The Last Starfighter - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Reviewed by Nathan Strum
There's basically nothing wrong with the soundtrack to The Last Starfighter. Nothing, except that it's a bit too familiar. Many of the musical themes used in it recall music from other films. The main theme is reminiscent of the theme from Superman, with touches of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. This familiarity continues throughout the soundtrack, with bits and pieces of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" thrown in for good measure. (If you're not familiar with "The Planets", I recommend you pick it up. It will be a rather startling revelation regarding the career of John Williams and other film composers.)
That's not to say it's a bad soundtrack. It's just not terribly unique. It serves the film well enough, underscoring the emotion or action in the scenes, but when a musical theme comes up that reminds you of something you've heard in another movie, it tends to take you out of the film. Instead, the soundtrack should give the movie its own unique identity. It should work to support the film you're watching, not remind you of a different one.
There are a few spots in the soundtrack that are more familiar than others, and these tend to diminish some of the uniqueness that composer Craig Safan managed to incorporate into the rest of the work. Two notable examples (other than the main "Superman"-esque "Main Title") are the tail end of "Death Blossom: Ultimate Weapon" (which is almost a direct lift from "Mars, the Bringer of War" from "The Planets"), and the last four notes of "Into the Starscape" (which sound like they're straight out of the end theme from "Star Wars"). That may seem nit-picky, but it doesn't take very many familiar notes to suddenly yank you out of the film you're watching, and put you someplace else.
Safan writes in the liner notes:It certainly wasn't an enviable task to be told to copy someone else's style but Safan did it well, and he managed to bring a few fresh ideas along with him.
In a few spots, electronic instruments are used, but never to the point where the music seems cheesy, as in so many low-budget sci-fi films of that era. The synthesizers do add a nice effect in parts of the soundtrack (despite reminding me of Phillip Glass's "Einstein on the Beach" when they're used in "Death Blossom: Ultimate Weapon"). Of particular note are the "spacey" sounds in "Big Victory March: Alex Returns". If anything, given the use of computer graphics in the film, perhaps carefully blending in more synthesizers would have helped give the music a more unique sound. It certainly worked well for Tron, although something to that degree wouldn't have been appropriate here.
Apart from the familiarity, it's a very well scored and well produced soundtrack. No expense was spared for a top-notch orchestra, and the performance of the music is all first-rate. The music reinforces what's happening in the film very well - most notably in the wistful "Alex Dreams", which is a very nice piece of music indeed, for which the main theme of the movie is slowed down and played in a very scaled-back fashion. The heroic themes work well too, although they're pretty much interchangeable with similar heroic themes from other soundtracks (which is perhaps why Craig Safan accidentally refers to "Death Blossom: Ultimate Weapon" as "Death Star" in the liner notes - whoops).
All things considered, "The Last Starfighter" is a fine soundtrack. It helps to elevate the movie beyond the level of a b-grade science fiction film. Certainly, with a lesser soundtrack, the film would have suffered - a lot of science fiction films of that era didn't fare nearly as well. It's not a groundbreaking soundtrack by any means, but it is a good one.