Disney // 1986 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 30th, 2005
Take off for the ultimate fantasy adventure!
Flight of the Navigator: Proudly Continuing the Tradition of Portraying NASA Scientists as Soulless Bastards.
David Freeman (Joey Cramer) is a typical 12-year-old boy. He whines from time to time, is annoyed by his dorky brother Jeff, and generally has little use for his parents. One night, when he goes out to find his little brother and bring him home, he falls into a ravine and blacks out. After coming to, David makes it back to his house, only to find out his parents don't live there anymore! After some help from the cops, David tracks down his family, who have moved to Fort Lauderdale. The weird thing is, eight years have passed, and suddenly David is embroiled in a wacky mystery.
He had been unconscious for only a few hours, but time has inexplicably leapt forward. Now his little brother is sixteen, his parents are wrinkly, and the new hip music is Twisted Sister, not the Bee Gees (typical response from a kid watching this movie now: "who and who?").
Meanwhile, a UFO has been discovered nearby. The strange silver craft apparently collided with some power lines, and NASA immediately appears to bring it back for investigation. When news of David's abnormal state also reaches the ears of the government, he too is brought in for inquiry, under the auspices of Dr. Faraday (Howard Hesseman, Head of the Class). Tests reveal enormous knowledge of the cosmos embedded in David's brain. The scientists are floored and don't know what to do with David, so they keep him secure at NASA, much to the angst of his parents.
But he won't be there for long. A mysterious voice beckons David, and he manages to escape his room and make his way to the holding pen of the spaceship, where a door slides open and he's welcomed in by the ship's robotic pilot, Max (voiced by Paul Reubens).
Max require the star maps in David's head to get back to his home planet and David needs to escape the clutches of NASA, so the two embark on an adventure spanning time, space, and Southern Florida.
You gotta love these '80s kids' sci-fi movies. Man, I was scared to death of scientists, thanks to Hollywood and movies like E.T., Mac and Me, D.A.R.Y.L., and Flight of the Navigator. If it hadn't been for Space Camp, I don't know if I ever could have looked favorably upon an astrophysicist. (Note: I think Apollo 13 did for NASA scientists what Dances with Wolves did for Native Americans.)
I had some concerns about revisiting the adventures of Max and David when this DVD arrived. Could it in fact measure up to the warm memories I had from way back when? In a word: yes!
Despite the obvious fact that much of the pop culture references are profoundly dated ("You've never seen a music video before?!"), the film stills holds up as a great piece of family entertainment. The initial mystery of David's time troubles is very well done, and it immediately adds a tangible air of suspense to the proceedings. When it's coupled with the appearance of the spaceship and the enigmatic star maps in David's head, the film begins as a big question mark that is off-the-bat compelling, for kids and adults alike.
When David and Max finally meet and begin their trip, the fun begins, and the tension of the first third of the film -- which is admittedly a little sinister -- is released. In fact, if it wasn't for the scene where Max does some kind of mind scan on David and absorbs the personality of a preteen kid, giving Reubens the chance to launch into a more lighthearted, comical shtick, the film might have been too heavy-duty for kids to enjoy. But the filmmakers make the right call, and from there on out, Max and David develop a chummy relationship that kids will lap up.
Gosh, so many memories here: Max as a proto-Pee Wee Herman; the zoo of puppet alien creatures; that slimy slug oozing snot; Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) as a perky NASA worker; the nerdy scientists suddenly becoming fascists; the cool steering mechanism on the ship that looks like a galactic Nordic Track. And then there's that cool-ass ship. Man, that thing was the bomb! Especially when it elongated and turned into that sleek teardrop shape to fly thousands of miles an hour -- sweet! Even the computer effects, blatantly rudimentary by today's standards, are decent.
Disney did a nice job with the video transfer, a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The picture holds up well, despite a few hiccups in some of the darker scenes. The downside of such a sharp transfer is that it reveals how primitive the special effects are (particularly the ship's walk-away animation), but what are you going to do? The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix is surprisingly robust, and manages to fill the room.
Zero special features.
Flight of the Navigator is a great, quality family movie; it's the type of feature-length entertainment they just don't make anymore. A great film for kids, and adults won't suffer.
Not guilty, Navigator.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated PG