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THE LAST STARFIGHTER – Craig Safan

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

laststarfighterTHROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Last Starfighter was a popular science-fiction adventure film for kids, directed by Nick Castle. The film tells the story of Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), an average teenage boy living in a trailer park, who passes the time playing – and getting very good – at an arcade video game called Starfighter. One day, shortly after Alex breaks the all-time record points score of the game, he is approached by Centauri (Robert Preston), the ‘inventor of the game’. Before he knows what’s happening, Alex is whisked off into outer space, where he is recruited by an alien defense force to fight in an interstellar war: it turns out that Starfighter was actually a training tool to find the best starship pilots in the galaxy, and Alex is now the last line of defense for the peace-loving people of our solar system against the threat of the evil Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. The film was a major commercial success in 1984, and has the distinction of being one of the earliest films to use extensive CGI effects to depict its many starships and battle scenes. Not only that, but the film boasts a rousing score by the great Craig Safan, in what was one of the most significant box-office hits of his career.

Safan’s remit was to write a ‘space opera’ for the film, along the lines of John Williams and Star Wars, and taking inspiration from such classical masters as Gustav Holst, Howard Hanson and Jean Sibelius. As such, Safan wrote a large orchestral score, brimming with action music, modern (for 1984) electronic tones, and a bold and heroic main theme which plays throughout the film, accompanying young Alex on his adventures through the stars. Safan’s orchestral ensemble includes quadruple woodwinds, and six trumpets and six trombones, which are used simultaneously to play the main theme in twelve-part harmony.

The main theme, which is introduced in the opening “Main Title,” is one of those glorious space fanfares that everyone loves, but it is also surprisingly adaptable. It re-appears frequently throughout the score, being heard slowly and reflectively on soft, warm horns in “Alex Dreams,” with full-throated brass patriotism in “Big Victory March/Alex Returns,” and with a sense of yearning nostalgia in the first part of the conclusive “Into the Starscape,” before erupting with bold confidence into a final flourish that rounds out the album on a thematic high.

A secondary theme, based around the militaristic ostinato that actually opens the score, represents both the Star League and the Gunstar pilots, as well as acting as a leitmotif for the character of Centauri – a Star League recruiter who disguises himself as a shyster used car salesman-type while on Earth. Centauri’s motif features prominently in cues such as “Centauri Into Space,” the alternately bittersweet and noble “Centauri Dies,” and in a slightly shrill woodwind variation in “Target Practice,” which starts out hesitant and uncertain, but grows more confident as the cue progresses. Centauri’s theme can also be heard deep in the mix of several cues: listen especially for the subtle flute rendition that appears during the mysterious opening moments of the aforementioned “Centauri Into Space,” before its more prominent and forceful statement in the cue’s second half.

The electronic textures in Centauri’s theme are provided by the ‘EWI’ electronic wind instrument, which fans of Trevor Jones may recognize from his numerous uses of it throughout his career. Some may find the odd ‘quacking’ effects heard in some of these cues a little overly comedic, and potentially off-putting, but this was a kid’s film from the 1980s, so what are you gonna do?

Elsewhere, Safan treats “Rylos” as a sort of intergalactic circus, as Alex interacts with the wild and wonderful alien members of the Star League to the strains of exotic oboes, dancing string lines, oompah brasses, and a vaguely comical-sounding xylophone-led march. Later, more urgent and abstract rhythmic ideas typify the action music in the first half of “Centauri Dies,” “Alex’s First Test,” and the fantastic “Beta’s Sacrifice,” with thumping wet brass hits, frantic staccato string writing, and molto tension being the order of the day. The twinkling synth effects in “Death Blossom/Ultimate Weapon” are also very interesting, creating a hyperactive sense of relentless forward motion as they play in counterpoint to the orchestral mayhem.

The score for The Last Starfighter has a slightly checkered release history; it was issued on LP at the time of the film’s release with just under half an hour of score and two original songs written for the film, performed by Cliff Magness. Intrada Records released this expanded edition of the score in 1995, featuring almost 20 minutes of extra music, cleaned up sound, and liner notes by Safan himself. A release of the re-mastered complete score was announced in early 2014, for a planned fall release, but this has not yet appeared, so until that one becomes available collectors will have to be satisfied with the 1995 release, which is still available for reasonable prices on the secondary market.

Despite enjoying a career that has encompassed such excellent works as Remo Williams – The Adventure Begins, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, and the magnificent Son of the Morning Star, it’s no surprise that The Last Starfighter remains, and at this point will likely always be, Craig Safan’s most beloved score. It has everything fans of classic, old fashioned orchestral adventure scoring could want in a score, and then some, and belongs in every serious fan’s collection.

Buy the Last Starfighter soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:31)
  • Alex Dreams (1:44)
  • Centauri Into Space (5:59)
  • Rylos (2:01)
  • Centauri Dies (6:51)
  • Target Practice (2:17)
  • Alex’s First Test (2:51)
  • Beta’s Sacrifice (6:07)
  • Death Blossom/Ultimate Weapon (4:44)
  • Big Victory March/Alex Returns (5:44)
  • Into the Starscape (7:21)

Running Time: 48 minutes 10 seconds

Intrada MAF-7066D (1984/1995)

Music composed and conducted by Craig Safan. Orchestrations by Alf Clausen, Joel Rosenbaum and Craig Safan. Recorded and mixed by Lyle Burbridge and Rick Riccio. Edited by Joe Tarantino. Album produced by Craig Safan and Douglass Fake.

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