Review for Flight of the Navigator [Limited Edition]
In 2012, Second Sight brought us two classic movies of the nineteen-eighties, Short Circuit and Flight of the Navigator. Both films were touchstones of my adolescence, sci-fi adventures for all the family, back when the genre really was a thing, with films like Inner Space and Cocoon doing big business. I made a choice back then, and went with my favourite of the two favourites, Short Circuit, and made a mental note to pick up Flight of the Navigator at a later date. For once, it turns out that I made the right choice with my purchasing, as of the two films, Second Sight have returned to Flight of the Navigator, to give it a 4k scan, and a brand new palette of extra features, sorely missed on that 2012 release. Obviously I haven’t seen that disc, so I can’t do a compare and contrast...
July 4th, 1978, and David Freeman is just another normal 12-year old boy, with an ambition to teach his dog Bruiser how to catch Frisbees, trying to figure out how to talk to girls, and annoyed to high heaven by his kid brother Jeff. Going to collect Jeff that evening is hassle enough, but walking through the woods he slips and falls into a ravine, knocking himself out. When he wakes up and walks back to his house, his family isn’t there. The year’s 1986, and his family have moved to another part of town, having mourned their lost son and rebuilt their lives. They are shocked to be reunited with him, and even more shocked to see that he hasn’t aged a day in eight years. That’s the kind of thing that NASA is interested in, especially as they’ve just found a crashed UFO.
Flight of the Navigator gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc. I haven’t seen the 2012 release to compare, but Flight of the Navigator looks good on this Blu-ray, clear and sharp, with excellent detail and strong, consistent colours. Given that this was a lowish-budget film from the mid-eighties, you might expect the shortcomings of the typically soft film stock of the period, and it’s not the crystal clear, pin sharp image of bigger budget productions, but the grain is nice and organic, and there is the occasional filmic flicker. It’s a nice viewing experience, although oddly the text during the opening and closing credits looks rather soft in comparison with the rest of the film.
The sole audio track is a PCM 2.0 Stereo English track with optional subtitles. There are no problems with glitches or dropouts, and the stereo brings the film across in a way that is authentic to the original eighties experience. That means plenty of eighties (and a little bit of seventies) pop music, and quite rare in this genre, a synth score from Alan Silvestri that actually suits the film and sounds timeless. The dialogue is clear throughout, although a smidge low in the mix.
I only got to look at a check disc, so I haven’t seen the packaging, the poster, or the 100-page softcover book that comes with this release.
The one extra feature carried over from the previous release I assume, is the audio commentary with director Randal Kleiser and Executive Producer Jonathan Sanger. Other than that, all the featurettes on this disc are new for this release.
Directing the Navigator – Interview with Randal Kleiser lasts 6:38. This mostly looks at the casting of the film. It’s interesting to see a Chris O’Donnell screen test for the role of David.
Producing the Navigator – Interview with Dmitri Villard lasts 13:34 is more of a making of.
Playing the Navigator - Interview with Joey Cramer lasts 22:11.
Mother of the Navigator – Interview with Veronica Cartwright lasts 11:30.
Brother of the Navigator – Interview with Matt Adler lasts 9:24.
From Concept to Creation: The Special Effects of Flight of the Navigator lasts 17:31.
These extras are a nice addition to the film, and well worth watching.
It’s odd, but when I was a kid, I never really rated Flight of the Navigator. It is a low budget film certainly, but it was also the film that always got put in the video player when games lessons were rained out at school, innocuous, entertaining and inoffensive but not the movies that everyone was talking about in the playground. On the other hand, when Flight of the Navigator was on TV, I’d watch it all the way through and have a good time doing so. Revisiting it now, thirty years later, I find that Flight of the Navigator is really quite good, certainly better than I remember it to be.
What impresses me most about the film now, what I didn’t really get back then, is that Flight of the Navigator almost gets its science right. That’s a rare thing for a Hollywood movie. David goes missing in 1978, and wakes up in 1986, and some NASA guy starts spouting “Lightspeed theory”, before ballsing it all up by talking about faster than light. But it’s a thing in relativity, that as an object’s speed approaches the speed of light, time subjectively slows down. So David’s on a spaceship, zipping around the galaxy for a few hours, while on Earth, years pass.
The important thing is that it makes for a great, emotionally effective story. A twelve year old boy wakes up, it’s 1986, and the world has moved on and changed. His family spent months, years frantically searching for him and wound up mourning his loss, trying to move on. To them, they have to face the bizarre situation of getting their son back, who apparently hasn’t aged at all. At the same time, David has to come to terms with parents who are visibly aged, and a kid brother who is now both older and cooler than him. Then along comes NASA, having found the UFO, thinking they are about to make contact with aliens, and with David a bizarre proof that contact has already taken place. They want him as a test subject, and when the store of alien information in his mind is found, he becomes even more of a lab rat for them. It’s certainly a terrifying situation for a child to find themselves in, and it’s easy to empathise with for the viewer.
The film does a great job in setting this story up, offering plenty of false starts before the actually ‘abduction’ occurs, and it really builds on the emotional core of the film once David finds himself in the future. Of course as kids, we were more interested in the second half of the film, when David finds the spaceship and its computer Max. It’s here where the fun part of the adventure begins. Max is at first an ominous alien presence, who it seems only needs David as a ‘component’ in his ship, the navigator, with all that info crammed into his brain. At first what humour there is comes from the culture clash between them, but as Max learns more about David and humanity, his wacky nature develops, and a nice relationship between the two forms.
I haven’t seen the original Blu-ray to compare, but this new Limited Edition certainly delivers in terms of AV quality, and especially extra features. It was a joy revisiting my childhood, and it has me tempted to look up other movies of the era, films like D.A.R.Y.L., The Ice Pirates, The Beastmaster, and Space Raiders; all those films that I used to think were forgettable back then, but might actually be worth revisiting.