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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Fantasy > The Last Starfighter (HD-DVD)

The Last Starfighter (HD-DVD)


Picture: C     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Film: C+



When George Lucas showed his first cut of Star Wars to Martin Scorsese, Scorsese wisely (as usual) made the profound observation about the film that it was like being inside a video game.  Mind you this was 1977, long before videogames became as advanced as they are now.  Of the many imitators of the film, Nick Castle’s The Last Starfighter (1984) arrived a year after Lucas’ original trilogy ended and many thought the space opera cycle was over.


A videogame was attempted, then aborted, while toy retailers (in the biggest mistake since rejecting a Grease action figure line from Mego) rejected 12 action figures from upstart Galoob Toys tied to this film.  When the film opened, though it was not a huge blockbuster, it was a bigger hit than many expected and has had a following ever since.  Besides a consistent following, the alteration of the actual Star Wars films have driven original fans back to this film among others.


When a battle in space light years away from earth becomes desperate, the mysterious Centauri (Robert Preston) arrived to recruit expert videogame player Alex (Lance Guest) to join the battle.  In effect, he enters the videogame world in a way that is not just the cyberspace of Tron, but “the real thing” and that no other film had considered that simple concept to that point is interesting.


Not the biggest fan of the film, I can totally understand its appeal and it is a classic of 1980s pop culture, which is often a repetitious wasteland versus past decades for said culture, but the film has appreciated in some interesting ways and it makes sense that this is an early back catalog HD-DVD from Universal.  Too bad the disc is a wreck.


The 1080p VC-1 digital 2.35 X 1 High Definition image was shot by Director of Photography King Baggot (son of the famous cinematographer) in real anamorphic Panavision and shot to be so big that Universal even issued 70mm blow-up prints.  Too bad this is one of the worst transfers in either HD format to date, joining Lethal Weapon 1 as one of the worst turkeys.  What happened?  Obviously, this is a very, very bad recycle of a semi-HD transfer (720p?) and thrown together in the worst possible way.  Detail and depth are awful, the sometimes soft look of the film is totally blurred in this case.  What a disappointment.


The idea that this has Dolby TrueHD 5.1 was a hoped-for sign that Universal took care of this favorite gem, but instead (and much worse than Purple Rain or Terminator 3) recycles a really bad sound mix.  In this case, a poor upgrade of the original 4.1 Dolby magnetic multi-channel from the 70mm soundmaster and ruins it to no end.  The TrueHD just shows more limits and problems than the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix which itself is as wreck and equally weak.  Craig Safan (Remo Williams – The Adventure Begins) even delivered one of his most interesting scores, but this mix does not do that justice either.  What was the studio thinking?


Extras include a making of featurette Crossing The Frontier and feature length audio commentary by Castle and production designer Ron Cobb of Conan The Barbarian and Leviathan.  Needless to say this film deserves more extras too, so only diehard fans need apply to this release, if that.  To the films advantage are supporting performances by Dan O’Herlihy, Barbara Bosson and Will Wheaton, but most of all, The Last Starfighter is one of the final testaments to the space opera dreams of a generation and it deserves much better than this.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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