The Last Starfighter (1984)
In the early and mid-1980s computer-generated imagery (CGI) was still in its infancy. 1982 had seen it in wide scale use in the classic Disney Science-Fiction hit, ‘Tron’, and a few other movies had also experimented with the technique but none to any great extent. Traditional model and miniature-based effects remained the norm, even with the major hitters in Sci-Fi like ‘Return of the Jedi’ (1983). However in 1984 one movie changed that: ‘The Last Starfighter’.
The basic premise, or inspiration of the movie, was simple enough – the growth and popularity of video-gaming across the United States and elsewhere in the 1980s. The central character, Alex Rogan (played by Lance Guest), is a teenager living in a rundown desert trailer park with his mother and brother. Working as the park’s live-in handyman most of his leisure time is taken up with playing a dusty video game arcade machine, ‘Starfighter’, successfully advancing to the game’s highest levels and becoming its highest scorer. Shortly after achieving this he is approached by a man claiming to be the game’s inventor by the name of Centauri (played by the wonderful Robert Preston in one of his last roles) and invited to take a ride with him. From there a series of incredible adventures follow, taking Alex into a real interstellar war, and changing his life.
This storyline allowed the movie’s makers to fully utilize the up-and-coming CGI capabilities of the era. While looking somewhat primitive now, and often close to the computer games that inspired them, the effects still hold up, and have a charm all of their own. And while the film was driven, and advertised, on the basis of its incredible effects, the story itself was still satisfactory enough in terms of drama, humour and wry observations on life, to thoroughly appeal to the wish-fulfillment fantasies of its target audience (I know because back then I was one of them). Despite a mixed reaction from critics the movie was a modest success and remains popular to this day, and is frequently seen on television. So if you saw this old classic the first time around, don’t worry, unlike much else from the 1980s this one still works and will readily take you back in time if you watch it – think ‘Goonies’ and you get the idea. A much improved digitally remastered version is now available on DVD and Blu-ray and should be at the top of your next cult shopping list. Enjoy.