Monday, August 7, 2017

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Last Starfighter" (1984)

So...let's talk about the ultimate video game nerd power fantasy film.

Because I, the MadCapMunchkin, am here to tell you that this film here is basically it.  I don't know about you, but it's the dream of every single video game nerd I know (myself included) to be told that you are so amazingly badass at playing video games that a group of aliens who made said video games want you to come from boring old Earth to their planet halfway across the galaxy to fight in an intergalactic war against a nigh-unstoppable foe who seeks to conquer or destroy all sentient life in the universe. And all you have to do is be blackmailed and guilted into it, and then eventually pick up your girlfriend that you so totally have and do the same to her in a never-ending cycle of shame and misery!

...wait a second. Let me start over.

The Last Starfighter is the tale of Alex Logan (Lance Guest), the assumed alias of Jimmy Lloyd after the terrible events of Halloween night of 1978 (the good version), now living in California in protective custody. However, this protection is not so restrictive that he can't spend time with his sort of sort of not girlfriend Maggie (Catherine May Stewart) or play his favorite (and only) arcade game in the trailer park Starfighter.  So what if he has no prospects at going to college? At least he'll always have video games.

But when Alex gets the high score on Starfighter, he finds himself kidnapped by a stylish con-man by the name of Centauri (Robert Preston) and pressed into the service of Rylan Star League as a Starfighter, which is apparently a very rare gift among the civilized societies of the known universe. So much so that there's only a handful of pilots and navigators to battle the dreaded Ko-Dan Armada and defend the planet of Rylos and the Frontier.

Why the Rylans themselves can't get into their Gunstars and go fight off the Armada is something they skillfully avoid mentioning.

But yes, thus begins an epic adventure as Alex must lean to actually pilot the real spacecraft and save the galaxy from the Ko-Dan and the dreaded Xur (Norman Snow). Xur, by the way, winning the award for least intimidating villain ever...except maybe when put up against Lisa from The Room. He hams it up and does practically nothing the entire film that is in any way remotely menacing. Even the Ko-Dan are wondering when they can get rid of him. He does have a really cool mace thing.

A few things before I dive into what I enjoy about this film - because, yes, I really, really love this movie - yes, it's a Star Wars-ripoff and yes, it's a Galaga rip-off. Neither of those things happen to be criticisms. It's a 1980s science-fiction film, of course it drew large amounts of inspiration from Star Wars. And it's one ship going up against an entire armada of other ships, Galaga. That being said, those don't detract from the film in the least.

What does kind of detract from the film is the fact that we're not actually given that much detail about the Rylans or the Star League or even their conflict with the Ko-Dan.  For things that are seemingly so very important, they're either glossed over or not mentioned at all. I will give it credit that the simplicity of it is realistic seeing as Alex isn't told all of this either, but we as the audience really know nothing about any of it beyond the fact that the Rylans say that the Ko-Dan and Xur are pure dang nasty evil.

In A New Hope, you get some exposition through the opening crawl and some dialogue between characters that set up the Empire almost from the jump as an incredibly evil, oppressive regime and we see our heroes have very clear reasons for fighting against that regime. With this movie...you're just told that and given vague mentions of a "dark betrayal" and just told to go with it. No real attempts at world-building, though we do see some very unique designs for the various alien types and both the Gunstars and the Ko-Dan ships.

The Frontier in particular is one of several special effect shots that honestly look really cool for the time. While the sets where the actors are is done by physical locations while the space scenes are done with early CGI. Cheesy by today's standards, sure, but in 1984 it was cutting edge.

However, the film isn't about paper-thin plots or outdated CGI. It's about Alex pushing himself beyond what he believes he's capable of an unlocking the hero within...after being emotionally blackmailed into doing so by various individuals, up to and including his own robotic duplicate (also played by Lance Guest). However, this does work and Alex does eventually step up to the plate after an attack by the Ko-Dan makes him...the Last Starfighter.

Despite the forced blackmail to do the right thing, the film is definitely a good one. Yes, we don't know much about what's going on, but Alex never learns it and I suppose that's realistic to his situation as a whole.Yes, it's outdated in terms of special effects, but it holds up better than most for a movie that's over thirty years old. I love it, and will be happy to watch it time and time again, until I'm battling evil in another dimension.

The Last Starfighter is brought to us by Lorimar Productions and Universal Pictures.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

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