Another double feature

Recently, I switched my DVD provider to Netflix, and boy, they totally rock. They deserve my business (but you’re free to make up your own mind). And to celebrate this momentous switcheroo, it’s double-feature time!

This time, our theme is early CGI sci-fi with “Tron” and “The Last Starfighter.”

I was somewhat familiar with both of these films, my mom is a sci-fi fan from wayback (thanks for that!) and I’m sure that at some point in my childhood, I watched both films. But since I can’t remember them, time for a fresh start.

“Tron” was up first and oy was my general reaction.

The featherweight plot surrounds a baddie in charge of a company, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), who stole some game ideas from a heart-of-gold programmer, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), and became filthy rich from the scheme. Flynn in return continually tries to break into Dillinger’s system to find proof of the theft, but his programs always end up getting dead.

Flynn then hooks up with some old friends who still work for the baddie, Lora (Cindy Morgan) and Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). They sneak him into the building so he can take down Dillinger. Of course, the plan goes horribly wrong and Flynn ends up getting sucked into the computer, left on his own to fight the Master Controller for freedom and liberty and blah blah blah.

All that plot adds up to the first half-hour or so of the film. The rest of the time is spent running running running from various baddies and plotting to get away, and I really didn’t care what happened at that point. The story is so flimsy and the visual effects people are so impressed with what they can do that they forget to include any compelling drama.

Anyone want to guess how the story turns out? Boring and predictable are one way to ensure a film’s failure, and in that one area, “Tron” is a total success. Skip this one.

On the other hand, “The Last Starfighter” is worth a second look.

The story begins in a trailer park nestled tightly in the middle of nowhere. Our hero, Alex (Lance Guest), is a kid with a lot of dreams, the biggest one being leaving behind the trailer park and never looking back (something that I can strongly identify with).

He’s get a big chance when, after breaking the record on a video game “Starfighter,” he’s whisked off to an alien planet to join an elite force tasked with defending the peaceful planets of the galaxy from a group of baddies, led by Xur (Norman Snow).

(Just a minor aside hear: I suspect after this film came out, every arcade junky across the nation spent an obscene amount of time and money on games, just on the hope that maybe somebody out there was monitoring them and just waiting for a champion to come along. Genius marketing plan.)

Of course, the guy’s a bit flummoxed and demands to be taken home; to be fair, he didn’t know what was happening when he was volunteered for the mission by his recruiter Centauri (Robert Preston), and as much as he wants to leave the nest, he’s not quite ready to. But when the other starfighters are knocked out of commission (literally), he has to make the choice to be a hero or stay an ordinary man.

Again, there’s nothing new here, but the character struggles are real enough and Alex is just so likable that you can’t help but root for him. The film fumbles a bit at the end, but it’s only a minor complaint. “The Last Starfighter” is a solid B-flick, no more, no less, that does the sci-fi genre proud.