Saturday 24 November 2012


The second of this week's classic '80s films to arrive on Blu-ray, the nostalgia-fest that is Flight of the Navigator is available now. When David Freeman disappears for 8 years only to return without having aged a day, NASA scientists start to study the information stored in his brain that has something to do with a spaceship they've recently found.

After an incredibly dark and heartbreaking set-up (particularly for a film that was released under the Disney banner) that sees a young boy torn from his family, only to return 8 years later to find his parents like hollow shells of who they used to be, Flight of the Navigator slowly becomes one of the most unique boy's own adventure films of the 1980s.

Released back in the days when kid's films weren't so universally saccharine, Flight of the Navigator sees an incredible amount of emotional torture placed on the young David Freeman (Joey Cramer), but with the blessed relief from the audiences part that sooner or later, he's going to get to fly around in a spaceship. But, in the first half of the film, he gets taken away from his parents, younger brother and dog, to be returned 8 years later to see his little brother now bigger than him, his mother and father emotional wrecks and Starsky and Hutch replaced on TV with something called music videos. Unbeknownst to David, he's now carrying a collection of star maps in his brain that belong with a spaceship that has just come into the possession of NASA, who want to know what the link between the two of them is.

Originally released by Disney in 1986, when watching Flight of the Navigator now it's almost shocking the level of trauma the main character is put through in what may be considered a classic kid's film of its era, but is also an excuse to show off some emerging computer technologies on screen. When the ship finally does take flight (please don't tell me that's a spoiler), it's quite a thing to behold. Rendered using a variety of effects from model-making to stop-motion animation, it's the shapeshifting CGI technology that looks the most impressive.

As a child of the '80s/early '90s, I'd have watched this with a sense of wonder and a big WOW shaped grin on my face. I mean, who wouldn't want their own spaceship? Watching as an adult there's definitely moments that are noticeably stupid, such as the convenience of NASA's meal delivering robot being just big enough to hide a small boy inside, and the manner in which the star maps MacGuffin is dispensed with would make even Alfred Hitchcock blush.

Joey Cramer may verge on being an annoying wimp at times and the less said about the 1986 version of Sarah Jessica Parker the better, but Flight of the Navigator carries a message about being grateful for what you've got, something that Disney would have loved. David finds a friend in onboard computer Max, who after scanning his brain, becomes a Pee-Wee Herman sounding, pop-culture spouting mechanical best friend; his mechano-speak not dissimilar to the other great '80s re-release from this week, Short Circuit.

It's a satisfying nostalgia-fest, and one that still looks great on blu-ray. Some of the morphing effects for the ship look a bit jumpy and the high definition makes it even easier to see the wires making the little Puckmarin alien move, but let's not forget that this was still 5 years before Terminator 2 made a fully digital person and the iconic ship really is like nothing else seen before. Putting aside the earlier hardships the main character has to face, Flight of the Navigator is an enjoyable boy's own adventure; just an extremely atypical one.


Flight of the Navigator is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.

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