Monday, April 27, 2015

Ask Me a Question: The Last Starfighter

Space Invaders: Sci-Fi in the Arcade Age blasted off this past Thursday at The Egyptian in Hollywood with a double feature of alien filled adventure with 1984 and 83' awesomeness; The Last Starfighter and Krull. Starfighter is the story of one Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), a smart yet frustrated teen living in a small trailer park in California mountain country. His mom manages the park and works as a waiter.  He's too busy fixing outdated electrical grids and antennas to hang out with his friends at the beach or have fun. Aspirations to attend non-community college are dashed when a loan isn't approved, his sweet ladyfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) tries to cheer him up but Alex finds solace in the one thing he's really good at; flying/shooting arcade game Starfighter. One night Alex breaks the record and is soon visited by Centauri (Robert Preston), a recruiter for the inter-galactic defense network The Star League. You see, Star League is under attack by the evil Rylons and it's up to Alex and his co-pilot Grig (Dan O'Herlihy) to take out the armada. The video game was an elaborate plan by Centauri to find Starfighters to which he collects a referral fee.

The Last Starfighter is pure 80's goodness. You've got the put upon lead who just wants to do something more with his life but looks doomed to small town mediocrity (Luke in Star Wars, Marty in Back to the Future and Kevin from Masters of the Universe). You've got the quaint community filled with interesting and zany characters then an the opportunity for otherworldly adventure. To me, the core message is simple, "if that's what you think, that's all you'll ever be". The 80's really taught us to believe in ourselves as it was a cinematic time of optimism and exploration via Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Directed by Nick Castle with a script from Jonathan R. Betuel, The Last Starfighter gives us heart, humor and action that all still holds up today. Sure the then cutting edge computer graphics are vastly outdated but overall it's still a funny, fun and rousing time at the movies you don't see too much today. Craig Safan's score is bombastic and memorable, giving it an even bigger feel even if some of the sets look a little cheap. Guest is convincing as Rogan, the mixed up kid who isn't sure he's up to the challenge of saving the galaxy. Preston knocks it out as the fast talking, pseudo space con-man and Robocop's O'Herlihy is terrific as the mentor with a huge laugh Grig.

After the film, a giant panel was introduced that included director Castle, stars Guest and Stewart, composer Safan as well as producer Gary Adelson, f/x coordinator Jeffrey Okun and actors Chris Hebert and Peter Nelson.

- 3 sets of leads were under consideration before Guest and Stewart were cast
- Robert Preston was a real movie star, oozed charisma and kissed Stewart's hand when they met
- Preston's character was based on his role in The Music Man and producers were elated to land him
- Funded by Lorimar and Universal, Adelson convinced them they could do the f/x with computers even though he didn't know how
- Was cutting edge of technology and some days didn't know if they could do it
- Budgeted at $15 million, went over
- Shot quickly in northern California where it was very cold
- Nick Castle fostered a great working environment for the actors, fun and open
- The Playboy little brother Lewis flips through was real
- Sequel rights reverted back to writer Betuel who with Castle drafted a script and storyboarded it, got studio interest and then it all fell apart
- Sequel would deal with grown up Alex and Maggie and their kids who become next generation of Star League fighters
- Rights tied up with Universal, Betuel and Warner Brothers who bought Lorimar
- Castle had never worked with visual effects before and the film had everything else going on, drama, comedy, costumes, make up, etc
- Grig's mask was made from plastic, always pushing designers to allow more expression and O'Herlighy's performance show through
- Safan had a full orchestra for a week, scored it to temp f/x of dots on a screen
- F/X crew heard the score and worked hard to make visuals match quality of the music
- F/X took a huge room of computers to accomplish 2 gigs of info, today could be done on cell phone
- Studio executive changed during production who didn't believe in film until first test screening reaction which was overwhelming positive
- Opened in wake of Ghostbusters and Gremlins but did better than studio expected
- Really found audience on video and HBO

It was a great night and the panel was terrific. With another movie playing they couldn't go on for too long which was a shame. Everyone there looked like they reflected on the experience with nothing but fondness and you could tell many of them were still close. It was a great start to the weekend of movie madness and bro'ing out.

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