Film Review: FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986)

FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR **** USA / Norway 1986 Dir: Randal Kleiser. 86 mins

In between huge commercial hits with teen-pitched blockbusters (GREASE, THE BLUE LAGOON) and forgotten sequels to other people’s hits (HONEY I BLEW UP THE KID, BIG TOP PEE WEE), director Randal Kleiser made this oft-underrated alternative to the Amblin-dominated family sci-fi films of the 80’s. The first half is especially strong, cleverly subverting our genre expectations while foreshadowing images to come: an apparent flying saucer revealed as part of a dog-frisbee contest; a passing blimp casting a vast shadow over everything like a huge alien ship detouring over Planet Earth.

In South Florida on the 4th of July 1978, 12-year-old David Freeman (Joey Cramer) falls unconscious after a tumble in the woods…and, after being declared legally dead, wakes up unaged, with no memory, in 1986. His sudden reappearance prompts NASA to assume alien activity, and David is taken to a hi-tech institute with fabulous 80’s computers, a delivery robot named R.A.L.F. and a perky Sarah Jessica Parker, whom we know is hip because she has purple-tinged hair and listens to Twisted Sister. The figures of adult authority are suitably imposing in the fashion of E.T., and there’s lots of fun to be had from David adjusting to a radical new world in which there are many different brands of Coke, STARSKY AND HUTCH has been cancelled and bands like Blancmange star in “music videos”.

The culture clash humour of a 70’s kid thrown deep into the 80’s sits well alongside the compelling, TWILIGHT ZONE-ish mystery and a wealth of pop culture references. Once the truth about the boy’s eight-year hiatus becomes clear, the movie turns into a spirited adventure, with fine FX, amusing voice work by Paul Reubens and a lovely, stirring central theme by Alan Silvestri. It isn’t nearly as witty or anarchic as Joe Dante’s EXPLORERS – which it occasionally resembles – but has charm to spare and Joey Cramer is an uncommonly appealing American child actor.

Review by Steven West

 

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