Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Last Starfighter

  The 80's was definitely a magical time for movies. Movies didn't have to be perfect to be good, and suspension of disbelief was alot easier. The Last Starfighter is the perfect movie to fit into both of those arenas of film. It's a coming of age story which is basically The Sword in the Stone but with aliens and spaceships. How does that not sound awesome? I think from a present day standpoint, people might be very underwhelmed with this movie, since the effects have ages fairly badly... However, there is a certain charm to the movie at the same time that's simply irrepressible.

  Our young protagonist, Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) lives with his mom and his little brother in an all-American trailer park. I mean... this is a trailer park as only Norman Rockwell, or E.T. era Steven Spielberg could have possibly seen them. It's charming in it's own way. When's the last time you described a trailer park as charming? Thought so. Anyhow, Alex still realizes it's a dead end life for him. Fixing the neighbor's electricity, plunging toilets, and basically being the handyman for the entire trailer park. He never has the time to go hang out with his friends or anything. Yet you can tell if anyone is going to make it out of there, it's gonna be Alex. Not to mention he has a beautiful girlfriend on his arm, played by the gorgeous Mary Catherine Stewart.

  Anyway, it seems the sole source of entertainment in this entire place is this little arcade game called "Starfighter". Alex plays so much that he eventually beats... "the record". An event so amazing, that apparently everyone in the trailer park shows up to watch him beat said record... in the middle of the night. The sight of all these middle aged people who probably don't give a flying fuck about video games cheering on this teenage guy to beat a high score is pretty ridiculous- and that might be the biggest understatement ever.  Having said that, "Starfighter" is the sword and the stone in this case. Beating the hi-score ended up whisking Alex away to an intergalactic war where he realizes the game was merely a test... and this is the real deal.

  The movie has it's moments, and a lot of them. Lance Guest is really fun as Alex, and the production design in the movie is fantastic. It looks great. The alien creatures, the spaceships, the suits, all of it. It feels like a slice of a much larger cinematic universe which was just begging to be explored even further. It's a shame that it wasn't. If I have any complaint about the movie is that it doesn't spend more time on it's high-flying space battles or exploring more of this universe. There's a lot of exposition that is merely handed to us through several conversations and speeches and I couldn't help but feel this was a case where "show don't tell" was needed.

  However, The Last Starfighter is charming and exciting and full of characters that you wouldn't think twice about spending 90 minutes with. Everyone does a great job in their role, and even when the script gets a little thin and the story maybe isn't what it should be, there's still this energy present that keeps it fun and keeps it moving forward. The movie makes a detour to explain how nobody on Earth would necessarily miss Alex. Well, he now has a robot double on Earth. It has some great moments, and Lance Guest does a great job of playing him too- but whenever you're back on Earth... you find yourself wishing we were still in space. It's not bad, and still fun, but one wonders why they grounded us after teasing us with a legitimate space war.

  Despite it's dated special effects, the space scenes are incredibly well done and very fun. Alex really steps up to be a legitimate Starfighter and the movie rewards us by treating us to a series of awesome space battles. Really, the movie plays on the charm of being an arcade game come to life. It's why this movie probably couldn't be remade. Not without losing it's charm. Whenever I hear that old computerized voice from the arcade game bellow out "Greetings Starfighter" it brings a smile to my face. It's a movie that works because almost everyone can relate to Alex Rogan and his dream to be... somewhere else. And for me, as a kid, that 'somewhere else' was always outer space.

  On it's own merit, it's good. Maybe not great, maybe not an absolute classic, but it manages to be more fun than most modern movies. It captures the feeling of adventure so necessary to a story like this, no matter what era it was made in. Yet... it just seems like they don't make movies like this anymore. Fun is a timeless concept, and there are always going to be fun movies... but... the specific brand of fun generated by The Last Starfighter seems to be a fading concept. It's simple and effective, and honestly? Endearing. It's charm is forever tied to the idea of things like arcades, and booth games, and having to have a pocket full of quarters to play these things. It's a bygone era, but the movie is a perfect reminder of how fantastical it could be.


  1. “Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.”

    I really enjoyed your post, and I love this movie. I have a hard time figuring out how you got through it without mentioning Robert Preston and Dan O'Herlihey. They are the characters that make this movie really special, I mean besides the arcade concept. Great job.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I should've given a shout out to those wonderful actors. They're definitely part of the magic.
      Glad you liked the review anyways.

  2. I like that you said this: "Movies didn't have to be perfect to be good". I agree – movies can be funny or thought-provoking but they don't have to be a masterpiece to be entertaining...which is what we want a movie to be.

    This does sound like a charming flick, and I'll watch out for it. I'm glad you added it to the blogathon.

    1. Thanks! I appreciate your comment. You're right, movies don't have to be a masterpiece to be entertaining.
      I wish more people had that attitude about film.