Flight of the Navigator Review

The Movie

The astonishing success of Steven Spielberg's E.T. in 1982 heralded the money-making power of the friendly alien, so naturally every movie mogul wanted a piece of the pie. (Heck, even TV got in on the act with stuff like ALF.) Independent producers PSO, known for more adult oriented fayre, had some success with fantasy flick The Neverending Story so they pushed ahead with two cutesy sci-fi projects, one about a robot and the other about an alien. The former became Short Circuit (reviewed on Blu-ray here) and the latter became Flight of the Navigator. Unfortunately PSO encountered severe money troubles and the company was declared bankrupt before Navigator was released, which is when Disney stepped in to pick up the pieces and distribute the film.

It's the 4th of July 1978 in Florida and 12-year-old David and his family are gearing up for the festivities. As night falls, David heads out to find his snotty younger brother, only to fall into a ditch in a wooded glade. When he awakens, David finds out that the world has left him behind - it's now 1986, yet he hasn't aged a day. His reappearance coincides with a UFO making a crash landing nearby, and it's not long before his link to the downed craft is discovered by the authorities. David is sequestered at a NASA base, where a mysterious voice pulls him to the ship and we finally meet the pilot, an inquisitive mechanised drone from the planet Phaelon who collects and examines otherwordly life forms, David being one of them. Having deposited his star charts in David's mind as an experiment, the drone - whom David names 'Max' - needs his 'navigator' if he's to return to his home planet, and our young hero realises that he's a boy out of time, and he needs Max's help if he's to get back to where he belongs...

Joey Cramer's performance as David has an earnest quality, relaying his sense of bewilderment without relying heavily on sentimentality, and it's a yardstick by which the rest of the cast is measured. Cliff De Young and Veronica Cartwright do well as David's long-suffering parents, with Matt Adler putting in a shift as his younger/older brother Jeffrey. A very cute Sarah Jessica Parker has a small role as a helper on the NASA base, and Howard Hesseman is Dr Faraday, the exasperated head of NASA's operation.

After the slightly jokey title sequence, Randal Kleiser's film continues in a more convincing manner, taking every bit of technobabble seriously ("he's transmitting in alpha waves!") until David and Max head off on their adventure. That's when the movie takes a funnier turn, with Paul Ruebens (credited as Paul Mall) doing his Pee Wee Herman schtick as the voice of Max, and Max's menagerie of intergalactic oddballs comes close to stealing the show. Some are weird, some are cute, but they all make an impression, as does Alan Silvestri's music. The score does a good job of guiding the audience along, playing all understated and mysterious at the beginning (titles aside), and breaking out into a more exhuberant synth-pop effort as David starts to have fun.

The film made waves at the time for its use of CG to create the gleaming alien vessel and those shots genuinely hold up some 26 years later, the streamlined version of the ship looking just as sleek and stylish as it did back then, with some excellent reflective effects. There were plenty of other methods used to realise the craft too, like full size mockups, miniatures, matte paintings, regular animation and even some classic tricks of perspective. They used whatever method worked best for each particular shot, which gives the visual effects a genuine touch of class.

Flight of the Navigator doesn't feature the sickly schmaltz usually associated with live-action Disney flicks of the time (this being one of the first films from the House of Mouse to use the word 'shit'), and it still feels quite fresh because there isn't any underlying commentary on the real-world concerns of the 1980's; it's simply a fun ride about a boy and his spaceship. Running at a brisk 93 minutes the movie doesn't outstay its welcome, and revisiting it has been a blast from the past for this reviewer.

The Disc

This single-layer BD is encoded for all regions and features no errant PAL video, so it'll play fine on US machines. There are no forced trailers either, hats off to Second Sight for that.

The image is framed at 1.78 widescreen and encoded with AVC. It has the look of an old transfer, but I mean that in a good way because the picture has not been given an overblown modern makeover. Grain is prominent, particularly in the opticals and darker exteriors (as expected) and it rarely devolves into digital noise. Contrast is fairly restrained, with blacks looking a little thin here and there. There's a regular sprinkling of dirt and blotches throughout the film. Detail is quite strong, all the more so for not having been suffocated with obnoxious sharpening, and you can easily make out the wires controlling the little furry alien that David 'adopts'. The only real blot on the copybook is the slight lack of vitality to the colour in general, reducing the impact of the primaries and leaving skin tones looking somewhat sallow. Still, it's a revelation compared to the disastrous UK DVD which literally used a cropped VHS copy as its source.

As with the video, the audio is a straight-up representation of the original with no tricks or gimmicks. The uncompressed PCM 2.0 track apes the theatrical Lt-Rt Dolby Stereo mix, and sounds best using whichever matrixed surround decoding you prefer (Dolby's Pro Logic IIx into a 7.1 array is my weapon of choice). The movie didn't receive a noticeably expansive mix to begin with, so don't expect any sonic fireworks. Dialogue is clean and clear, and the cheese-tastic score is quite boisterous, although there's a definite lack of sub-bass to the track in general. The occasional bit of ambient extension is piped through to the rears but nothing more, and there's some rudimentary panning of sound across the fronts.

The solitary extra feature is an audio commentary featuring Randal Kleiser and exec. producer Jonathan Sanger. The two have an obvious kinship and their chat features some interesting insights, although there's a fair amount of dead air so one sitting should be enough to take it all in.

Overall

Flight of the Navigator is one of those rare nostalgic treats that's just as much fun as I remember it to be, and this Blu-ray presentation is sure to take you right back to 1986. The picture and sound have not been given an overhaul, yet the experience is purer for it. Extra features are limited to a decent commentary, but given the film's money troubles and mixed parentage I couldn't have hoped for much more.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
3 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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