Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is trapped. He dreams of escaping the life he has known in the trailer park
where he lives. He has been turned down for a student loan which would enable him to enter college and
become more than the trailer park "Mr. Fix It". His only escape is Starfighter, a video game which
is located outside the general store. When he breaks the record on Starfighter, he is whisked away
to an alien planet where he is recruited to defend The Frontier against the enemies of the Star League.
After a bit of convincing, he dons a flight suite and begins the impossible mission of saving the worlds
of the Star League from the advances of the evil KO-DAN.
Universal has presented the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the first time in the United
States with this DVD release. The previous US release was a Pan & Scan LaserDisc which lost too much
information on the sides. Universal produced a Japanese "Collectors Edition" of the film, through Pony
Video, mastered in CAV and Digital sound in 1987. That version, while composed in the correct aspect ratio,
was a bit soft and was lacking in detail. This new transfer is exceptionally sharp and clear with much
better visual detail than any previous video release. On the down side, it has been darkened a bit from
previous versions. It's not bad, but it did bother me.
Universal has returned to the 4-track magnetic master from the 70mm theatrical release for this edition,
encoding it into a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. The front three channels are exceptionally well defined and
the LFE track is quite active as well. I could not detect any presence of split surrounds during my
viewing. The rear channel includes some atmospheric audio effects and music, but not much else. In any
case, the audio is very well presented.
Along with the film, we are presented with a commentary track with Director Nick Castle and
Production Designer Ron Cobb. The commentary is recorded badly and both men are too far away from
the microphones which, couple with the overall low volume, tends to create too much echo. For the content,
there is some mildly interesting information presented, but nothing that is earth shattering. There isn't
much detail given as to the actual construction of the special effects and so forth. The commentary is
recorded in stereo with Nick Castle in the left channel and Ron Cobb in the right. Accessing the commentary
is rather tricky. Universal typically offers access to the commentary track through the "Languages"
section of the main menu and through the "Bonus Materials" menu. With this title however, the track is
only available through the "Bonus Materials" section.
The disc also features a documentary, Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter. The
32 minute program is hosted by Lance Guest and looks back on the ground breaking special effects.
There is loads of information here on the creation of the CGI effects as well as behind the scenes footage
from the set. I was hoping to see more of the actual "nuts and bolts" of the computer generated graphics,
presented in a similar fashion as was done in the Toy Story Special Edition LaserDisc from
Disney / Pixar.
Also included are the Theatrical Teaser & Theatrical Trailer both presented in 1.85:1. There is also a
section of production photographs, presented in a series of 9 groupings. Inside each group, stills play
out over the course of a few minutes. Since still frame archives are not easily workable in the DVD
environment, the disc steps to a new frame every six or seven seconds. Each still is also placed at a
chapter stop which allows for easy forward and reverse stepping of the segment. Stepping forward is
further simplified by pressing the "select" button on the remote.
Universal has unleashed a new graphical icon set with this title, which is also included on all the June 1999
titles. In theory, it should standardize the feature set to help make navigation easier. It's interesting to
the bitrate on the disc. The first 58 minutes are encoded at a constant bitrate of 8.3mb/s and the final 43
minutes drop to a variable bitrate. Even in the variable bitrate area, it never drops below 5mb/s. I mention
this only because I believe this is the first non-DTS disc from Universal to use a constant bitrate for at least
part of the program. The new Collector's Edition of Psycho (1998) also uses an insane bitrate, 8.0mb/s on
average, but it is a variable datarate signal.
There is a LaserDisc edition, part of Universal's Signature Collection, which includes all of the same
materials available on this DVD. It was not available for review at the time of this writing.
The Last Starfighter has been a personal favorite of mine since I saw the film at a sneak
preview in 1984. I was so captivated by the story and the visuals. I had an instant crush on Catherine
Mary Stewart and was always eager to see her in other films, like the very under rated Night of the
Comet. You really feel for the characters and actually care what happens to them. What a perfect way to
end an adventure - the hero not only saves the day, but comes back to get the girl. For years I would use
the name "Alex Rogan" as the name of my pilot in various flight simulator games. Watching it again, as the
film celebrates its 15th anniversary, the technology behind the graphics may
be old, but the film is still as fresh and enjoyable as it was that day I had to sit in the first row, getting
a kink in my neck from being only 10 feet from the screen.
Overall, I am somewhat disappointed in the supplemental materials, and as a result in the ratio of extras to
price. That aside, this new Collector's Edition is well representative of a wonderful film and is an excellent
addition to the DVD library.