Monday, January 7, 2013

DVD Review: FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986)



FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986) 

Region Code: 0 PAL 
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 86 Minutes
Video:16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Randal Kleiser
Cast: Joey Cramer, Howard Hessmen, Veronica Cartwright, Albie Whitaker, Sarah Jessica Parker, Paul Reubens

Synopsis: It’s 1978 and 12-year-old David Freeman is mysteriously knocked unconscious while out playing. He wakes up and heads for home only to find strangers living there. It’s now 1986 and he’s been missing for eight years. NASA believes he’s been abducted by aliens and want to use in him in their research. But with the guidance of a strange unseen entity he discovers a top-secret spaceship and with the help of MAX the computer sets off on an
incredible mission to get back to the past where he belongs.


Film: Damn, until I popped this one in I had completely forgotten catching this in theaters when I was just about thirteen years old, not a lot of it stuck with me either but after just a few minutes  I was overcomes with a wave of post-E.T. Spielbergian nostalgia. It's the 4th of July, 1978 and David Freeman (Joey Cramer) is a 12-year old kid living in Florida. It's the 4th of July as his family prepares for a night of fun he is sent to bring home his obnoxious younger brother Jeff (Albie Whitaker) who is at a friend's home. He shortcuts  through a small wooded area and stumbles into a small ravine knocking himself unconscious, he awakens after what seems like just a few moments, and walks backs home only to have his world crumble around him. He enters his house and against belief his family no longer lives there, it's somehow 8 years later, 1986,  and David hasn't aged a day.


Where did the eight years go and why has David not aged are just a few of the immediate mysterious at hand here. At about the same time NASA recovers a gleaming silver alien craft after it struck high voltage power lines. Could there be a link between these two odd occurrences  what do you think? This is a film that brought me right back to the mid-80's when Disney films weren't such sickeningly sweet pablum, there's a real sense of magic and wonder at play here that totally evokes films of similar caliber and subject matter like THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987) and THE GOONIES (1985) as well as Spielberg's E.T. (1982) with the it's kid vs. government themes and the friendly alien influence.


It's not long before NASA come looking for David having discovered a link between the two events, it seems that David's brain is stuffed with alien star charts way beyond our Earthly knowledge and David is reluctantly surrendered for observation to NASA scientists for a period of 48 hours under the watch of Dr. Faraday, played by Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hessmen of TV's WKRP In Cincinnati and DR. DETROIT (1983) fame - it just don't get any more 80's than that. Sequestered at NASA David meets a sweet young intern named Carolyn, played by a not-too-far-removed from TV's Square Pegs Sarah Jessica Parker, Lordy did I love me some SP! While poor David is becoming NASA's guinea pig he starts to receive telepathic transmissions from the alien craft, voiced by Paul Ruebens of PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985), a quick note that director Kleiser would go on to direct BIG TOP PEE-WEE (1988). Reuben's at one point cops quite a few of his own Pee Wee-isms for the voice of the alien craft's artificial intelligence named Max, it's fun stuff. With the help of the sympathetic Carolyn, David escapes from his room and into the hangar where the craft is kept, afterward Max and David form a partnership and escape endeavoring to find answers to the boy's many questions and just maybe find a way back to his own time. 


This was a fun revisit,  the film is oozing with 80's nostalgia and a true sense of wonder as only the 80's could offer. It's impossible for me to review this as a man nearing forty s I was instantly transformed back into a pie-eyed early teen staring up at the silver screen those many years ago and I'm pretty unapologetic about that, I love nostalgia. Sure, the film is dated in a lot of ways, maybe even more so than it's contemporaries of the era,  but it holds up on an emotional level. David as a young person displaced in time totally works, his suffering parents, played by Veronica Cartwright (ALIEN) and Cliff De Young (SHOCK TREATMENT),  are at their rope's end having painfully declared their son dead years earlier only to have him return, un-aged, the film is a lot deeper than your average Disney flick these days. Reubens as the ships computer voice Max is entertaining, at times it's just this side of being annoying but it's a fine performance and is the heart of the film's comedy.  Also an interesting aspect of the emotional dynamic is David's once younger brother Jeff (now played by Matt Adler) has now had his role reversed as the aged older brother, sixteen to David's eight, not to over sell it but there's some real emotional complexity at play here. 

The effects are also quite good for the time, the alien craft is a shimmering chrome vessel and an early adopter of the environmental mapping utilizing CGI to depict the alien craft and they are still quite solid, some of the more traditional stop-motion used to create the ship's suspended liquid stairs hold up considerably less but are still passable. One of my favorite series of effects in the film are the creatures on board the ship that Max has collected throughout the galaxy, definitely wanted to see more of these but one in particular does figure into the finale of the film. 

DVD:  The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1). Colors look natural and nicely saturated though the image is a bit soft at times, I think owing more to the cinematic style it was filmed in more so than any fault of the transfer. Skin tones are a bit off and there's some minor white speckles and dirt, particularly in some of the effects shots,  but the black levels are quite decent. There doesn't appear to have been much Digital Noise Reduction applied, there's little evidence of artificial sharpening and there's a nice layer of film grain left intact. Overall, a very nice looking image if not spectacular.


The lone audio option is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 mix with optional English subtitles. It offers up a solid presentation with clean dialogue, score and effects. Alan Silvestri's score comes through nicely and neither it nor the effects track drown the dialogue. Like the image itself it's not overly dynamic and doesn't offer a lot of stereo panning but it suffices and is probably true to the original theatrical presentation. 

The only bonus feature is an audio commentary with director Randal Kleiser and producer Jonathan Sanger and the two strike up a fun, nostalgic conversation with plenty of anecdotes to make for an interesting listen. A featurette, even a vintage one, or a trailer would have been appreciated but this UK exclusive commentary track is very nice.




Special Features:
- Audio commentary with director Randal Kleiser and producer Jonathan Sanger

Verdict: If you haven't seen this film in some time it 's deserving of a re watch, it maintains it's sense of 80's wonder and is still enormously fun family entertainment, my kids were sucked right in much the same way that I was at that age, it really hold up on an emotional level. I have lots of love for the UK's Second Sight Films for giving some attention to these niche cult films. Already having released RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, SHORT CIRCUIT and BASKET CASE: THE TRILOGY on Blu-ray we can look  forward to more awesome cult titles on the way in 2013 including David Cronenberg's SCANNERS and THE BROOD, SCANNERS 2, SCANNERS 3, Stuart Gordon's RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, and Brian Yuzna's SOCIETY and BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR. The film is also available on Region "B" Blu-ray from Second Sight Films.  3.5 Outta 5 




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