Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Title: Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Director: Randal Kleiser

Cast: Cliff De Young, Joey Cramer, Paul Reubens, Veronica Cartwright, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matt Adler


Director Randal Kleiser has had a very eclectic directorial career; he is responsible for a very disparate bunch of successful films, never adhering to one genre. For example, this is the guy that directed one fo the most popular musicals ever; Grease (1978) and yet also the guy who directed Honey I Blew Up the Kid (1992) and The Blue Lagoon (1980). He also made Big Top Pee Wee (1988) which to me is one of the worst movies ever made, but I’ll forgive him for that one, every director is entitled to a stinker or two in their career. Flight of the Navigator is another one of Kleiser’s eclectic directorial choices; a sci-fi family film from Disney. It is one of the most endearing of movies for me because I watched it a whole lot when I was a kid, so yeah, this review is coming from the perspective of my nostalgia goggles, which is kind of cool because you’re getting the opinion of a true child of the 80’s!

Flight of the Navigator starts out in 1978, during a very sunny and beautiful  4th of July day. Here we meet the Freemans, your typical American family comprised of mom, dad, two brothers and a dog. The focus of the story is on David Freeman, a twelve year old kid with twelve year old preoccupations: getting his dog to learn how to catch a Frisbee, fighting with his little brother and having the hots for a girl, but not knowing how to go about it. One day, while searching for his brother in the woods suddenly David discovers that he has traveled seven years into the future! How did this come to be? And what does it have to do with the spaceship that the U.S. government has found? 

So I love this movie for various reasons, one of them is because it sends out a very pro-family message. I am a family man at heart and I love it when films augment the importance of family. Flight of the Navigator speaks about the importance of appreciating your family when you have them, because you never know when you might lose them. The moments when David is sharing time with his family are really good, I mean, Kleiser really captured the feeling of a bright, colorful, sunny day with the family, those moments when the family is just having a great time with each other really clicked for me, made me want to be 12 years old again and spending time with my family. But when David gets swiped to the future, suddenly his family isn’t his family anymore. His little brother is older than he is, his mom and dad are older, it’s just not the family he had back in 1978, back when things were normal. So this is a story of David simply trying to get back to his time, and his family the way he knew them; not the altered reality version of them. Basically this is a kiddy friendly version of Back to the Future (1985), sans the sex and alcohol. And I’m pretty sure this is exactly what these filmmakers where aiming for, after all, just a year before Flight of the Navigator was released, Back to the Future made many millions at the box office, so this type of story was popular at the time.

The difference between both films is the science fiction angle is stronger on Flight of the Navigator. While the DeLorean in the Back to the Future films was created by a semi mad scientist, the time machine in Flight of the Navigator is an alien spaceship from another galaxy. Speaking of the alien spaceship, this is one cool looking ship! When I was a kid, I wanted to be David piloting that super cool alien craft. The ship was voiced by Paul Reuben’s;  a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman. Reuben’s distinct voice goes unnoticeable for most of the film because the filmmakers altered it to make it sound more like a computer, sometimes you’ll hear Reuben’s distinctive Pee Wee like laughter emerging. The ship is a combination of various forms of visual effects, but most noticeable of all is the use of computer generated images, which at the time were just getting started. I remember, as a kid, those few instances of computer generated images where awesome! Now of course, little bits of computer generated images like the ones found in Flight of the Navigator are childsplay; today entire films are computer generated! But back then, seeing something like this was innovative and exciting. So expect a film in which CGI was taking its first baby steps towards becoming the out of control rampaging monster it is today.

Another reason I love this movie is because it instantly takes me back to the 80’s. There’s this moment in which the government takes David to some sort of complex in order to perform some tests on him and in order to make him feel more at home, they buy him a bunch of toys. So when he gets to his room, it’s filled with a bunch of G.I. Joes and Transformers. Wow, now that took me back! They also talk about MTV (back when MTV was cool) and Twisted Sister and they have Sarah Jessica Parker dressed up all Madonna-like; it’s little bits like these that took me back to the decade. Another thing that makes this one very 80’s is how the entire film is centered on a twelve year old kid, so we’re talking about alien spaceships, time travel and mind melds, but everything depends on the actions of this kid! If I had to say anything negative about the film it’s that it’s very simplistic in nature, but then again, this is a film aimed at twelve year olds, so it’s not meant to be deep, the main purpose here is to feel good and have fun, and in this sense the movie delivers. There’s this really cool moment where David is flying the ship while listening to “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, definitely felt some good vibes all around.  But then again, I was feeling good vibes from this movie all the time. It's one of the best kid movies from the 80's which is the reason why I mentioned it on my Quintessential Kid Films from the 80's blogpost, it’s lighthearted family fare of the best kind.

Rated:  3 1/2 out of 5  



Kev D. said...

Glad to see it has aged well, at least thematically. SO many movies when I re-watch today I'm just like, yeah, I can't go back. I'm looking at you SHORT CIRCUIT.

Great review, as always.

Franco Macabro said...

Ha, ha, ha, I've bee meaning to check out Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2 again, haven't seen those in aaaaages! I remember them fondly though.

Agree, some movies I just can't go back to, for example, The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy, wow, that's a royal piece of crap, I couldn't take how crappy it was. So much so I wasn't even able to muster up a review for it.

DrunkethWizerd said...

I seriously have to watch this again. I must have watched it like fifteen times during my youth. I remember really liking that little alien guy who hangs on the kid's finger... and also how the ship morphs shapes before going super fast. Cool stuff.

Keep up the 80's posts man!

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, that would the "class one maneuver" that Max pulls off at one point.

I still have some more 80's movies to review, they will be coming in the next couple of weeks, till the end of this month, then it's back to "normal" film connoisseur mode, which means reviews and articles on everything and anything.

Jack Thursby said...

First half of this film is great. I love how bleak and depressing it is with the military doing all those tests on David.

After he jumps in the space craft I kind of lose interest. I feels like it turns into a completely different film both tonally and storywise.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I doubt that Disney wanted this one to be bleak or depressing, after all it is a family film by Disney, of course it's going to turn into a feel good movie about a kid flying a spaceship as he sings "I get around" by The Beach Boys. :) It's a film about a kid who wants to reconnect with his family, so he goes against all odds to do so, I liked that about it. But I guess you have to be in a certain mindset to see a family film like this one.

Jack Thursby said...

True, but Disney also did Return to Oz - one of the most depressing kids films of all time (and I love it!)

I just feel that the "flight" part of the film was the weakest bit of the story. I still enjoy the film just wish that part was a bit better integrated.

Oh, also got to agree with your earlier comment. The Golden Child. Horrendous movie.

Franco Macabro said...

I agree with you though, Flight of the Navigator does have a paper thin plot. It hints at some complications, but they are eschewed in favor of showing the kid having fun flying the ship and Paul Reubens verbal comedy.

Yeah, The Golden Child was just a lot of filler, nothing of any weight to it. It felt forced and pointless to me. But more on The Golden Child on my review for it!


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