So, I really didn’t need anything from Wally World, but I convinced myself to drive down there the other morning because I was jonesing for an action figure or a Lego set or something. So much of my stuff has been coming to me by way of the Internets lately. I don’t really miss the hunt, but every once and a while, it is nice to actually buy something and not have to wait a week to have it in hand. Anyway, I didn’t do all that well in the toy aisles, but I did spend some time rummaging through the HUGE drum of $7.88 Blu-Rays that that they have set up in the middle of the aisle. I honestly hate going through these things. Trying to find anything in it is like digging a hole in the sand. It just keeps closing up and you can spend an hour just flipping through copies of Ace Ventura, Face Off, and Happy Feet. Also, I feel like a homeless person picking through a giant garbage can looking for something I can use to decorate my cardboard box shack.
Well, I was just about to call it quits before I came up with this forgotten gem. When I say forgotten gem, I mean I really did forget this movie existed. Once I set eyes on it, however, it all came rushing back to me. I could remember my parents taking me to see it in the theater. It came out in 1984, which means I was 12. That right there was what made my parents so awesome. They had no hope of enjoying anything this movie had to offer, and yet they flushed their Saturday afternoon down the drain because they knew it would make me happy. Maybe my Dad got a kick out of the effects, but my Mom must have been bored to tears, but she did it because she is a great Mom. (And that’s my shout out to my Mom on Mother’s Day!). I loved this movie and I can well remember renting it more than a dozen times when it finally became available on VHS. It celebrated almost everything that I loved about life as a 12 year old boy: Aliens, Space Ships, and Video Games.
Now it’s been over a decade since I saw it, and I was excited to pop it in and see whether it could possibly hold up. Now granted, the last time I watched this, I was a 14-year old munching on some Cap’n Crunch, and now I’m a middle aged nerd with a rock glass of Jameson in my hand. So, does it hold up? Well, with just the right amount of nostalgia and whiskey… yes, yes it does.
Trailer park washout Alex dreams of heading to the big city and making something of himself, but he’s stuck fixing people’s fuse boxes and dropping quarters into the local Starfighter arcade machine. Of course, it’s all a test to find someone capable of joining The Star League and piloting a Gunstar against the forces of the evil dictator-wannabe, Xur. There’s a lot I love about this story, but mostly it’s the stuff that’s non-conventional. Alex is clearly a video game nerd, but he’s not really a loser. He’s got a pretty girlfriend, he’s got friends to hang out with, but most of all, he’s got the support of his little trailer park community who turn out in droves to cheer him on when he’s beating the machine’s top score. Seeing all those people cheer him on is just one of the greatest video-gaming moments of cinema. Some of you young people may not be aware, but it wasn’t always cool to be a nerd like in today’s world of top grossing comic book movies and Xbox. Stuff like this and Tron were a really big deal.
Robert Preston gives it his all as Centauri, who shows up in his flying car to take Alex to the Star League base. Yes, kids, if an old stranger shows up and tells you to get in his cool car, you climb on board! That’s what we learned from The Last Starfighter! Anyway, I still love the “Star Car” as much as I did as a kid and I still remember screaming inward at the screen when Alex asked to be taken home rather than help. “What the hell are you doing??? They’re going to let you fly a f’cking spaceship with a lizard man and shoot lasers!!!!” I had forgotten about this plot-point in the movie, and this time I was yelling at the screen out loud in a Jameson fueled rage.
The subplot with Beta Unit Alex holds up pretty well for me too, mainly because of the cool special effects scenes. I remember seeing a lot of screen grabs and articles in either Starlog or Fangoria, or a similar magazine, about the makeup and effects. I used to love those kinds of magazines and how they showed everything that went into practical effects, and now I have a hankering to pull my old stack out for a future Sunday Funday. That kind of shit made me want to ask for a bunch of latex and air bellows for Christmas so I could learn how to do it and get a job in an SFX company. Good thing I didn’t, because now it’s all done by computers, and I spend too much time sitting at a computer desk already.
Speaking of computers and effects… Last Starfighter was hyped because it was one of the first movies to showcase CG effects in place of model ships. Watching the movie again, I thought the hardest thing to accept would be the Tron-like CG effects as realistic spacecraft. To my surprise, they actually look quite spectacular on the Blu-Ray cut. Not realistic, mind you. There’s no part of me that is convinced they’re real ships, and I still prefer the good old studio model kit building for my space ship effects, but I can’t deny that this stuff just looks neat. NEAT!!!
Sometimes, I drop $8 on a budget movie, watch it and think, meh… why did I bother? That wasn’t the case here. I enjoyed watching this one again and I can see myself popping it in again sometime down the road. In fact, I’ll probably watch it again this week for the commentary and extras. Oh, and while Sunday Funday is all about taking a break from toys, I’m not opposed to a toy tie-in if I can do it. Check out this amazing little piece on the unproduced Last Starfighter action figure line at the awesome Plaid Stallions blog. Or how about this ridiculously cool Lego Gunstar.