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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Last Starfighter (Collector’s Edition) (4K UHD Review)


The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements


A high school student who beats the high score on the Starfighter arcade game finds it was a test of his skills and is transported to another planet to join their starfighter crew and help defend the planet.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

The Last Starfighter is the 1984 sci-fi adventure film that follows protagonist Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) lives in a trailer park where is mom is the manager. In order to escape the doldrums of daily life, Alex plays the videogame Starfighter at the arcade and becomes holder of the high score. Little does Alex know that the game is really a test to find someone who qualifies as the “Last Starfighter,” an interstellar champion to take up the cause for real in a battle that is raging between two factions in the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

Veteran actor Robert Preston arrives playing Centauri, an affable old stranger who shows up to inform Alex that because of his ability in Starfighter, he is expected to join Centauri’s Star League, then do battle with the evil Kodan forces. Centauri then flies Alex away in his Star Mobile, which looks suspiciously like a remodeled Delorean, leaving behind an Alex doppelganger to shift any suspicion.

The Last Starfighter is remembered fondly (by those who still remember it anyway) by those who loved it in the 1980s and very much stirs up a sense of nostalgia for the arcade and videogame culture of the era. Mostly, it is remembered for being one of the first films to incorporate 3D CGI visual effects. There are many shots of spaceships and so on done digitally that do stand out a lot more than they would today, but in the context of a 1984 sci-fi film, they look fantastic and actually add even more charm to the film, despite the way look a bit too sanitized and shiny in comparison to the rest of the film.

Apart from the effects, Starfighter is a fun film, with Lance Guest being a charismatic, everyman hero and the filmmakers deftly weave together a contemporary sci-fi story of space adventures set in the present interwoven with everyday teenage angst back on Earth via Alex’s doppelgänger. The flaws in the film, apart from an overly lighthearted screenplay even in some of the direst circumstances, are that it was meant as a setup for a sequel and that sequel never materialized, so the story in a way leads to an ending that doesn’t quite feel completely gratifying.

  • Lance Guest in The Last Starfighter (1984)
  • The Last Starfighter (1984)
  • Catherine Mary Stewart in The Last Starfighter (1984)
  • Lance Guest in The Last Starfighter (1984)
  • Lance Guest and Catherine Mary Stewart in The Last Starfighter (1984)
  • The Last Starfighter: Collector's Edition (Arrow Video)
  • The Last Starfighter: Collector's Edition (Arrow Video)
  • The Last Starfighter: Collector's Edition (Arrow Video)

The Video

This brand new 4K restoration by Arrow Films from the original camera negative of The Last Starfighter arrives in a 2.39:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) Dolby Vision encodement. Like the 2020 Blu-ray release from Arrow, this 4K release looks brilliant, with a fine, organic granularity and lots of detail. The 4K resolution brings out even more how the computer-generated visual effects standout from the in-camera effects. Some of the washout that was apparent in some darker areas on their previous Blu-ray restoration seems to be not there on this 4K release and the already stunning colors in the neon signage and video games and so forth ‘pop’ even more with vibrant, truer to nature colors and stunning specular highlights. Overall, the Dolby Vision application is not gimmicky, but it stands out when and where it works the best.

The Audio

This 4K Ultra HD release of The Last Starfighter comes with the same three audio mixes as Arrow’s 2020 Blu-ray release and they sound just as good. One is a stereo mix in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, one DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, and a DTS-HD Master Audio 4.1 mix originally created for the film’s 70mm release and never included on any home video format before the 2020 Blu-ray release from Arrow.

I like all three of these mixes, but the stereo mix is my least favorite because it has the least clarity of the three. The 4.1 mix, which uses a monaural surround back channel (or combines your two surround channels for those who do not have surround back channels) sounds almost as expansive as the 5.1 mix and provides clear dialogue in the center. Both 5.1 and 4.1 mixes are effective at balancing the score, spreading it across the front, and mixing good ambience in, but the 5.1 obviously does it a bit better and with discrete surround channels. The 2.0 mix has good stereo effects, but the sound is a little bit on the dull side in comparison to the other two mixes.

The Supplements

There are no “new” supplements included with this release over the 2020 Blu-ray release, but they still pack a wallop. For anyone who doesn’t own the previous release, this is a windfall of contemporary interviews and superb audio commentaries.

  • Audio commentary with star Lance Guest and his son Jackson Guest
  • Audio commentary with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast
  • Archival audio commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb
  • Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter (1080p; 00:09:28) – a new interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart
  • Into the Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter (1080p; 00:12:20) – a new interview with composer Craig Safan
  • Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter (1080p; 00:09:27) – an interview with screenwriter Jonathan Betuel
  • Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating the Special Effects (1080p; 00:10:14) – an interview with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike
  • Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions (1080p; 00:07:46) – an interview with sci-fi author Greg Bear on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter
  • Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game (1080p; 00:07:24) – an interview with arcade game collector Estil Vance on reconstructing the Starfighter game
  • Heroes of the Screen (1080i; 00:24:19) – archival featurette
  • Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter (720p; 00:32:02) – archival 4-part documentary on the making of the film
  • Image Galleries:
    • The Cast
    • Starfighter Command
    • The Starcar
    • The Gunstar
    • Ko-Dan Armada
    • Alternate Ending
    • Anatomy of a Starfighter CGI
    • Promotion and Merchandise
  • Theatrical and Teaser Trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Ferguson
  • Collector’s booklet featuring writing by Amanda Reyes and sci-fi author Greg Bear’s Omni magazine article on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter

The Final Assessment

This film was ahead of its time and its visual effects may seem a bit jarring and out of place today, but for those who lived through the era or for those interested in films from the era, it doesn’t get much more keyed in than this. Arrow’s 4K Ultra HD release is reference quality and another of their releases that instantly brings the FOMO.

The Last Starfighter (Collector’s Edition) is out May 30, 2023 from Arrow Video

  • Rating Certificate: PG
  • Studios & Distributors: Lorimar Film Entertainment (as A Lorimar Presentation) | Universal Pictures (as A Universal/Lorimar Production) | Arrow Video
  • Director: Nick Castle
  • Written: Jonathan R. Betuel (as Jonathan Betuel)
  • Run Time: 101 Mins.
  • Street Date: 30 May 2023
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (HDR10 Compatible)
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Secondary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo | English DTS-HD MA 4.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH

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A high school student who beats the high score on the Starfighter arcade game finds it was a test of his skills and is transported to another planet to join their starfighter crew and help defend the planet.The Last Starfighter (Collector's Edition) (4K UHD Review)