Greetings, Starfighter. Those two words from The Last Starfighter perk up the ears of any 30-something privy to the 1980s rash of science fiction films in their heyday. They also recall a historical milestone in filmmaking where a small effects company pioneered the use of computers to create near photo-realistic digital effects in a theatrical picture. No film had attempted the feat prior, not even the original Star Wars trilogy. It was a desperate battle against incredible odds for the effects artists, much like Alex Rogan and Grig’s Spartan-like stance against an entire armada of alien spaceships.
I couldn’t be more pleased to see Universal Studios Home Entertainment release The Last Starfighter on HD-DVD relatively early in the format’s existence. The timeless story of a boy looking towards the stars as an escape from his imprisoned trailer park world holds up remarkably well against the test of time, in this case, just over 25 years. Additionally, the demographic sweet spot for HD-DVD adopters were at a prime childhood age to be blown away by The Last Starfighter when it debuted theatrically and on VHS.
The then-revolutionary digital effects sadly fail the test of time and look archaic by contemporary photorealistic CGI standards. Today’s kids would only relate if Alex were playing Halo 3 and a marine drop-ship with Master Chief swooped from the sky to pick him up for an intergalactic war with the Covenant, not an old quirky con named Centauri in a low-tech flying car. They’d surely scoff at the squeaky clean visuals of a lone Starfighter battling the Kodan Armada, leaving The Last Starfighter as a classic gift for children of the 80s to enjoy.
Universal presents The Last Starfighter in a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer unable to hide its age. Clearly little, if any, effort has gone into restoring the original master as dirt, specs and dust mar the print. However, anyone on the fence about upgrading their standard DVD version to HD-DVD should be pleased with the marked clarity and detail improvement in picture quality, even if it looks as dated as the visual effects defining it.
The now-common Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track found on Universal HD-DVDs is a step up from the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track found on the standard DVD, but still suffers from the front-loaded tendencies of older catalog titles. This limitation doesn’t hold back Craig Safan’s memorable score from sounding fuller than it ever has; in fact, The Last Starfighter main theme has been stuck in my head since when I watched it three days ago.
A treat for Starfighter fans whom have passed up previous incarnations on home video is the half hour documentary Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter. A balder, fatter Lance Guest, the actor who portrayed Alex Rogan in the film, narrates an exploration into behind-the-scenes footage and the groundbreaking special effects with tons of archival footage featuring the artists at work. Blurry, grainy 480p clips from the film emphasize the video improvement HD DVD offers, and there’s even an all-CGI X-Wing test Digital Productions, the company responsible for The Last Starfighter, performed for George Lucas and ILM in 1978.
Further insight into The Last Starfighter is offered in a Feature-Length Commentary with Director Nick Castle and Production Designer Ron Cobb. The pair struggle at times to come up with something to say and even chuckle at inside jokes, but manage to offer up some juicy making-of tidbits not found in the documentary. Also included are HD DVD exclusive My Scenes bookmarking and the Teaser and Theatrical Trailer.
Greetings, Starfighter. You’ve been recruited by Universal to take a trip down memory lane and re-enjoy a 1980s cinematic and visual-effects classic looking and sounding better than it ever has. Will you get in the car?
- Score: 8.0