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The Last Starfighter

The Last Starfighter (1984)
Director: Nick Castle
Rated PG

This movie made a solid effort to bring forth the Star Wars vibe and add an extra layer of special effects that reflected more recent advances in technology. That technology was first pioneered with Tron, but then had taken steps in a different direction with Digital Productions, a computer generated imagery company that was leaps and bounds more complex than the usual Hollywood FX offerings, giving all CGI models and effects, save a few practicals.

I usually strongly dislike the texture of CGI because, well, there is no texture, and this film's spaceships are no exception. This is the pinnacle of smooth chassis and not taking the ambient light in a convincing way, but I can't help but still really respect and enjoy this movie.

Back on Earth, a trailer park bound teenager and his small circle of go-nowhere friends don't have much to look forward to except fishing, drive-ins and necking on the cliffs (sounds pretty damn good to me!). Alex is the exception. He's the local fixer upper kid who helps all of the elderly women living in the park with their tv sets, electricity, radios, etc. His dreams are to move on and make something of himself, and his days are spent waiting for his loan letter in the mail to go to a real college. He also happens to break the record on the arcade game "The Last Starfighter", much to his neighbor's surprise one night.

It's his high score that sends a signal out to space and is received by a recruiter who then comes to Earth and takes Alex away to lead a solo mission of defeating the outer galactic enemy. In his place, he is mirrored by a clone Alex who stays behind and tends to his girlfriend and little brother.

This is a fun movie. I really, really dig the location here, and instead of explaining it, I'll leave images of some of the shots. There's a really great balance between Earth at night in the park and outer space where flashing laser beams frisk the black fabric that hold the star fields together.

No one element of locale outweighs the other, and I think this was a smart choice for director Castle (he played the shape - Mike Myers from Halloween). There's a feeling of cozy desolation at that trailer park at night, amongst "the tumbleweeds and tarantulas", and having that contrast is crucial to give any kind of feeling while spending time in space or on an alien civilization's ship.

I saw this at the theater and felt just as strong about it as I did with the Star Wars films. Of course, it's not as good, but it gets a lot of deserved respect because of how even it is, and how satisfying it is. It's a perfect time capsule of light sci fi adventure for the 1980's.