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The Last Starfighter (Craig Safan)

March 28, 2015

Cover_TheLastStarfighterIntradaTHE LAST STARFIGHTER

Craig Safan, 2014, Intrada
22 tracks, 63:47

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, “The Last Starfighter” by Craig Safan has been re-released by Intrada. It claims to be the complete score and to have superior sound quality.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

After finally achieving the high score on Starfighter, his favorite arcade game, everyday teenager Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) meets the game’s designer, Centauri (Robert Preston) — who reveals that he created Starfighter as a training ground for developing and recruiting actual pilots to help fight a war in space. Whisked away from the banality of his trailer park life to a distant alien planet, Alex struggles to use his video game-playing skills to pilot a real ship, with real lives at stake. Directed by Nick Castle (“The Boy Who Could Fly”), the film earned just under 30 million dollars (it cost around 15 million to make). The film’s original score is by Craig Safan, who worked with Castle on a few subsequent films. Safan also worked on the popular tv show “Cheers”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4” and “Stand and Deliver”.

What does it sound like?

As the “Main Title” opens the album, one may be forgiven for thinking this is a Williams, Goldsmith or Broughton score. A glorious, lyrical trumpet-led melody fills the room accompanied by military snares and syncopated stabs for brass and percussion. The main theme is reprised wistfully (on flute) in “Alex Dreams”. The theme will continue to play a pivotal role throughout the score and returns in most cues.

“Record Breaker” is the first of several cues to, quite prominently, feature a synthesizer. Back in 1984 this will have been state-of-the-art equipment, underlining the film’s science fiction elements. These days, it sounds dated. The ‘quack’ sounds in “Centauri into Space” are difficult to take seriously. The score reminds me of Jerry Goldsmith, where the use of synth is concerned. It may have been done with the best, and the most innovative of intentions, but the results aren’t always pleasant. Soon though, these sounds make way for a flurry of brass that rivals anything from “Star Wars”. The score clearly carries its influences on its sleeve; though having said that, this was arguably the default style back in the 80s. You’ll find that it has just as much in common with Bruce Broughton’s or James Horner’s scores from that period. In the album’s extensive liner notes, it is explained that the director wanted to go ‘full out’ with the music and adhere to the symphonic standard set by the likes of John Williams; and that Safan knew all too well he wouldn’t be allowed to stray too far from that. Yet, Safan tried to take inspiration from Jean Sibelius (rather than Holst, a key inspiration for “Star Wars”), which shows in his lush melodies and particular use of horns and woodwinds.

The cues that follow are all of high quality and of a thematic nature. Yet, I find it difficult to get really excited about them. Most are short cues that may briefly state a theme, or set an atmosphere, but fail the gain any real momentum. It’s not until “Target Practice” that the score really picks up with heralding brass and exciting action cues. For most listeners “Big Victory March” and “Into the Starscape” will be the album’s highlights as they presents heroic reprises of the main theme. Personally I believe the score actually gets a little bit repetitive towards the end. Throughout the score Safan presents numerous variations on his main theme, but when it comes to the big bombastic performances he does surprisingly little to differentiate between them.

This is the third release of the score after the LP and CD in 1984 (Southern Cross label) and a slightly expanded edition in 1995 (Intrada). Celebrating the film’s and score’s 30th anniversary, Intrada has now released the complete score, with plenty of previously unreleased material. The music has been taken from a different, presumably superior, sound source (2″ 24-track elements, rather than 1/4″ 2-track mixes).

Is it any good?

They rarely write them like this anymore; and therein lies its charm. For many of us, who saw the film as a kid all those years ago, this will be a welcome throwback to ‘the good old days’. Yet, let’s not get too carried away because of the ‘nostalagia’ factor. The score is incredibly derivative of both John Williams (think “Superman” and “Star Wars”) and Jerry Goldsmith (think quirky rhythms and even quirkier synths). Those synthesizers sound pretty dated and a little silly these days. The constant barrage of trumpet-led fanfares, stabs and clusters eventually gets a little too much… for me anyway.

That said, for the most part Craig Safan’s is a wonderful, symphonic score full of excitement and wonder. Safan’s main theme is a real gem, especially when it gets the John Williamsesque fanfare treatment (which it does a few too many times). The repeating brass triplets and counterpoint woodwinds that follow the actual melody do excite me every single time. Safan’s themes and their many variations (as well as the colourful orchestrations) keep the score moving along quite nicely. This re-release offers fantastic sound quality; and a wonderful booklet with extensive liner notes by John Takis (and some additional technical notes by Douglas Fake). The tracklisting details exactly which cues (as in, the original recording cues) were used to create the tracks as presented on album. All in all, a wonderful and detailed package.

Rating [3/5]

Tracklisting

01. Main Title (2.34)
02. Alex Dreams (1.47)
03. Record Breaker (2.32)
04. Centauri Into Space (6.02)
05. Rylos (2.04)
06. Beta Transforms (0.47)
07. Gunstars (0.44)
08. Victory Or Death (0.57)
09. Zur (2.34)
10. Krill (4.27)
11. Slap (0.34)
12. Hit Beast (0.59)
13. Centauri Dies (6.55)
14. Target Practice (2.22)
15. Alex’s First Test (2.54)
16. Alex Decides (2.53)
17. Beta’s Sacrifice (3.51)
18. Good Luck Starfighter (0.48)
19. Death Blossom, Ultimate Weapon (4.49)
20. Big Victory March (2.20)
21. Alex Returns (3.31)
22. Into The Starscape (7.23)

Availability

Visit the Intrada website for more information and audio clips.

 

 

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