Flight of the Navigator (1986)
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Mark H. Baker, Matt MacManus, Michael Burton
Starring: Cliff De Young, Howard Hesseman, Joey Cramer, Matt Adler, Paul Reubens, Sarah Jessica Parker, Veronica Cartwright
FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986)
Directed by Randal Kleiser
12 year old David Freeman sets off to the woods to collect his 8 year old brother Jeff at the request of his parents but whilst wandering around the woods, he slips down into a ravine. Awakening a little bit groggy sometime later, he returns home to find an elderly couple living at his address with his parents nowhere to be seen. Whilst David thinks he’s been unconscious for only a couple of hours, to the rest of the world he’s been missing for 8 years and whilst everyone has aged accordingly, David is still the 12 year old he was when he went missing.
After a stressful reunion with his parents, David is quickly approached by NASA scientists who suspect David’s unexplained whereabouts could be connected to the alien spacecraft they’ve discovered. Being unable to remember the events during the period between falling in the woods and awakening, David agrees to being tested for 48 hours to try and find out the truth. However, when NASA want to keep him locked up at their lab for longer than originally specified, David gets a little help from the spaceship’s onboard computer MAX to take him back home.
Children’s movie FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR is one of those wholesome, feel-good family movies that not just children but adults as well can enjoy and even now, over 30 years later, it still holds up as being an adventurous slice of sci-fi fantasy drama.
Joey Cramer leads the way as protagonist David, your regular 12 year old lad who’s sick of his annoying dweeb of a little brother who always likes to torment him. However, when he wakes up in 1986, a full 8 years later than when he fell in the ravine, David wants nothing more than to see his little bro Jeff who turns out to now be older than him. The revelation of the different time period, with David encountering the elderly couple in his home, creates some real tension as you find yourself panicking about the whereabouts of his parents. Has he travelled back in time? Or in the future? And if so, how far? On first watch, I was concerned that David may never see his parents again. Fortunately, he does however his disappearance for so many years, coupled with the fact he hasn’t aged, has turned the innocent boy into a lab rat of NASA’s. With some psychic connection to the alien spacecraft NASA has found, David’s true adventure begins as he makes a bid for freedom away from the scientists with the help of the onboard computer of the spacecraft, known as MAX.
Seeing David walk into the spacecraft for the first time is incredible. Engraved chrome as far as the eye can see with a pilot’s chair that rises up from the floor and a full screen to which David can observe the landscapes they fly over, be it space, clouds, fields or ocean. Every kid, even the adult ones, will wish they were David at that particular moment. To know that the inside of the “ship” has actually been built, without the aid of CGI, is another aspect that will only make you fall in love with this film even more. MAX, as the talking, mobile sensor arm anchored to the wall of the ship, is another wise choice with an onboard computer favoured over little green men or the like. This puts the sole focus on David with MAX acting as a supporting banter character in what is essentially David’s trip “home”. He’s not the only one wanting to return to home though with the ship hosting some unusual creatures in various flasks which we learn are other beings that have been picked up from other planets by MAX to study. Unlike David, they can easily be taken back in time without risk except for one little critter who doesn’t know that his own planet has been destroyed and, as such, is homeless.
Tons of emotions flow from this film but most is that yearning to be at home with those that love you. David and, to an extent, MAX’s fight is against the big bad scientists who want to analyse every aspect of the boy and machine for no doubt financial and military gain. As a friendly spacecraft that is too just looking to return to its home planet, its star-charts lodged in the brain of David, the duo must work together if they’re both going to return to their rightful homes.
With brilliant supporting roles from Sarah Jessica Parker in one of her early roles as NASA intern Carolyn, Howard Hesseman as the scheming ASA scientist Dr Louis Faraday, and Paul Ruebens, under the pseudonym of Paul Mall, who injects the fun, wacky charisma of MAX with humorous exchanges with David, FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR is a thrilling adventure for all the family. The use of CGI, which was groundbreaking at the time, as the ship contorts and transforms in shape will thrill the young ones and no doubt you’ll have them trying to find a spacecraft and MAX of their own the next time you take them into the woods.
Second Sight have released a superb limited edition Blu-Ray of the film that will excite collectors with its 100 page soft-cover book featuring storyboards, production notes and behind-the-scenes photos along with a reversible poster with new and original artwork. The 4K scan and restoration of the movie also comes loaded with a range of insightful new interviews with Joey Cramer, Veronica Cartwright (who plays David’s mum), Matt Adler (who plays older Jeff), the director Randal Kleiser and a look at the art and design of the ship with Randal, his CGI artist brother Jeff Kleiser and Edward Eyth. Discovering how the actors got involved with the film, their work prior to the movie and their experiences working on it and with the other cast makes for a complete package for Navigator fans. This is tipped by an audio commentary with the director Randal Kleiser and producer Jonathan Sanger.