- Movie Rating -

The Last Starfighter (1984)

| July 13, 1984

It’s really funny how movies flow together.  I just knocked the dull Never-Ending Story, a movie that dismisses modern kids for robotically glued to video games and totally unfamiliar with books, and then here we are with The Last Starfighter, a movie about a kid recruited by video games into a sci-fi world.  On the whole, I think I prefer the video game world.  It makes for a much more entertaining movie.

Of course, it’s no fun to sit and watch people play video games, so screenwriter Jonathan Betuel came up with the clever gimmick: What if video games were actually put on Earth as a silent recruitment drive for an alien organization that needs pilots to fight in their interstellar war.  Now that’s clever!

The good news is that director Nick Castle infuses this story with a lot of energy, a lot of fun and a lot of strangely effective grandeur.  This isn’t a movie that just moves from one end to another but creates and entire world, not just in the space realm but back on Earth.

The recruit is Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) who lives in one of those trailer parks that seems to represent the wholesome down-home American values.  The people are solid, everyone knows one another and their only real problem are the rich folks who are stuck-up and unhappy.  Alex’s world is rather bland except for the local Starfighter video game of which he has the high score.  So, with that, a recruiter from the Star League (the invaluable Robert Preston) comes to Earth to take him off the outer space.  Preston is really the best thing in this movie, basically playing a twist on his character in The Music Man, only here he’s selling tickets to space instead of trombones.

The point of the training mission is to help recruit the best players into a real life battle with the Ko-Dan (which sounds like a cold medicine), a race of aggressively mean prune-faced people whose goal is nothing short of intergalactic domination.  Alex resists, after all he’s got a good life, good people and a beautiful girlfriend at home.  But eventually, of course, he relents and he is trained by a lizard-faced pilot named Grig, played by Dan O’Herlihy under at least two pounds of make-up.

So, as you can tell, the movie isn’t blindingly original.  It mixes elements from Star Wars and TRON to make for a movie that should be a dripping bore.  But it’s not.  It’s a great deal of fun on a certain level.  I liked Alex Rogan.  I liked Centauri and Grig.  I liked his relationships with the folks at the trailer park including his little brother Lewis and his girlfriend Maggie.  I liked the spirit of the movie which is not to be sour and oppressive like, say, Blade Runner but to be fun and upbeat.  If the whole thing feels like a marketing gimmick for video games then that’s because it probably is.

Now, here’s the strange part.  I didn’t think that this movie looked any better or cheaper than The Never-Ending Story, but I liked it a whole lot more because of its spirit.  The filmmakers wanted to put you in your seat and offer you up a good time on a kind of Star Wars level and in that they succeed.  In Never-Ending Story I felt as though the drama was a lead weight that kept pulling the material down.  I wasn’t engaged with that movie, but here I got in the driver’s seat and I had a great deal of fun.  What more can I say?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Sci-Fi/Fantasty