The Last Starfighter is a cherished touchstone for those of us who grew up in the 1980s, a hunk of pure nostalgia that speaks to the heart of everybody who ever felt trapped in a life too small and dreamed of adventures that seemed impossibly far away. It was also part of the incredible “class of 1984,” a ridiculous cinematic lineup that included the likes of Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Terminator, Dune, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Given its status as a beloved cult classic, it’s surprising that we haven’t seen a reboot or sequel after all these years. And it’s actually a project that could be well suited for the reboot treatment: the basic story not only holds up, but the movie’s begging for updated effects and a tweaked storyline that brings the arcade trappings into the modern age. But it turns out we may never see a Last Starfighter reboot or sequel, because even Steven Spielberg tried…and failed.
Movie trailers have become events unto themselves these days. Whereas they used to just catch you by surprise on the front of whatever movie you were seeing, now the release of a much-anticipated new trailer is heralded for weeks beforehand. Hell, it’s not uncommon for studios to release teasers to tease the trailer, which is just ridiculous. They’ve also become more polished, more stylized, and, unfortunately, often way too spoilerific. So, if some of our favorite science fiction movies were released today, what might they look like? How about The Empire Strikes Back, for instance?
Science fiction film history is filled with fascinating projects that never quite came together, a steady stream of “what if?” projects in a genre fixated and propelled along by that very question. We’re talking about Steven Spielberg’s Night Skies, the batshit-crazy project that evolved into E.T.; or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, or a William Gibson-scripted Alien 3. Those daydream speculations about movies we wish were real is at the heart of Los Angeles art gallery iam8bit’s new show “Sequel.” Described as “part tribute and part cultural commentary,” the show opens this week at the gallery on Sunset Boulevard, and features a ton of artists creating poster art for films that never were, such as Blade Runner 2054 (art by Cory Schmitz).
It may not have been quite as pivotal as Star Trek and Star Wars, but The Last Starfighter was still one of the defining movies of my childhood. I was old enough when I saw it to be completely enthralled by the idea of being plucked out of my ordinary life and tasked with saving the galaxy, and still young enough that parts of it creeped the hell out of me. (I had nightmares about that shot of Alex’s Beta Unit pulling the sheet down to expose its pulsing, gape-eyed embryonic form.) But the one thing my Last Starfighter fixation needed to truly reach the next level was some toys. Sure, I reenacted the movie with my Star Wars guys every now and then, but it lacked that official stamp of approval. So these shots of prototype Last Starfighter action figures are a kick right square in the nostalgia for me.
Tomorrow sees the arrival of Dark Skies in theaters, the latest from writer/director Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest). The film has Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton as a suburban couple who find their lives spiraling into chaos after a mysterious force takes an interest interest in their family, and not the good, “we made you brownies” kind of interest. No, the trailers suggest that the poor Barrett family has landed square on the to-do list of some malevolent extraterrestrials who think they’re prime candidates for a little abduction, a dash of missing time, possibly even a little old-fashioned anal probing.
We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to learn if Dark Skies is any good (check back for our review), but its impending arrival got us thinking about the movie’s place in a larger sub-genre. Namely, stories where average, ordinary people come face-to-face with visitors from outer space. Some are malevolent, some are friendly, some are downright adorable. But each and every one of them changes the lives of the humans they contact, for good or ill.
Here are our picks for the very best movies about close encounters between average janes/joes and strange visitors from another world.
Steven Spielberg’s classic film E.T. hit Blu-ray this week, so I got to thinking about something that’s one of my favorite things to do: a double-feature. Sure, sometimes the schedule is so hectic that you’re luck to be able to sit through one movie, much less two. But there’s just something enormously satisfying about the double feature, especially if you’ve put some thought into picking the perfect pair of films, whether they’re united by genre, theme, creative talent, or even some obscure joke only you and your friends understand.
I’m betting some of you will be picking up E.T. on Blu-ray and watching it for the first time in a while, or maybe ever showing it to your kids for the first time ever. Because GFR is a full-service kind of place, I’ve sifted through the heaps of cinematic history and pulled out eight family friendly science fiction movies that will pair quite nicely with E.T.. We hope the results will be something to phone home about (ahem).