Fox // 1985 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 26th, 2010
It is everything you've dreamed of. It is nothing you expect.
"Men should be explorers, no matter how old they are."
Art (Don Ameche, Things Change), Ben (Wilford Brimley, Did You Hear About the Morgans?), and Joe (Hume Cronyn, Lifeboat) are aging men residing in an assisted living facility. Frequently, the guys like to sneak off to a little-used nearby rental property and enjoy the luxurious swimming pool there. One day, they notice that there are some very large rocks of sorts inside the pool. It makes no difference to the guys; as long as they don't get caught, they're happy to continue using the pool regardless of whether rocks are sitting at the bottom. Then something unusual happens: after the swim, all three men feel particularly energized.
You see, the "rocks" are actually cocoons containing aliens from another world. A long time ago, the cocoons were unintentionally left in the bottom of the ocean. Now, some aliens named Walter (Brian Dennehy, Presumed Innocent) and Kitty (Tahnee Welch, I Shot Andy Warhol) are on a mission to find all of the cocoons, place them in the swimming pool for safekeeping and then take them back to their home planet. In order to do this, they employ the services of a goofball boat owner named Jack Bonner (Steve Guttenberg, Short Circuit), who starts to fall for Kitty before realizing her true nature.
The three old men attempt to keep their knowledge of the pool with the life-enhancing rocks under wraps, but word inevitably gets out and more people begin to flock to the "fountain of youth." Are the new physical abilities a blessing or a curse? Will the aliens get the cocoons back home safely? Will any humans accompany the aliens on the journey to outer space? Find out the answers to these pressing questions and more in Cocoon!
Ron Howard's Cocoon may not be a great film, but it's a warm and affectionate one with some fine performances and some charming special effects. It also manages to slightly transcend the "geriatric comedy" genre it falls into, because the senior citizens in the film seem like real human beings rather than saggy stereotypes (bad pun intended, unfortunately). Much like Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys, the film is warm-hearted sci-fi less interested in otherworldly gobbledygook or jokes about the elderly than in the complicated feelings of the characters at the core of the story.
Not that we're denied otherworldly gobbledygook and jokes about old people, since those are the items that tend to sell tickets. It's just that the film seems less interested in these things. In the humor department, this is a blessing since we're spared additional scenes along the lines of Don Ameche's break-dancing sequence or his declaration of, "You got a boner, too?" In the sci-fi department, this is a slight problem, as the aliens in the film aren't particularly distinct or compelling in any way. They're just a plot device, their personalities defined by the needs of the story (despite the considerable acting talent of Brian Dennehy and the considerable beauty of Tahnee Welch).
As I indicated, the film is best when it focuses on the emotions of the central characters, from the unexpected joy of discovering that their bodies actually feel good again to the sorrow of realizing the many complications that come with such a "fountain of youth" actually existing on earth. One of their friends (Jack Gilford, Caveman) refuses to permit himself to be made to feel young again, insisting that it's unnatural and that everyone has to play the cards they've been dealt. Alternately, Ben tells his skeptical wife that, "considering the cards we've been dealt, I'm okay with re-shuffling the deck."
Though the very charming Don Ameche won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his turn as Art, Wilford Brimley's performance is the strongest and most compelling part of the film for me. There's a terrific scene in which Ben and his young grandson go on a fishing trip and have a nice chat. The image is tremendously familiar in a Norman Rockwell-ish sort of way, and Brimley is perhaps the only actor who could utter the line, "Me and your grandma, we're going to outer space," in such a wonderfully down-to-earth way. I also like Hume Cronyn's work as a man whose re-invigorated body leads him to revisit some of his old vices (namely, cheating on his wife). The behavior leads to some very fine scenes between Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, who informs him in no uncertain terms, "I'm happy you're going to live, but I need to live, too."
The image is rather stellar, rarely becoming genuinely exceptional but always getting the job done in a satisfactory transfer. The special effects sequence come close to providing some real pop, but otherwise the transfer just offers a natural, warm image with solid detail. Flesh tones are warm and accurate while darker scenes benefit from good depth. There's a minor, pleasing layer of grain present throughout the gives the film a natural filmic look. Audio is a bit less satisfying, as James Horner's inspiring score has evidently suffered from some damage (take a listen to how wobbly the notes sound around the 50-minute mark). It comes through with reasonable strength and is well-distributed, but unfortunately not-so-well preserved. Dialogue is mostly clean and clear, while sound design is less ambitious than usual for a big-budget sci-fi outing like this.
Supplements are all ported over from the previous special edition DVD: a (rather good) commentary with Ron Howard, five very brief featurettes chronicling the making of the film (they run about 20 minutes combined) plus some tv spots and trailers.
Two words: Steve Guttenberg. Pretty much everything involving the actor tends to be eyeroll-inducing at best and flat-out agonizing at worst.
Cheesy yet charming, Cocoon remains a smile-inducing experience while ranking well-below Ron Howard's finest achievements. The Blu-ray doesn't do much to encourage one to upgrade, but the reasonable price point should offset that a bit.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* TV Spots