Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Nick Castle” with a minor in “Death Blossoms”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult wastes hundreds of dollars and man-hours at the local arcade in hopes of becoming The Last Starfighter!
Alex Rogan is an average trailer park teenager who spends his days playing the arcade game Starfighter and dreaming of one day making a difference in the world. When Alex beats the game’s high score, however, he is approached by the game’s inventor, Centauri, and is invited to become a real Starfighter! But can one untrained Earthling truly make a difference in such a vast and perilous world? It’s one extraordinary chance at the dream of a lifetime! Alex Rogan is the Last Starfighter!
Released in 1984 The Last Starfighter is an American space opera directed by Nick Castle and written by Jonathan R. Betuel. Beutel said that the idea for the Last Starfighter came from a combination of the Arthurian fantasy novel ‘The Once and Future King’ and his time wandering through an arcade. Beutel wondered what would happen if a video game had been a futuristic sword in a stone.
If the director, Nick Castle, seems familiar it’s because he is best known for his role as Michael Myers in the original Halloween, directed by John Carpenter. Castle and Carpenter are actually close friends who studied together at USC. Castle’s subsequent collaborations with Carpenter include his name being used as one of the main characters’ names in The Fog, co-writing the script of Supercult Classic Escape From New York, and performing the title song of Supercult Classic Big Trouble in Little China as part of the band Coup de Villes, alongside Carpenter and another friend, Tommy Lee Wallace, the director of Stephen King’s It.
Shot in only forty days, the Last Starfighter feels like yet another knock-off 80’s sci-fi film trying to rip-off yet another knock-off 70’s sci-fi film…at first. But the movie’s simple concept and well trodden hero’s journey formula belies a fantastic feel-good adventure that reeks of childhood wonder. Dated but infinitely charming CG effects, crazy 80’s hair, an epic score composed by Craig Safan who also did the music for the TV series Cheers, and one of the greatest pre-death one-liners ever don’t even scratch the surface of why this film is one of the most beloved pop-culture gems of our generation.
Come for the innovative CGI. Stay for that sexy 80’s girlfriend hair!
The Last Starfighter stars Lance Guest as Alex, Catherin Mary Steward as his girlfriend Maggie Gordon, Robert Preson as Centauri, Dan O’Herlihy as Alex’s navigator Grig, and Norman Snow as the evil Xur of the Ko-Dan armada. Wil Wheaton is in the film as “Louis’ Friend”. Though all his speaking roles were (thankfully) cut from the film, he can be seen in the background during two scenes in the trailer park. The Last Starfighter is notable for being Robert Preston’s final film role before he died in 1987. His character Centauri, a ‘lovable con-man’ who convinces Alex that there’s trouble with a capitol ‘T’ right here in galactic city, is a nod to his most famous role as Professor Harold Hill in the Music Man, which is to say that he phone’s it in and he’s still awesome in the role.
The Last Starfighter is also notable for being one of the first movies to extensively utilize computer-generated effects, except for makeup and explosions. All shots of space battles, the base on Rylos, space ships, etc were generated on a rented Cray X-MP supercomputer, the same computer that rendered the frames of Pixar’s first short film, Andre and Wally B. To give you a little perspective, the Cray X-MP was priced at over $20 million dollars, weighed about 6 tons (including its Freon refrigeration system), contained roughly 16 megabytes of RAM, and had a theoretical peak performance of 400 megaFLOPS. A typical iPhone 5 cost a few hundred dollars, fits in your pocket and weighs about 4 ounces, has 1 GB of RAM, and has a peak performance of about 75 gigaFLOPS. Plus it can call people and take selfies.
For the more traditional film-o-phile, there are a lot of great non-computer generated effects, make-up, and design throughout the film. The translator given to Alex on Rylos is actually just the circuit board of a digital watch. The Gunstar and other spaceships were done by the production designer Rob Cobb who also worked on, Star Wars, Alien, and the Supercult Classic Conan the Barbarian. The Starcar driven by Centauri was built by automotic customizer Gene Winfield who’s prop and vehicle work first appeared in the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner as well as Robocop (1987), and TV shows such as Star Trek, Get Smart, and the Adam West Batman TV series. The Starcar was based on a Delorian, complete with the gull wing doors and its stainless steel construction, and could actually be driven around. The car was even used in Back to the Future 2 as a background car in one of the 2015 scenes. If you’re looking for the weird, gooey practical effects though, look out for the Beta unit, a robotic duplicate of Alex that takes his place on Earth while he’s off saving the universe. The scene of the embryonic Beta unit before it takes the form of Alex is particular high point for me.
Critics praised The Last Starfighter for its endearing themes, quality acting, and special effects, but Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were split on the film. Ebert called it a “near miss” and a “retread” that borrowed too many ideas and effects from other more successful films like Star Wars and TRON, most notably the spinning gunner’s chair in the Gunstar and the idea of a video game being the catalyst for an otherworldly adventure. Siskel on the other hand praised the film as “a Star Wars rip-off, but the best one”, and included it on his list of film “Guilty Pleasures.”
Despite Ebert’s misgivings, Last Starfighter was a financial success earning $28 million on an estimated budget of $15. Overtime it grew into a cult film and its popularity resulted in several adaptations including a novel, a comic book, numerous video games, an off-Broadway musical, and even a table-top gaming system by FASA, the company behind BattleTech, MechWarrior, and Crimson Skies. Directors Seth Rogen and Steven Spielberg as well as screenwriter Gary Whitta have expressed interest in making a sequel or remake to the film, though the writer Betuel has allegedly indicated that he does not want another film made, ostensibly because he saw what sequels and remakes did to Indiana Jones and Jaws…
With a 6.7 on IMDB and a positively triumphant, at least by Supercult standards, 76% on Rotten Tomatoes the Last Starfighter is not only a good cult film it’s the perfect interstellar voyage for the Fourth of July weekend! The call to adventure in a far off land! A desperate battle against incredible odds! Sagely black man advice! Call it a Star Wars or a TRON rip-off, call it simple or hokey, but Last Starfighter tapped into the same vain that many other 80’s sci-fi films merely groped for: the wide-eyed hope and excitement for what space travel and intergalactic adventure had to offer. Plus, death blossom is f&#*!-ing awesome!
He didn’t find his dreams…his dreams found him!
The Supercult show is proud to present The Last Starfighter!