The post Star Wars explosion of sci-fi films produced more than its fair share of duds, but The Last Starfighter was a buoyant, wish fulfillment fantasy of a young man who discovers that the arcade games he spends half his life playing, are actually part of a recruitment drive for a species of alien on the brink of destruction. Quite a neat premise, only slightly hampered in the final product by the a somewhat kiddie orientated feel and a few fairly primitive computer generated animation (we're talking worse than the least convincing shots on early Babylon 5). An instance where model effects would have been superior. Still, one enduring feature of the film is Craig Safan's boisterous orchestral score, rather an anomaly in a career largely in television, notably for the long running sitcom Cheers.
Although perhaps not on the A list of sci-fi themes, Safan's is quite a popular compilation piece and is exciting in its rousing heroism, even if it has a faint whiff of cheese. I've often felt that writing intimate and sincere music is a lot easier than epic John Williams style themes as it's so easy to go over the top. Unlike Williams, however, Safan makes more extensive use of synths to add a little sci-fi sparkle, although in truth these additions seem somewhat unnecessary. The main theme dominates, but Safan puts it through an impressive array of styles and moods, from heroic to wistful to romantic. It's a surprisingly malleable tune and generally avoids sounding overworked. The only other significant melody is for Centauri, who receives a slightly unconvincing motif on electronic woodwind instrument (EWI - a favourite of Maurice Jarre), although its appearance, alongside gentle arrangements of the main theme in Centauri Dies, is quite affecting.
No video game come to life would be complete without some action and the results are largely exciting, although some of the synth effects date the score unnecessarily. In his informative liner note, Safan comments that he leaned more on Sibelius than on the more traditional Holst and it's certainly apparent in the nervous string bed that underpins thundering horns in Alex's First Test. Then again the rising string figure of Beta's Sacrifice seem like a precursor to Davis' Matrix scores. I don't think I feel quite the same nostalgia towards the score as those who were teenagers on its original release, but it has all the ingredients one could want from a crowd pleasing cult classic; a memorable theme, exciting action and quieter interludes that actually say something and don't just mark time until the fun stuff. A vibrant listen that begs the question as to why Safan hasn't scored more feature films.