The Birthday Series–Flight of the Navigator (1986)
Ah, childhood memories. For most of us we remember our childhood through rose coloured glasses. At least I do. Nearly all my memories of childhood are positive. This includes movies I watched back when I wasn’t so cynical and demanding. Some movies stand the test of time, like Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars, which are as entertaining today as they were when I first saw them. But others are strictly for that time when your expectations were simple, and all it took were broad themes and straightforward storytelling to make you happy. The latter is the case with ‘Flight of the Navigator’, a film I loved as a kid, but haven’t seen for over twenty years. Writing that sentence makes me sad.
David (Joey Cramer) is a 12 year old boy in a happy home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On that oh so proud to be an American holiday, Independence Day, David and his little brother Jeff are roughhousing in the nearby woods when David slips and falls. Waking up, David heads home where he discovers his home occupied by complete strangers. The police are called and David’s parents are located. It turns out that David has been missing for eight years, and while the world has aged, he is still twelve. Nearby an alien spaceship is discovered, and NASA has made the connection between the discovery of the spaceship and the reappearance of David. Tests indicate David holds the secrets to the spaceships origin and it’s up the him and the ships computer Max (voice of Paul Mall) to complete the mission and get him home.
‘Flight of the Navigator’ is a great film for kids. My memories of it were all about how I identified with David’s plight. Hoping that he would escape the bad NASA people so that he’d be safe with his family. I also remember being thrilled at the spaceship. The creatures on board, flying into space and under the ocean, and laughing along with the humour between David and Max the computer. Over twenty years later I am not so easily pleased. I can see the clunky conventions of the story. The dialogue is simplistic and the characters broadly sketched. The interaction between David and Max is mildly amusing at first, but once Max scans David’s brain for the co-ordinates (an explanation would be too long-winded) and takes on a wacky childish personality he becomes annoying. But I will readily admit, this is a Disney film back when Disney aimed it’s films squarely at kids. I can appreciate that. This film is simply not for adult consumption.
The film is effectively directed by Randal Kleiser, who was pretty successful in his time, having directed ‘Grease’ and ‘The Blue Lagoon’ as well as a few TV movies including ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’ with John Travolta. Kleiser keeps the story moving and the scenes with the spaceship are particularly impressive. The film features the first use of morphing special effects in a film which hold up surprisingly well, mainly because of the very simplistic design of the spaceship.
The acting is as good as the writing. Basic and straightforward. Joey Cramer shoulders the load as David, appearing in nearly every scene, and while never embracing our sympathy, doesn’t irritate either. It’s interesting to see New York’s equine princess Sarah Jessica Parker makes an appearance as a friendly NASA minion, but her role is brief and doesn’t amount to much.
‘Flight of the Navigator’ is a film that’s specifically targeted at kids, and that’s where it’s strength lies. There’s not a great deal that will appeal to adults, even those with fond memories, such as I have. Sometimes fond memories should remain just that.
Since I’ve made it a point in this review that ‘Flight of the Navigator’ is clearly a kids film, I’ve decided to dish out two separate ratings.
For Grumpy Old Men…
Take it easy,