Fox // 1985 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // September 27th, 2004
"We'll never be sick, we won't get any older, and we won't ever die."
I've always had a soft spot for Cocoon, that warm fuzzy of a film from Ron Howard (Far and Away, A Beautiful Mind). Is it the inspired performances of the elderly actors? Is it the idea of finding a fountain of youth? Is it the possibility of living forever? Is it all that and more? Yes, it is all that and more. A wonderful melding of comedy, drama, action, and sci-fi, Cocoon is a charming movie that not only entertains but hopefully makes you think just a little bit about your future.
At the Sunny Shores retirement home in St. Petersburg, Florida, it's another day as usual in the community: Some people are taking dance lessons, others are watching television, others are napping, and a few others are sneaking next door to the abandoned home with a huge pool. Ben (Wilford Brimley, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins), Art (Don Ameche, Trading Places), and Joe (Hume Cronyn, Brewster's Millions) have been trespassing almost daily to use the pool, but that is all about to change.
Walter (Brian Dennehy, Rambo: First Blood), Kitty, Doc, and Pillsbury have just rented the house for the month. They've also rented out Jack's (Steve Guttenberg, Police Academy) boat for the month. They say they have a great diving spot where they've found some rare giant snail shells, but that story doesn't quite make sense to Jack. Nevertheless, he's in desperate need of money and this long-term charter more than compensates for the unusual story. After Walter and his group bring up the shells, they take them back to the house and put them in the pool. Meanwhile, Ben and his friends are saddened they can't swim in the pool anymore, but when they think the new neighbors are drug smugglers, they decide it's acceptable for them to go there during the day when the smugglers are out doing their illicit activity.
Though unnerved by the shells/rocks in the pool, the old men decide to do their thing. Almost immediately, they begin to feel better; they feel younger. And it isn't just their imaginations; they are getting better. Most notably is the remission of Joe's cancer. Though initially dismissed as cocaine in the pool, the men realize they've found a fountain of youth.
Soon, we learn that there's more to those shells than the obvious cover story. Walter and his friends are hiding a much bigger secret than anyone can imagine. It's going to change the landscape of the Sunny Shores retirement home forever when it's discovered that Walter and his friends are from the planet Antarea and have come to Earth to retrieve their lost comrades, who are now encased in cocoons.
From Jack to Ben to Art to Joe to their friend Bernie (Jack Gilford, Catch-22) to their wives, Alma (Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy), Rosie (Herta Ware, 2010), Bess (Gwen Verdon, The Cotton Club), and Marilyn (Maureen Stapleton, Johnny Dangerously), the revelation of the pool and their extraterrestrial neighbors will bring to each a unique dilemma about turning back the hands of time.
Nearly twenty years later, Cocoon holds up remarkably well. Aside from some unnerving break-dancing scenes, this film doesn't feel dated, clichéd, trite, or overly sappy in any way. Its deep philosophical message of the choice of old age versus the fountain of youth is still as poignant today as it was back in 1985. What would you do if you were presented with an opportunity to never be sick, never grow old, and never die? Would you jump at that chance? Would it make any difference if you had to give up absolutely everything you know and love to travel to another planet? Is it an easy choice? Cocoon deftly asks these questions but doesn't pound the message into the viewer. It's delicately interwoven among the many layers of drama, comedy, and sci-fi adventure.
Cocoon works because it keeps you off balance. Is this a sci-fi movie? Is it a drama? Is it a comedy? What does this film want from you? What does it want to give you? The answer, obviously, is that it's all of the above and it wants to give you all of the above. Cocoon is a clever blending of multiple genres, giving the viewing a fresh, new experience.
And cementing this new experience is the portrayal of our senior citizens. For most, growing old is an unwanted and undesired inevitability. It's the degradation of all of our basic abilities, though time will treat some of us more gently than others. Many of us will grow old with grace and still be as spry as our time-worn bodies will allow; for others, time will erase our memories and make our bones brittle. In Sunny Shores, the residents die, others pass the time staring at a television, but others still go out with their friends and take a daily swim. Cocoon reminds us of the potential sadness of living in a retirement village, but it also makes us realize that there are still possibilities when you get older. Ben, Art, Joe, and their wives are still feisty and fun-loving. And when the pool invigorates and revitalizes them, it reminds us that life doesn't have to end when you're sixty. It's how these talented actors with decades upon decades of experience easily capture our imaginations. It's delightful to see senior citizens living full, varied, and mostly happy lives. Senior citizens aren't relegated to the background as supporting characters, but are instead front and center. With these gifted actors, we realize that many of today's actors cannot hold a candle to the talent of yesteryear.
This disc from 20th Century Fox is a flipper, offering fans the chance to watch the movie in either 1.85 anamorphic or full frame. Choosing the former, you'll find a somewhat disappointing print with a menu of problems -- none ruin the film, but it goes to show what a new coat of paint could have done. What you get are grain, haze, softness, a muted palette, dirt lines, and a print that's just a touch dark overall. Additionally, the less than vibrant colors seem to be "off" when the aliens show their true form. During a close-up, these beings of golden light turn green. I can't say I recall that from past viewings, but it didn't seem right. Faring much better is the audio, which is a nice 4.1 Dolby Digital mix. Dialogue is spotless from the front and well supported by the remaining speakers. There's nice use of the bass and surrounds, which is most clearly demonstrated during the pool scene between Kitty and Jack.
It appears there's quite a bit to peruse on the special features menu, but that would not be an accurate assessment of the situation. While there's much to choose from on the menu, if you watch everything (sans the commentary track), you'll be done in less than 25 minutes. But, let's start with that commentary track from Ron Howard. The first twenty minutes of the track are very good. It immediately grabbed my interest, and I thought we'd have a solid track. But, it does get a bit dull for the next half hour and only marginally picks up in the last hour. Howard shares a lot of interesting information about the film, and it is one of the better ones I've heard, but it just petered out a bit too quickly to make it to the top of the list. Moving on, there are several featurettes that seem to be cut from the same cloth: They appear to have all come from one old feature that discusses the film. When broken apart, they're all too short and shallow, never giving full treatment to the film. The featurettes are: "Behind-the-Scenes Featurette" (7 minutes), "Ron Howard Profile" (2.5 minutes), "Underwater Training" (3.5 minutes), "Actors" (3 minutes), and "Creating Antareans" (4 minutes). Rounding out the bonus items are a still gallery, three TV spots, the teaser and theatrical trailers, and the teaser for Cocoon: The Return. Again, it looks like a lot, but it's not.
As a fan of I Love the '80s on VH1, I believe in the 1985 "Strikes Back" segment, Cocoon is satirized as "old people getting frisky." It's true that's part of the film, as immortalized by Don Ameche's line "You've got a boner too?," but that label does the film a disservice by ignoring the rest of the heartwarming tale. Still, sometimes it's just a lot of fun to make fun of the silliness of the film. So while we've already skipped past the Viagra commercial, let's not forget the other great embarrassing moment from Don -- his break dancing. Yes, it's obviously a body double (as confirmed by Ron Howard in the commentary), but it's still highly worthy of a cringe. The film is moving along at a nice clip, and then suddenly it wanders off and tiptoes towards hammyness. It just about crosses the line, but it recuperates in just a few moments.
You have Antareans who can traverse the galaxy, have lived "forever," and 100 centuries ago built a colony on an island on Earth, but they forget to bring their own boat when doing "the most important thing they've ever done"? How very odd of those silly little aliens.
I really like Cocoon, even though it works pretty hard to play with the viewers' emotions. It's an extremely sweet, heartwarming, and endearing film about life and its choices. Filled with great performances by classic actors, this film comes with my recommendation to add to your collection. But, do recall, the video transfer isn't the best and the special features aren't all you'd expect; still, it's not a bottom shelf, bare bones release. Revisit this little gem and add it to your collection.
Cocoon is hereby found not guilty on all charges and released to swim with the dolphins.
Review content copyright © 2004 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 4.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary by Director Ron Howard
* Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
* Ron Howard Profile
* Underwater Training
* Creating Antareans
* Still Gallery
* TV Spot