punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

"The Last Starfighter" - how does it stand up today?

Being fannish to a fault, I am one of many who would knee-jerk a response with, "ITS THE BEST MOVIE EVER LOL!!" but I saw it again last night with CR, who is 17 and has never seen it.

[chorus of boos]

Okay, okay, I am a negligent father fan. But really, how does this 1984 "significant movie of fandom" [snerk] compare? After all, I said that "Star Wars: A New Hope" was a little campy and "The Princess Bride" needed a soundtrack that didn't sound like it came from an all-in-one synthesizer. Star Wars lost a lot of shine when you take away the special effects and the fact it was the first of its kind in modern space opera. The Princess Bride did better, because the dialog was clever and the actors were decent. But how about "The Last Starfighter?"

Let's start with my first viewing of it, which was in 1984 when it came out in the theaters. I has just seen "Revenge of the Jedi," which I loved--

[chorus of boos]

-- shut up! The forest chase scene was some of the best racing ever before the pod races!

So, anyway, when I went with my parents to see The Last Starfighter, I had been told by my dad that this movie was the first of its kind: almost all of the effects were done on a computer. "Tron," which has come out a few years prior, was touted as the first computer-animated movie, and that caused a lot of controversy (due in part to the general distrust of computers doing anything artistic). The Last Starfighter raised ire again, because this time, the effects were "so realistic, it was hard to tell them from reality."

They said that about "Forrest Gump," and I have to say, LBJ's lips looked so fake when he talked... but I digress.

When I saw it, *I* could tell they were not very realistic. The lines were too clean, and the movements too smooth. But the film itself I thought was "okay," but not anything I'd consider noteworthy. In less than a year however, peer pressure would bend my views as I entered fandom. My fellow sci fi nerds would claim this film was better than sliced bread, and I am sure someone wrote a thesis on it and the effects it had on American culture. But I forgive them because sci fi films were still rare, often bad, and so something that was "okay" seemed a lot better. Our crown jewels up this point were "2001," "Logan's Run," "Alien," and the Star Wars films. Cut us some slack.

Then I lived in the FanTek house, and buddy, let me tell you how much they loved this film. You know my pen name, "Grig?" This was coined by Cheryl, who had some pronunciation issues (this is how Liska got named), but she quickly remarked how much I was like the alien, "Grig," which I still claim is almost nothing. He was an earless alien with the head of a Pachycephalosaurus and a tight-fitting padded suit. He also laughed like he smoked 3 packs a day, and when the film, "Enemy Mine" came out a year later, I thought it was probably the same alien designer; maybe even the same latex mold and paint color.

But for years I nodded in agreement, "yeah yeah, the Last Starfighter rules." And yet I have never owned a copy. I don't even have the Allen Dean Foster novelization, and I was REALLY into ADF for a long time. And as time passed, I forgot about it, even thought I quoted it from time to time.

Alex Rogan: Wait a minute. When did the hangar go up?
Grig: I told you! When Zur attacked!
Alex Rogan: And were the Starfighters?
Grig: In the hangar!
Alex Rogan: You mean they're *dead*?
Grig: [scoffs] Death is a primitive concept. I prefer to think of them as battling evil, in another dimension.
Alex Rogan: In another dimension? How many are left?
Grig: Including yourself?
Alex Rogan: Yeah!
Grig: One!
Alex Rogan: ONE?

Alex Rogan: Hold it! There's no fleet? No Starfighters, no plan? One ship, you, me, and that's it?
Grig: Exactly! Xur thinks you're still on Earth. Classic military strategy, surprise attack.
Alex Rogan: It'll be a slaughter!
Grig: That's the spirit!
Alex Rogan: No, *my* slaughter!

The slaughter line has always been my favorite. I have used it many times as an admin.

So... how did it go last night? Poorly.

See, there are several things wrong with the film. The first is that the dialog is a little hack. It reminds me of the kind of writing and acting done in Disney Channel sitcoms. Lines said like they actually are pausing for laughs, or trying to move the plot along for those who maybe haven't been paying attention. "He's an alien assassin? Send here to kill me?" No, he's an alien assassin who dropped by to pick up his dry cleaning. Which, I might add, would have been a line they might have used. See? I could write this stuff. Sometimes I thought Alex should have just come out and said, "You following this? Okay, again, I learned how to do this by playing a video game... but I ended up in outer space, fighting real bad guys. Oh no, everyone! What am I going to do? Doh!"

Once in a while, there were some decent lines, as I have said, but the most campy, over-the-top bad guy dialoge happened at this line:

Kodan Officer: She won't answer the helm! We're locked into the moon's gravitational pull. What do we do?
Lord Kril: [dramatic pause] We die.

I want to add their ship blew up before they actually hit the "moon," which according to their own special effects scale, was maybe, maybe the size of a football stadium. That would have the gravitational effect of ... you know what, never mind. If I didn't complain at the "whoosh" noise of an engine-dead starship spinning in the vacuum of space, I'll accept moons that would fit inside a hangar bay of the Death Star or be hidden from view by use of a large tarp.

During a scene where a shootout between Beta Unit Alex and some "Zando-Zan" assassin who looked like a shark with Down's Syndrome, it became apparent that the Kodan army was really strapped for talent. As my son pointed out, sharpshooting might not be an achievable skill to an alien who barely has binocular vision or movable eyes. The fact he tried to strangle Alex from the rafters of a laundry house, but THEN uses a gun to shoot at Centauri shows that his assassin skills aren't that keen in strategy, either. Even if he can operate a severed arm from a distance.

I mildly amused myself when Grig mentioned he had a "Wife-oid," and "twelve thousand little grig-lets," which, coincidentally, is what wombat1138 called my son for a while. "They were mine," Grig says, "before the Kodan armada enslaved them all." Well, if you are going to enslave a race, it's a good idea to enslave one that breeds so rapidly. If you have enough food, you will soon have more slaves than you know what to do with. And how thick did Grig lay on the guilt? Damn, his passive aggressive approach to get Alex to stay was so oblique.

It struck me that a lot of the aliens, Xur included, all had huge heads that grew so fast, their hair couldn't keep up. Also, The Last Starfighter did what a lot of bad science fiction films did: used alien names with a lot of the letters X and Z. I suppose this is to make the named seem more "exotic," but Star Wars did the opposite, and made the places and names sound more familiar: Han Solo, a Correllian, was not "Zarlon the Brave from Quazor III," for instance.

And if there's ever a Last Starfighter Drinking Game? Shots should be made whenever Centauri ends a sentence with, "my boy." "Welcome to Rylos, my boy!" and "I'm not here for cigarettes or bubble gum, my boy. " Robert Preston's schmaltzy acting sounded so vaudevillian that I expected him to be hit with a pie at some point. His death scene was as realistic as a Junior High production of "Madam Butterfly." But, of course, he's not dead! Yay! Centauri has glowing orange eyes and puts his human face on with an oil rag! Oops, spoilers...

And CR and I rolled our 21st century jaded eyes at the "special effects," which used to be the films selling point like "free air conditioning and 5-speak surround sound" on a new car. Yeah, that's great, but how does it run?

So... if you rate the movie on it's own, it's not that great. I am sure I'll get booed.


... if you read this far.
Tags: movies, review, science fiction, the last starfighter
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