The Last Starfighter (1984)
He didn't find his dreams... his dreams found him.
Childhood dreams were quite the focus back in the 80's, which led to a lot of movies that a lot of people can relate to. Of course, when I say relate to, I don't think a lot of us ever had the events of the movies happen to us, but who hasn't gotten slightly restless and wanted to journey the world or fantasized about being famous or important? It's a wonderful little starting point to get us involved in the fun entertainment about to unfold, even when the experiences are out of this world. Starfighter tells you mostly everything you need to know in the title, so with luck you've already decide that that much sounds at least interesting enough to read this.
Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is a kid with big dreams. He want's to do more with his life then hang out in the trailer park fixing cable and cleaning toilets - but hasn't had much luck getting the chance he needs to get out there and be successful. That all changes when one night, while waiting for his sweetheart to get home from the beach with friends, he ends up beating and getting the high score for an arcade game at the park called Starfighter. Later that night, he receives a visit from a mysterious stranger Centauri (Robert Preston) who ends up harboring all sorts of secrets - such as the fact that he's an alien, his car a spaceship, and he just recruited Alex for the war against the evil forces. Yep, Alex discovers that the game is actually real.
So, like any logical kid who's mind has just been blown, Alex decides he wants to go home, and want's nothing of it. Soon after leaving, unknown to him and Centauri, the starfighter base gets destroyed by the opposing forces and Alex gets labeled as the only remaining starfighter. This of course prompts the launch of assassins to kill him, and thanks to the heroic actions of Centauri a change of heart. The question then becomes can Alex pull through and save the universe?
The premise isn't too far out from what we expect from the 80's. Heck, it might even be a bit unrealistic - that an arcade machine would be used as a test to find people with that special something to be a starfighter. When it comes down to it, it provides the adventure that one want's from this sort of movie - the guy who wants to get out there and travel and do big things suddenly gets that chance on an unimaginable scale. At the same time we see his resistance to doing so, which gives it a solid, grounded feeling of reality.
Actors do a splendid job here, even if the number of actual actors in semi-important roles is rather slim. Most of the trailer park folks seem to be there more for the goal of giving it a homely feel and to show how excited they are every time something interesting happens for Alex (such as getting that high score). Alex comes of as a rather real person (and Beta Alex - his robot double - adds some humor), from decisions to wide-eyed moments of amazement. The alien races all refer to various alien things (such as Alex's navigator referencing his family and home equivalents), and Centauri in particular reminds me of old TV show reporters.
The CG is a bit dated, and although things like the spacecraft are smooth and shiny (which works alright) the land-based bits tend to look a bit bland and unpleasant. A good portion of the movie takes place back on earth, and most of the aliens are all costumes that are quite well done. Some of the other, smaller CG elements (such as laser shots) look a bit more polished then the larger counterparts (like the starfighter base), but nothing overall is so bad that I haven't seen worse in an Asylum movie.
Audio comes through fine, so there isn't any complaints there. The only time you won't be able to understand something is when it's aliens speaking in an alien language before a translator device is given to Alex. Lasers, explosions, spaceship jets all sound as one would expect, all the while matching up with the arcade game back on Earth to lend more credibility to it being used as a training/testing device. In all honesty, one can't really ask for much more than whats given audio-wise: it's clean, its understandable, and it works.
The Last Starfighter follows a lot of tropes that 80's movies tend to - a kid learning to be be brave and step up to the plate, adventure in a strange new world, and some game acknowledgments (like in Tron, or Wargames). If you are the type of person who's enjoyed other family friendly movies of the time, then this should be no different. It's a fun little romp that sets out to tell you that sometimes, when an opportunity comes knocking, you just have to grab it with both hands and hold on tight. Some minor romance, some space battles, some classic 80's cheese, and an overall feel good time.