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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Last Starfighter (25th Anniversary) [Blu-ray]

(Nick Castle, 1984)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Lorimar

Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: ALL (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:40:34.194

Disc Size: 36,514,128,886 bytes

Feature Size: 28,233,154,560 bytes

Video Bitrate: 31.31 Mbps

Chapters: 18

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: August 18th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.4:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1 Video

 

Bitrate:

 

 

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

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, French, Spanish, 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

 

 

The Film: 7
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: 7/8  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

 

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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Operations: 7
The menu is laid out like other Universal Blu-rays. Arrows tell you which way to direct your remote, and the bonus feature instructions are detailed and intuitive. It's all very dense, but after you have a couple of Universal Blu-rays under your belt, it's easy enough to navigate.

 

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.

 

 

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.

Leonard Norwitz
August 5th, 2009

 

 

 


 

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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