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|Kevin Krock, editor|
In 1984, The Last Starfighter made history with its extensive use of computer generated special effects. It was the first movie to ever use computer animation to replace effects traditionally generated using models. It was so amazing at the time that I can remember going to back-to-back showings when it was in the theater. While the animation appears a bit dated in today's movie world, it still makes for an entertaining movie.
Starting with a novel Orson Scott-Card-esque plotline of an arcade game that is actually a recruiting test for potential Starfighters in an interstellar war, the movie develops into a traditional epic of boy meeting his destiny. While the storyline is predictable, there are several memorable moments, including my favorite line: "Terrific! I'm about to get killed a million miles from nowhere with a gung-ho iguana who tells me to relax."
Much of the comic relief comes from interstellar con-man Centauri, portrayed by The Music Man's Robert Preston appearing in his last feature film.
"We brought a Cray X.M.P. to its knees producing these environments."
The Making Of documentary is fascinating -- covering not only the story and character development, but also the creation of the computer animation. Showing the Cray and DEC computers used, with the Digital Production staff reminiscing about literally having to write the software to create effects in the middle of the production. There is a nice tribute from Dennis Muren and John Knoll, Visual Effects supervisors from ILM, talking about just how revolutionary Digital Production's work was. There is even a special animation clip of Start Wars X-Wing fighters created as a demo for ILM
In the Feature Commentary, Nick Castle, director, and Ron Cobb, production designer, do a voice over on the movie itself, some 15 years after the original release, especially for the DVD release. Some of the material they discuss is covered in the Making Of feature, but they expand on it significantly. It is also fun to listen in as these two men watch the widescreen version for the first time since it was in theaters and rediscover elements they had completely forgotten about.
One note: The case states that the file offers the French language track. Unfortunately, that is not the case, with only the French subtitles being offered.
The Video, Audio and Interface...
For a 16-year-old movie, the transfer is excellent. There are some compression artifacts, but overall very little degradation. There are occasional defects from the film transfer but they are few and far between. The image is a bit dark in places but that is an issue with the original lighting rather than a DVD production issue.
The soundtrack is warm and solid. The music is wonderful while the dialog is the weak point. The sound effects range from sci-fi canned to stunning.
The user interface is acceptable, with small clips (30 secs) of looping music and sound overlaying them. The initial menu introduction in enjoyable, while the menus themselves are minimally animated. Selecting movie chapters from the menus is easy, and changing the set up for the two subtitle functions is equally easy. Some of the highlighting on the menu functions was a little unclear, but was understandable after a little use.
The Final Evaluation...
The movie is a lot of fun to watch, especially for those who appreciate just how cutting edge the effects were at the time. Some material is inappropriate for smaller children with some, in my opinion unnecessary, adult situations.
It is a must have for those who follow the development of special effects. Partnered with Tron, it shows the infancy of the medium, how far we have come, and the miracles that the initial animators worked.
If you appreciate science fiction, or computer animation be sure to add this landmark movie to your collection.
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