seriously. The movie has never looked this good, even with what I take to be DNR which, accountably, I don't seem to mind all that much.

 

Fans of "The Last Starfighter" should not hesitate to pick up this new Blu-ray from the folks at Arrow Video. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution, and the DNR-less image is worth the upgrade alone. Add to that, the gazillion extras (both new and archival) and the 3 very different (and all enjoyable) audio tracks.

Leonard Norwitz
August 5th, 2009

Colin Zavitz

November 9th, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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