Sunday, November 8, 2020

THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review/Comparison)


Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: PG
Duration: 101 Minutes
Audio: English Uncompressed DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, 5.1 Surround and and 4.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.39:1) 
Director: Nick Castle
Cast:  Lance Guest, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Preston, Norman Snow, Dan O’Herlihy, Chris Herbert

Synopsis: Greetings Starfighter! You have been recruited by Arrow Video to experience the 1984 sci-fi classic as you've never experienced it before! Directed by Nick Castle, the man behind the Michael Myers mask in the original Halloween, The Last Starfighter tells the story Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), an arcade game whizz-kid whose wildest dreams comes true when he finds himself enlisted to fight in an interstellar war. Now newly restored from a 4K scan of the original negative and featuring a 4.1 mix originally created for the film's 70mm release - never included on previous home video formats - The Last Starfighter arrives loaded with brand new and archival bonus features. Strap yourself in: the Blu-ray adventure of a lifetime is about to begin!

I was about 11 years-old when I first saw The Last Starfighter (1984) and I was enamored with it from the get-go, being what is probably the perfect age to see it at the time.  Having grown-up frequenting the larger arcades at the mall and haunting the lobbies of the local supermarkets playing Galaga non-stop for hours on end I easily imagined myself in the place of the teenager  Alex Rogan (Lance Guest, Halloween II, Jaws: The Revenge), who after getting the high score on The Last Starfighter arcade game is reluctantly recruited by an elite force of alien starfighters in an effort to save the galaxy from a nefarious enemy, it was pretty cool stuff. I think the film has aged alright if not spectacularly, the early digital effects work is certainly dated in retrospect but it still has that intrinsic nostalgic charm that gets my 80s-loving endorphins flowing, as does my crush on Catherine Mary Stewart (Night of the Comet) who plays Alex's girlfriend. She just has this girl-next-door sexiness that I have always adored. While re-watching this last night I was shocked when I realized that it was actor Dan O'Herlihy playing the alien fighter Grig in this flick, and for those of you not in the know, O'Herlihy not only played The Old Man in Robocop but he was the diabolical druid toymaker Conal Cochran in Halloween III: Season of the Witch! Anyway, if you're a fan of early 80's sci-fi and vintage arcade games this is a pretty cool flick, notably directed by Nick Castle who played The Shape in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) as well as Halloween (2018), which is also pretty cool.

Audio/Video: Universal Home Entertainment released The Last Starfighter on Blu-ray for it's 25th anniversary in 2009 with some cool extras, but it was marred by some aggressive digital noise reduction used to de-grain the film which rendered the facial features plasticine and eroded fine detail. Thankfully Arrow Video released the film in 2020 with a brand new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, and the results are impressive. Colors can look a bit soft at times owing to the original cinematography but the grain is intact and the visuals are impressive throughout. Check out the screenshot comparison of the Universal Blu-ray (2009) versus the Arrow Blu-ray (2020) at the bottom of the review. Audio on the disc comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0, 4.1 and 5.1 with optional English subtitles, and everything sounds authentic and robust with crisp dialogue and vintage sci-fi space battle sound effects coming through accompanied by a wave of youthful nostalgia on my part. 

Extras are plentiful with arrow carrying over the 24-minute 'Heroes of the Screen' featurette plus the 32-minute four-part making of documentary 'Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter', plus the archival audio commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb, plus the image gallery. 

New stuff on the disc comes by way of a pair of audio commentaries, the first with star Lance Guest and his son Jackson Guest, and a second with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast, who always does a bang-up job. We also get a bunch of new interviews, including a 9-minute actress Catherine Mary Stewart, 12 minutes with composer Craig Safan, nine-minutes with screenwriter Jonathan Betuel, ten-minutes with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike, and eight-minutes with sci-fi author Greg Bear on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter, as well as a seven-minute interview with arcade game collector Estil Vance on reconstructing the Starfighter game. The previous disc had some great extras but Arrow have gone and covered some new territory, which is awesome. The disc is buttoned-up with an image gallery plus theatrical and teaser trailers. 

The single-disc releases arrives in an oversized clear Amaray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork with both a new illustration and the classic Drew Struzan artwork on the reverse side, the slipcover features the new illustration by Matt Ferguson, and it looks fine, but I am of the opinion that anytime you have Drew Struzan artwork yo do not need a new one! Inside we have the Blu-ray disc which replicated the The Last Starfighter video game graphics on it, plus we get a 40-page collector's booklet with new writings on the film from author/podcaster Amanda Reyes and sci-fi author Greg Bear, along with cast and crew, and production credits. Inside you will also find a reversible fold-out mini-poster featuring both artworks.   

Special Features: 
- Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the 35mm OCN
- Uncompressed 2.0 stereo, 5.1 DTS-HD MA and 4.1 audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- NEW! Brand new audio commentary with star Lance Guest and his son Jackson Guest
- NEW! Brand new audio commentary with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast
- Archival audio commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb
- NEW! Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter – an
 interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart (9 min) 
- NEW! Into the Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter – an interview with composer Craig Safan (12 min) 
- NEW! Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter – an interview with screenwriter Jonathan Betuel (9 min) 
- NEW! Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating the Special Effects – an interview with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike (10 min) 
- NEW! Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions – an interview with sci-fi author Greg Bear on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter (8 min) 
- Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game – an interview with arcade game collector Estil Vance on reconstructing the Starfighter game (7 min) 
- Heroes of the Screen – archival featurette (24 min) 
- Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter – archival 4-part documentary (32 min) 
- Image Galleries
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
- Teaser Trailers (4 min) 
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Ferguson
- Limited Edition O-Card - FIRST PRESSING ONLY
- Limited Edition Reversible Poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork - FIRST PRESSING ONLY
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes and sci-fi author Greg Bear’s never-before-published Omni magazine article on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter - FIRST PRESSING ONLY

The Last Starfighter (1984) is a kiddie sci-fi flick that made me believe when I was eleven years-old that if I managed to keep pumping quarters into that Galaga arcade game in the lobby of the grocery store across the street and hold-onto high score that just maybe I would be recruited into an inter-galactic freedom force, and as ridiculous as that sounds I wanna live in a world where movies make you think the impossible is possible, and that's the magic of The Last Starfighter for me. Arrow knock it out of the galaxy with their new 4K restoration, plus the disc extras and packaging are out-of-this-world, highly recommended for kids of all ages. 

Screenshot Caparison:
Top: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (2009) 
Bottom: Arrow Video Blu-ray (2020)