Dir: Randal Kleiser
Starring: Joey Cramer, Cliff De Young, Veronica Cartright, Matt Adler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matt Adler
The Film: Think back to when you were twelve years old. The biggest stress in your life is whether you will be able to train your sweet but lazy dog to be able to catch a Frisbee. And your bratty little brother is always getting you in trouble. Then, on one foggy night, you wonder into the woods to pick up your aforementioned brother from his friend’s house, and subsequently fall into a ravine. You wake up after what seems to have only been an hour, and all of a sudden find out that you have been gone eight years.
If what I wrote above seems like it could have been written by Rod Serling, then you would be right. In fact, the first half of Flight of the Navigator plays out like a Twilight Zone episode. And a dark one at that. This edge (this was the first Disney film to include swearing) plays to the film’s advantage. Because, director Randal Kleiser (Grease) displays a great sleight of hand. Especially in these early scenes, as the intro to David and his family is done very well, and when NASA discovers the maps that are contained in his brain, it plays out in a style that reminds you of any Twilight Zone episode. When taking into account that he is in nearly every frame of the film, Cramer does an excellent job as David. The events that unravel in which David discovers his parents do not live in their house anymore can be construed as heart-wrenching, and is dramatically strong. De Young and Alien’s Cartright are also well cast, and the discovery of their advanced age by David is brilliantly portrayed. Adler is fine as Jeff, the little brother who is now the bigger one. However, through no fault of his , he comes off kind of clunky. Because, as the majority of 80s movies did, the writers give him lines that contained mainstays like ‘rad’ and, um, radically dates his dialogue. Hessman brings his charm, and his character comes off as if the teacher he portrayed in Head of the Class decided to work for NASA.
Kleiser has obviously taken many cues from Spielberg (who released E.T. four years earlier), as, with the exception of a couple establishing shots of scientists discovering the spaceship, the entire first half of the film is told through David’s eyes. He also plays with conventions, as Jeff’s sly reveal from shadows in the hospital is well done. There is more Spielberg at hand here, as between this, E.T. and DARYL, scientists were the baddest of the bad in my eyes. And, while Hessman is far from an evil character, we still root for David to get away from his character as quickly as possible. As a matter of fact, it was on this viewing in which I discovered that David doesn’t even get on the ship until 45 minutes into the film. However, what makes this fantasy film stand out as opposed to other 80s kid adventures, is that the build-up is so well we don’t even realize it.
Ironically, it’s when David finally gets on the space ship that the stuff on the ground ceases to be interesting. This may be due to the fact that the ship’s ‘captain,’ Max, is voiced by Pee-Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens. Of course, the ship has a bland robotic voice in the beginning. But, once he does a mind scan on David, the robotic voice turns more into the pre-teen Pee Wee style voice that we know Reubens for. The filmmakers made a brilliant choice with Max, where instead of making him a creature who helms controls, he is just simply a metal arm with a light at the end of it. This makes the future presence of both cute and slimy creatures within the ship’s capacity even more enchanting.
Flight of the Navigator‘s effects and music are definitely dated by today’s standards. But, that doesn’t make the scene of when the spaceship elongates into a teardrop shaped vessel (and looks all too much like the ship that Queen Amidala uses in the Star Wars prequel trilogy) & speeds away flourish any less. And, I would venture to argue that the score, composed by Alan Silvestri, is neck and neck with Back to the Future as the best score of his career. The film is full of fun (the scene in which Max discovers music is joyfully amusing), good comedic bits (funniest scene has to be when David and Max stop off at a gas station in Florida) and heart (wrap around story involving Jeff). There are just a few imperfections. I did not like how a plot point involving David having a crush on the pretty girl in the neighborhood is just subsequently dropped within the film’s first 15 minutes. And, bits that seemed edgy back in 1986, such as Parker’s character having a strand of purple hair and liking Twisted Sister, just come off as very dated and you will spend more time explaining these points to today’s children than seeing them go with the film. But really, who cares? Flight of the Navigator is a fantastic fantasy film, and it is too bad that Cramer did not go on to have the career that this movie promised. If you check it out for nostalgia reasons, be ready to like it for more than what you remembered. Highly recommended.
The Region Free Blu-ray:
Audio/Video: Video resolution is 1080p with the original aspect ratio: 1.85:1. The audio is presented in English with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
People who were upset at the quality of video in the 2004 DVD can now rejoice. Because, instead of looking like it was directly ripped from a VHS copy of the the film (as the DVD’s picture quality did), this is as smooth and slick as the film has ever looked. Even if the beginning scenes sometimes look a bit grainy, the film’s visual display is great.
Its audio is in 5.1 DTS, and the ship’s sound effects and Silvestri’s score have never sounded better.
* Audio Commentary
Another thing about the last version of Flight of the Navigator that made me mad was that there was not an ounce of an extra feature on it. Not one!! Come on Disney! Even The Last Starfighter DVD had a slew of extras! And, you would think that this, the first film on record to have chrome morphing effects 5 full years before Terminator 2, would have a documentary on it.
Well, it is not much better here. However, there is an all new commentary recorded by director Randal Kleiser and executive producer Jonathan Sanger, in which they joyfully reflect on the making of the film as well as behind the scenes stories (which are always interesting to me). While Kleiser and Sanger are both entertaining, there is still no excuse for this being the only extra feature on the blu ray edition of the film.
Review written by Garrett Collins
You can order a copy of the Blu-ray at Amazon UK HERE