Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sky Pilot

We watched The Last Starfighter (1984) because of a Projection Booth podcast. Great show, they actually do some research, and actually interviewed actual stars Lance Guest and Catherine Mary Stewart (who are still buddies, by the way). But the main thing, the thing we'd forgotten from whenever it was we watched it, so long ago, was Mr. Centauri, the Music Man himself, Robert Preston.

The plot is pretty simple: Lance Guest is a high school kid in a trailer park in Nowheresville CA. He's a good kid, the one that everyone depends on to fix some plumbing or cut the grass, but he doesn't want to be stuck there forever - he wants to go places. Catherine Mary Stewart is his girl, but he can't always give her the things he thinks she wants. He has one thing going for him - he beat the high score on the Starfighter video game.

But that is no ordinary video game - it's a test for real starfighters, or to put it another way, a sword in a stone. Next thing you know, Robert Preston shows up in a shiny space car and takes in away to fight the Ko-Dan armada. But what about the folks at the trailer park? Don't worry, Preston left a beta copy of Guest behind to stand in.

So, thrilling adventures in space, and goofy comic relief back on Earth with the fish-out-of-water copy, all presided over by Robert Preston. To this, add the first all-CGI special effects, rendered on a Cray "super-computer" - probably with about the computing power of a modern watch. Actually, they are charmingly primitive, like a creaky Harryhausen stop motion that is not really convincing, but full of personality. It looks like Ron Cobb (underground cartoonist and film designer) did some of the spaceship designs.

This may not be the greatest movie ever, but it's got a lot of heart, it's funny and kind of thrilling. And admit it, haven't you ever gotten lost in a video game and thought, this would be great training for ... something, like being a jet pilot or ... starfighter.

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