A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 87 – Flight of the Navigator

Flight of the Navigator – May 26th, 2010

Yet again, a movie straight out of my childhood. Not that I had a professional copy or anything. Yup, taped from television. My parents are not big movie buffs. Never have been. Sure, they have some favorites and enjoy a movie now and again but they’re not like me and Andy. They think this whole project is a little weird, to be honest. So we didn’t really buy movies. We rented and when there was something my parents actually liked or that my brother or I couldn’t live without (and my mother didn’t object to it) we usually taped it. Of course, all those tapes are long gone. But this was one of them.

I almost wish I was watching this on VHS. The trouble with a DVD on a nice modern high resolution television is that little things that didn’t show on film or VHS show. Big time. Like the strings controlling one of the little aliens on the ship. It’s a little thing, but this is such a fun movie, I hate being thrown out of it by visible effects tricks. Perhaps surprisingly, the movie holds up pretty damn well for something that’s almost 25 years old. Part of that, I think, is that the movie very firmly places itself in 1986. That’s part of the point of the movie. So you expect the current technology to be more than a little dated and for that, it’s just fine. And then there are the special effects. Except aside from the space ship and the aliens, there aren’t many special effects. It’s deceptively simple that way. And what there is, works fine. Sure, it might be slicker if it was to be done now, but I’m not fussed by it because the rest of the movie – the story and the characters – holds up so well.

On July 4th, 1978, 12 year old David heads off through the woods near his family’s house to fetch his 8 year old brother from a friend’s house. After his brother sneaks up on him and scares him and runs off, David falls down a small ravine and blacks out for a moment. As far as he’s concerned, he wakes up almost immediately and heads home. Only to find people he doesn’t know living in his house. It’s been eight years and he’s been missing the whole time. His family is overjoyed, but everyone’s puzzled as to where he’s been for eight years and why he hasn’t aged. Then tests to see if he can recall anything about his absence turn up some bizarre things, such as David’s brain communicating directly with the computers (EEGS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!) and producing a diagram of a UFO. The very same UFO that’s just been recovered by NASA. Once NASA finds out they snatch David right up and run their own tests, finding that his head is full of information they can’t decipher. Star charts for areas of space that NASA hasn’t charted and technical specs in a language they shouldn’t have a font for. Eventually, with the help of an intern who’s been bringing him his food, David breaks out of his room and gets to the ship, which welcomes him since he’s got a head full of star charts and the ship has lost its files in an accident. It needs him in order to get home. Seems it took him for study, intending to bring him back in time, but the trip would have been too risky. The head full of star charts was just an experiment to see how much they could fill up a human brain. Good thing they did it, huh? So David gives the ship the charts in his head and the ship’s computer turns into PeeWee Herman (literally, it’s voiced by Paul Reubens) after getting a dose of Earth pop culture and they go whizzing off around the globe at record speeds until David goes home. But it’s not home. It’s eight years in his future and NASA wants to keep him locked up until they can wring every drop of info from his head. So he risks the trip back in time.

But here’s the cool part: He doesn’t forget. Sure, that’s potentially problematic, in that he can’t explain to his parents how he knows that his brother will eventually grow into his teeth and get better glasses. Or why he’s got an alien in his backpack. But he knows he had this adventure. He knows his family missed him and loves him and never gave up trying to find him. He knows what it’s like to fly around the world in a matter of a handful of hours. And when I was a kid? Watching this? I wanted to find that ship and get on it and fly around just like he did. It’s just plain fun. The vast majority of the movie is fun enough that the dangerous bits, where NASA wants to lock David up and he doesn’t know how he’ll get back to his own time, are just tense and scary enough to be a counter note. It doesn’t stop being fun because of the danger. And a movie that involves a twelve year old kid getting to pilot a space ship with a wise-cracking alien computer should be fun. This movie was an early introduction to science fiction for me and a lot of kids whose parents might have wondered if Star Wars was a little too violent. I still came away from this movie wanting to get on that space ship tonight. I could do without going missing for eight years, but I’d take a buzz around the world if I could. That’s some good scifi there.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Flight of the Navigator

May 26, 2010

Flight of the Navigator

This movie is something very special. Something rare and cool that there isn’t enough of. It’s a hard science fiction movie for children. Sure it has a spaceship with the voice of Pee Wee Herman and a lot of silliness and adventure, but the central premise of a kid who disappears for eight years and has mysteriously not aged in that time because he was taken by a spaceship to a neighboring star is actually based in scientific fact. (Well, okay only loosely… they establish that he traveled 12 light years in 4 hours so it’s actually FTL travel which is not so simple as the Einsteinian “twin paradox,” but at least it has SOME basis in science.)

The movie follows the adventures of twelve year old David who, after falling unconscious in a ravine at the start of the movie finds himself suddenly in the year 1986 – eight years later. He is bewildered to discover that his family has all aged, that the whole world is different, and that his parents had believed that he’d been dead all these years. It plays for the first third of the movie or so as a mystery rather than a sci-fi romp.

I love not only the fact that you don’t actually see a space ship for the first twenty minutes of the movie but that it also teases you about it. The movie makers know that you are watching the movie to see cool flying saucers but they fake you out three times before you even get to see one. And even then the space ship is broken and can’t do any flying because it needs the star charts that are inside David’s brain (where they had been stuck by an alien race as a sort of science experiment.)

Once David and the space ship are re-united it becomes a kind of weird road movie as they attempt to find the way home to David’s family after escaping from a top secret NASA base somewhere just outside of Fort Lauderdale. The ship’s computer is corrupted by interfacing with David’s brain to retrieve the star charts- becoming less of a remote and detached alien computer and more a buddy for David as they have their adventures.

By far the coolest thing in this movie is the ship itself. Sure the CG effects are showing their age, but they still look pretty nifty all these years later, and the interior of the ship is this awesome modular set with things like the chair that rises smoothly out of the floor and all the screens and things that are integrated into its metallic walls. The computer’s interface is a kind of glowing ball on the end of an arm that projects from the ship’s wall. It’s very alien and at the same time has a lot of personality. It must have been fun to puppeteer.

When David takes the manual controls and starts to fly the ship it’s one of those magical movie moments when you’re definitely along for the ride. I love it when a movie can make you feel the pure joy of its characters. I’d say this did it well, and so did Neverending Story (at least for me.) Great children’s movies that have stood the test of time and which I still enjoy watching to this day.

One sad side-effect of this movie is that it made me want to watch a bunch of other movies we don’t own. Things like The Explorers, Close Encounter of the Third Kind and E.T. The Sci-Fi movies of my youth. I can’t believe we don’t have them in our collection already. I mean, I just checked and we don’t even own The Goonies! Time for a shopping spree I think!

May 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment