The Last Starfighter
The Last Starfighter was playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of their 80’s thingamajig every Saturday at 2. They’re also doing Gremlins today and Back to the Future, if they haven’t done it already. The looks of the star of The Last Starfighter reminds me of Armie Hammer, so if necking with Leonardo di Caprio in movies don’t work, he has a sci-fi reboot waiting for him! Oh wait, this guy plays twins too?
Let me explain. Alex Rogan lives in the 1980’s in some trailer park in California or the Southwest that isn’t as trashy as the one in “Trailer Park Boys,” there’s a video game outside the diner of that trailer park. He exceeds the top score, he gets sent in outer space because of this seemingly inconsequential achievement. A Beta version of him is sent down to take his place to keep the residents less suspicious, even if he mopes around and doesn’t like it when his girlfriend licks his ear.
He’s not the greatest actor. He doesn’t particularly sell me when he doesn’t want to be a starfighter. He has this wide-eyed inflection when he learns something new about outer space. But he does capable service to his double role, the original is sometimes angry both about his old and new predicament, Beta Alex takes the Earthlings with a humourous stride. And he has great timing when acting against himself too. I’ll also point out the deadpan ridiculous of Alex’s girlfriend and the rest of the trailer park residents, the most embarrassingly stereotypical acting from a black person in between Oscar Polk and the Wayans Brothers and the fake British inflection camp of the space villains because apparently there’s no other way to act out the latter. The enemy alien has a red space monocle snapping into place once in a while. The last time that happens, he says his last words “We die,” and he dies. It’s priceless.
As an 80’s sci-fi movie, the effects are pathetic compared to today’s standards. The space battles feel like the video game he plays back home, but with blocks and lasers. The good thing about the terrible, early stage CGI era is that the crew would actually make sets for the interior spaces outside Earth. The sets are well thought out and make sense for their contexts. Half of the film also takes place in and near the trailer park. The effects in this part economical like a shooting star, a sign that an enemy has landed. We see the tacky decorations of the kooky old trailer park residents, the truck with the token sexually rambunctious but not destructive cowboy friend and non-speaking token Asian friend and so forth.
There’s also something I like in the composition of this shot of Alex’s anguish, vegetation, sign, diner. There are a lot of contrasts that play well together, both earthly and magical. There’s also another shot where the good aliens parade Alex around the dark surrounding s suggest nighttime but actually mean the film can’t afford a night sky or special space traffic lights.
This film came out in 1984, a banner year not for the Academy but for genre films. The Terminator also came out this year.