Although Nick Castle is probably best known for playing Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s Halloween, he was also the director behind the 1984 sci-fi adventure The Last Starfighter. Arrow has upgraded their previous 2020 Blu-ray to 4K Ultra HD with a beautifully filmic 2160p presentation bolstered by Dolby Vision HDR that respects the very early computer-generated special effects. While no supplements have been added to this upgrade, the already exhaustive bounty of special features has been carried over. This release comes Recommended!
As I’ve come to understand it, there’s actually quite a few fans of Nick Castle’s The Last Starfighter out there in the world. Steven Spielberg and Seth Rogen have both expressed interest in producing a sequel to this little family friendly sci-fi adventure from 1984, and it’s also a very early marvel of CGI. To this first-time viewer, I found it lukewarm but not the kind of egregious work that can come from being a movie that’s designed to crib from so many other sci-fi films of that time. Yet what sticks out from the traditional narrative of a nerdy hero realizing his true destiny is the genuine craft on display both behind and in front of the camera.
While I haven’t seen Castle’s first effort, the underground cult favorite Tag: The Assassination Game, the man certainly brings the resourceful spirit found in his collaborations with John Carpenter to The Last Starfighter. Most of the film was shot in Santa Clarita, California, and the lack of production design needed for a big sci-fi epic is circumvented mostly by Castle’s sturdy direction. The premise of a video game nerd being recruited into an intergalactic war doesn’t really require many special effects for the earth scenes, and the film certainly takes advantage of that fact. And for a film that really doesn’t offer the most unique characterizations to separate itself from the crop of sci-fi from that era, the visual effects still stun, especially in that wonderfully textural way that early CGI looks when printed on celluloid.
The Last Starfighter follows the intergalactic adventures of high-schooler Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), who spends his days trying to beat the Starfighter video game that sits in front of his local convenience store. Little does he know, the game is just a test. And when he eventually beats the game, much to the joy of all the locals, he’s recruited by the game’s inventor, an alien named Centauri (Robert Preston), to fight in the real-life battle between the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Empire. The game is just a recruiting tool, and now Alex and his reptilian pilot partner named Grig (Dan O’Herlihy) must defeat the evil Xur (Norman Snow), the leader of the Ko-Dan Empire.
Similar to many other early ‘80s sci-fi adventure films, many of the locations in space are in flat-paneled sets you’d see on Star Trek. Many of the characters wear rubber masks that look a bit goofy when blown-up to 4K, though all of the performers are clearly having fun and are committed. Robert Preston seems to be having the most fun out of everyone, using that strong, deep voice to make all the foo-foo sci-fi sound a lot more realistic than it has any right to. Even the usual teenage romance, this time between Alex and his girlfriend Maggie Gordon (Catherine Mary Stewart), is kicked up a couple notches with an ingenious subplot between Maggie and the robot doppelganger placed in Alex’s life while the real Alex is off fighting.
All in all, The Last Starfighter is highly derivative of other sci-fi films, though it’s produced with such gumption and inspiration that you end up appreciating how it builds off of the popular sci-fi before it. Add Craig Safan’s expansive, sweeping score and it comes as no surprise as to why this film has survived the test of time.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited to watch this new 4K Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, which comes with a single BD100 disc that houses the feature and all the special features. The 4K Blu-ray n boots up to a standard menu screen with options to set up audio and video or explore bonus features.
NOTE: High-Def Digest was provided with an advance 4K disc only and thus will not be reviewing the physical items from the retail release. We also weren't able to source images from the 4K disc, as soon as we can we'll try to circle back and update the review images and if possible add a video sample.
The Last Starfighter has received a few different home video releases over the years, including an HD DVD from 2007 and a 2009 Blu-ray that had its transfer repackaged a few times, but Arrow delivered an essential Blu-ray release back in 2020 that was sourced from a beautiful 4K restoration of the original camera negative. This new 2160p, HEVC-encoded presentation is sourced from the same beautiful 4K restoration, and the addition of Dolby Vision HDR has only opened up the film to further appreciation. That 35mm grain sings here and looks much better resolved in special-effects shots, although those big CGI scenes don’t get the same uptick in detail and color refinement that the scenes on earth do.
Flesh tones are tuned in just right, and colors in general pop a bit more thanks to the Dolby Vision HDR layer. The clarity of the CGI effects isn’t what suffers because of age, but rather the resolution they were captured at originally. Blown up to 2160p, you can just see the limitations in terms of shadows and detail, with much of the CGI looking very smooth by today’s standards. That being said, the encode handles it all capably and resolves any mix of physical and CGI remarkably well. In particular, the closing scene with the spaceship landing on the house really astounds. Black levels get an appreciable uptick as well, which is good since many of the scenes are shot at night to hide the combination of physical effects and CGI.
The source looks to be in incredible condition, with nary a hint of damage to be found throughout the presentation, and I didn’t notice any instances of DNR or other digital tinkering. This is another wonderful 4K upgrade from Arrow!
Arrow carries over all the audio options from their 2020 Blu-ray release, which include DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 4.1 and 2.0 tracks. The 4.1 track is what I went with since it’s sourced from the 6-track soundtrack originally shown with 70mm prints of the film. Why I went with that mix? In some of the score-dominated sequences in the beginning, I found the 4.1 track to have much more life in the front channels, and just a touch better in terms of sounding vintage rather than a cleaned-up presentation. Craig Safan’s strong score gets a wide soundstage in both the front and rear channels, and there’s plenty of fun special effects that whiz and fly across all channels. Needless to say, the source is in immaculate condition and offers a great relationship between dialogue, effects and music.
Arrow has ported over all the special features available on their 2020 Blu-ray release, but it’s worth noting that release was already stacked with enjoyable supplements. For one, the interviews with special effects supervisor and sci-fi author Greg Bear go deep on the technical details behind the special effects of the movie. The workflow that was developed for that production supposedly reduced the time needed to produce effects by using computer technology, up against the still then-dominant use of physical models.
Another highlight is the interview with composer Craig Safan, who had to compose the score with little visual aid to go off of for the CGI-dominated sequences. His inspiration from John Williams and experience with electronic instruments helped to make his memorable and triumphant score.
The Last Starfighter is called upon to save the universe once again, and Arrow has upgraded their already terrific 2020 Blu-ray release to 4K Ultra HD to answer that call. The new 2160p presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR is stellar, and all the previous supplements have been carried over. For fans of the film, this release comes Recommended!