Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Last Starfighter (1984)

Another slice of '80s greatness, The Last Starfighter is yet another in the long list of films that I took far too long to watch. Thankfully, it holds up as a fun sci-fi action movie.

Lance Guest plays Alex Rogan, a young man who lives in a trailer park but dreams of the day when he can move away and start to make something of his life. He wants to take his lovely girlfriend, Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart), with him, despite the fact that she doesn't seem quite so keen to get away. At the end of a bad day, Alex unwinds by playing the arcade game entitled The Last Starfighter. He breaks the record and defeats the game, much to the delight of the crowd gathered around him. But it turns out that The Last Starfighter is more than just an arcade game. It's a simulator/test, developed and planted in various locations by aliens who are under attack and in need of skilled fighters. When he is picked up by a man named Centauri (Robert Preston) and taken into outer space, Alex reacts as expected. He doesn't want to risk his life in a space battle if it's not in safe videogame form.

Directed by Nick Castle (a name familiar to any John Carpenter fan) and written by Jonathan R. Betuel, The Last Starfighter is a delightful mix of practical effects, very basic computer FX work (crude, but charming in this context) and sheer escapism. It's family entertainment from back when those two words didn't equate to something that had been completely neutered to appease everyone offended by the merest hint of an immoral thought.

Guest is perfectly fine in the lead role, and also has a lot of fun playing the robotic unit that replaces him while he's away in space. He's a standard teenager, imperfect but likable enough. Catherine Mary Stewart is equally fine as his girlfriend, and the two work well together. When it comes to the space bods, Preston has the most fun as Centauri, but Dan O'Herlihy is constantly entertaining onscreen, hidden under a LOT of make-up for his character, Grig. Then there are the main baddies, played by Norman Snow and Dan Mason. Both do solid work.

It's very cheesy in places, and it's often a bit ridiculous, but The Last Starfighter is also fine entertainment. It's eager to please, and the perfect pacing helps (a few different alien agents are sent to take Alex out of action when his skill becomes known). I'll be buying it ASAP, rewatching it every so often, and simply regretting the fact that I didn't get to see this when it was first released back in the 1980s.


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