Between a silent boy and a beautiful girl lies an amazing secret.
Harmed by thin distribution in 1986, The Boy Who Could Fly gained its massive popularity through home video and cable. Eighteen years after its initial release, Warner Bros. has now issued the film on DVD for the first time.
Facts of the Case
Milly Michaelson (Lucy Deakins, Little Nikita) is a fourteen-year-old teenager dealing with heartache. Along with her mother (Bonnie Bedelia, Die Hard) and younger brother Louis (Fred Savage, The Wonder Years), Milly has moved to a new neighborhood shortly after her father's suicide. She must deal with that death plus the awkwardness of being the new girl in town.
She discovers that her next door neighbor is Eric (Jay Underwood, Uncle Buck, The Invisible Kid), a boy who has remained silent since his parents' death. He lives with his boozehound uncle Hugo (Fred Gwynne, The Munsters).
A sympathetic teacher (Colleen Dewhurst, Anne of Green Gables) urges Milly to help Eric in his studies. While working with Eric, Milly discovers that he longs to soar like a bird in the sky. Is this simply a fantasy…or can the boy really fly?
The Boy Who Could Fly was financed by Lorimar Motion Pictures, an independent production and distribution company. In 1986, Lorimar was suffering financial problems, resulting in several films getting the short end of the stick when it came to distribution. 20th Century Fox acquired the film, but didn't give it the wide release it deserved. Lorimar retained video rights to Boy and had a major success with it in the home video market before a series of box office flops (Made in Heaven and several DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group releases) sealed the company's fate. Warner Bros. purchased the Lorimar catalog in 1988.
The Boy Who Could Fly is the kind of film that was made for home video—its impact grows richer with repeat viewings. Unlike many Hollywood films (this was a low-budget Canadian production), it has a power and strength that gets you involved with the story, even though you know how it is going to turn out. Writer/director Nick Castle, who co-wrote Escape from New York, taps into a different side for this gentle film. Some critics have compared it to the best work of Frank Capra. That's an interesting comparison—Capra's work often tread the fine line between comedy and fantasy, just as Castle's does here. The protagonist of a Capra film is an everyday, normal person who fights to help the disadvantaged, just as Lucy Deakins's Milly does here. Boy builds to a bittersweet finale, just like Capra did with Meet John Doe and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. It also shares Capra's gentle love for humanity.
The performances are all first-rate. Looking at many reviews, I notice Jay Underwood, who plays Eric, is often left out of the general praise. That is truly unfair because, for my money, he gives the most impressive performance in the picture. He has all but six words to mutter and must remain silent most of the time. Some think that playing a mute is simple, but it is actually difficult work. Underwood relies on facial expressions and simple gestures to convey his feelings—or lack of same—as necessary. He never flinches at any point in the picture. He portrays a sensitivity and gentleness that few actors can accomplish so perfectly. I sincerely hope those critics guilty of overlooking Underwood will take another look at his performance, and pay greater attention this time.
Lucy Deakins was a promising young actress at the time The Boy Who Could Fly was made. She appeared in a few more films and TV programs, then…nothing. What happened? No one knows for sure, although according to the Internet Movie Database, she currently lives in New York with her family. (To share a small personal anecdote, I had a major crush on Ms. Deakins when I was eight years old. I'd gaze at her onscreen for hours on end in this and other pictures. Sigh!) Deakins's performance in Boy is simply luminous. She doesn't kid the material, although some of this material is aimed for comedy. She remains rooted in the reality of the moment. Unlike many young ingenues who assume that looks mean everything, Deakins realized that beauty is great, but credible performance is top priority.
Fred Gwynne became famous for playing kindly but naïve Herman Munster in the popular '60s sitcom The Munsters. Gwynne, however, was a good actor who could play drama just as well as, if not better than, comedy. His character in Boy is used mainly for laughs, but not the cheap kind Hollywood favors. The humor arises organically from the character, so that we're laughing with him, not at him. Fred Savage gives a great performance for a child actor. Yes, there may have been "cuter" child actors, but few could handle difficult material with substance like Savage has, both here and in later roles (Vice Versa, The Wonder Years). Colleen Dewhurst, even 13 years after her death, remains one of the more underrated actresses in cinema. Her work in The Boy Who Could Fly is memorable in that it's an honest portrayal of a reasonable adult figure, rather than a caricature. The same can be said for Bonnie Bedelia as the mother.
Keep an eye out for cameos by Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) as a kind doctor, and Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills 90210) as a high school student. Director John Carpenter (Escape from New York) pops up during the music video sequence when Milly and her pal get drunk and watch MTV—you'll spot Carpenter in the upper right corner of the screen, with director Castle below him and director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III) toward the bottom left corner. Little-known trivia: this trio of filmmakers are members of a rock band called The Coupe de Villes, who appear now and then in each director's projects. Listen to the audio commentary for more details.
Fans rejoice! The Boy Who Could Fly is finally available in its original aspect ratio for the first time ever. Warner's 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks quite good, although it could be better. Colors look strong enough, considering the major change to less pronounced color schemes was in full swing at the time the movie was filmed. Although there is some grain and softness in the image, it looks superior to the VHS copies that were popular in the late '80s.
Audio is offered in Dolby Digital stereo, in your choice of English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish. The English stereo track sounded good when I played it. The mix seems slightly off, not as sharp as it was on the VHS copies I wore out as a kid. Dialogue is easily understood but the music seems a bit subdued, not as loud and vibrant as I remember. It could be my memory playing tricks on me, but I remember the soundtrack sounding heavier in the past. Don't be dismayed, though—it's more than good enough for this disc. I'm just saying it could be better, especially for stereo sound.
Warner has given us some extra content, a testament to this film's stature. A group commentary track featuring writer/director Nick Castle and actors Jay Underwood, Fred Savage, and Lucy Deakins arrives first. (Bonnie Bedelia is listed on the snapper case as a participant, but she is nowhere to be heard.) Warner has been scoring home runs lately when it comes to audio commentaries, the tracks for The In-Laws (1979) and Giant being standouts. There are a great many personal insights and quirks to be found on this track. More importantly, it is just fun to listen to. The participants are having a great time and so will you—the energy and mutual admiration are infectious. There are very few gaps, and those that crop up are usually for the purpose of later discussion.
A five-minute introduction featuring Castle and Underwood (the snapper case mistakenly lists Deakins, but she is not present) is a good prelude before you dig into the film. Underwood has aged quite a bit (I haven't seen him in a major production since he played Sonny Bono on an ABC-TV movie, and that was in 1998), but you can sense this is a film he is proud of and will never forget. It is nice to see an actor who doesn't regret a film that brought him stardom, no matter how briefly.
The film's original theatrical trailer, in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, is unique in that it isn't compiled from clips, but rather is new footage shot specifically for this purpose. It is a teaser trailer with an element of mystery that will make you want to see the film.
With a suggested retail price of $19.99, this purchase will not break your wallet. Fans will need no encouragement from me to pick this one up. The Boy Who Could Fly is the kind of film that the whole family can enjoy, and individual adults will as well. Rent it if you still remain unsure.
The disc is free to go, although Warner still needs to work on their video and audio presentation. The studio has been more than capable of doing great work in the past. It's up to them to keep a closer eye on the end product.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentary Featuring Writer/Director Nick Castle and Actors Jay Underwood, Fred Savage, and Lucy Deakins
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.