Color, 1984, 101 mins.

Directed by Nick Castle

Starring Lance Guest, Robert Preston, Catherine Mary Stewart, Dan O'Herlihy / Written by Jonathan R. Betuel / Produced by Gary Adelson & Edward O. Denault / Music by Craig Safan / Cinematography by King Baggot

Format: DVD - Universal (MSRP $34.98)

Letterboxed (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

The rise of video games over the past twenty years has inspired quite a few movies -- and most of them are really, really bad. The few happy exceptions, like this film and WarGames, understand that special effects alone cannot carry a film, and while movies like Tron or Streetfighter may have visual style to burn, there's not much underneath to hold them up. The Last Starfighter was largely overlooked as a Spielberg wannabe on its original theatrical release but quickly amassed a devoted following through home video and frequent screenings on HBO. However, fans who have never seen it in scope will be amazed at how different it looks now on DVD.

A typical all-American teenage dreamer, Alex Rogan (Lance Guest of Halloween II), lives in a trailer park managed by his mother. While he enjoys the company of his friends and neighbors, including girlfriend Catherine Mary Stuart (Night of the Comet), he longs for something more (and if this were a Disney film he'd have one of those "I gotta be free so I'll run through a field and sing" numbers). In one day Alex experiences a double whammy: he's turned down for a college scholarship and manages to beat the seemingly invincible Starfighter videogame. That night, a mysterious man, Centauri (Robert Preston, doing a terrific alien spin on his Harold Hill persona), drives up and offers to escort Alex to his destiny. Much to Alex's surprise, they immediately zoom into the air and off to his distant planet. Centauri explains that the Starfighter game is an elaborate test to find a human starfighter who can help the them defeat the evil Xur, an upstart who's starting a rebellion and planning on wiping out numerous planets throughout the galaxy, including Earth. Meanwhile an alien lookalike substitute for Alex is placed on Earth, and Xur sends assassins to wipe out our hero. The conflict mounts as Alex is torn between his life at home and the possibility of becoming a hero... or losing his life.

While hardly a masterpiece of pioneering science-fiction, The Last Starfighter has fortunately held up well over the years. Its sweet-natured spin on the hoary sci-war premise is a welcome change from the usual ear-splitting hardware clashes in space, and the interesting, well-drawn characters go a long way towards endearing the film to its audience. The computer effects (pretty advanced for its time, a fact noted repeatedly on the packaging and in the half hour documentary included on the DVD) look much better when presented in scope (though occasionally seem a little reminiscent of one of those Mind's Eye videos), and Craig Safan's rousing score (his best to date) sweeps the action along and effectively builds tension along the way. The DVD also features a fun half hour documentary hosted by Guest which details some of the FX production work and features interviews with primary cast and crew, including director Castle and composer Safan. Though the film was issued in a less accurately letterboxed CAV edition in Japan back in the early days of laserdisc, this new rendition easily blows away every previous transfer. While audiences who can't remember Galaga may not experience a dizzy nostalgic smile while watching The Last Starfighter, this remains a solid and refreshingly upbeat film that viewers of all ages can enjoy.

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