Welcome to 2022 and the year’s first installment of LRM’s Retro-Specs! 80s films are known for their action and adventure. But one of the concepts that makes them so great is the idea of kids/teenagers being the focus. At some point most kids thought what they would do if they were a Goonie. These types of childhood adventures show how independent, and adaptable, kids could be!
Whether it is being a Goonie or “running away” (which was usually down the street or to a friend’s house) kids are always striving to display their independence. Now, mix this with the also popular “kids with aliens” idea and you have quite the recipe for success, right?. Of course Goonies is one of the most well known kid-centric, 80s adventures. And E.T. is a staple for kid-friendly aliens. However, combine the ideas together and we get another awesome 80s film that needs revisiting: Flight of the Navigator!
A Boy And His Alien
E.T. hits theaters in 1982. ALF premieres on the small screen in September of 1986. In the middle in July of 1986 is Flight of the Navigator. The concept of kids and aliens is clearly a hot trend at this time. I find Flight of the Navigator to be in the middle of E.T. and ALF regarding tone as well. It is somewhat dark, to a degree, but contains more comedic episodes, mainly due to the head alien itself!
What makes Flight of the Navigator so great is that it is not a copy of E.T. It takes a different path. The main character is 12-year-old David Freeman. After falling down a hill, he wakes up. The catch it that upon awakening he is actually eight years into the future! However, he feels as if he is gone only a couple hours. He manages not to age at all while the world clearly has.
David tries to return to what he thinks is still his home only to find his family does not live there anymore. It is truly sad to see how scared and shocked David is. NASA ends up getting him to try and run some studies. He does connect with his family who are eight years older. This includes his younger, now older, brother, Jeff. The once annoying younger brother is now not only older, but much more sympathetic and caring. The family shows David all of the “missing” posters they distribute over the years.
There is not really a typical “villain” of the film. NASA wants to keep David to continue their studies. Howard Hesseman (WKRP in Cincinnati) plays Dr. Faraday. The closest to a villain. However, David just wants to be with his family and go home. David tries to sneak off the premises with the help of Carolyn McAdams (played by Sarah Jessica Parker).
He of course finds a UFO in the complex. He enters the ship out of curiosity, seemingly lacking much fear. While in the ship he becomes friends with the alien/computer pilot of the ship, Max. As the two become friends, Max begins to help David find his way back to his original home, eight years prior.
Let’s take a moment to remember that this is 1986. With that in mind, the effects for Flight of the Navigator are pretty darn good. Of course it is not as good as today’s standards. However, it doesn’t completely stand out as fake. The ship ages well. The inside of the ship is awesomely 80s chrome, but again, holds up well. The aliens on the ship are fun. I always wanted to have my own Puckmaren.
In Flight of the Navigator, I still remember the ship flying around, going in and out of stealth mode, and changing to a quicker, sleeker form. Also, the stairs that form from the ship looking like liquid metal is extremely well done. Again, looking back, the graphics are well done for the time. Especially for a film that is not seen as a hit.
Special shout out to when David gets to finally help fly the ship and “I Get Around” plays! How we all wanted to be in his shoes at that point! This is also when the special effects are on display. Flying way up high and below the depths of the sea as well!
Why It Works: Relationships
So let’s talk about Max first. Parents at the time probably find him annoying. However, he is where the comedic relief comes from. It may help that Max is voiced by Paul Ruben (Pee-Wee Herman). Why does that help? Well most kids at the time are probably familiar with the voice from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. It is clearly a distinct voice…Max acts as a kid, yet with experience from its travels.
The interactions between the two are great. There is a friendship that forms with Max wanting to help David. We get the connection between child and alien much like E.T. However, Max carries much more dialogue leading to stronger interactions. One would assume that such alien technology would be well beyond that of a 12-year-old boy. However, Max brings itself to the level of David, which makes the relationship more heartwarming. Their dialogue/connection makes Flight of the Navigator the classic that it is.
The characters develop through the mere 90-minute film. The viewers gain interest into David’s friendship with Max, but also his future family. They are so thankful to have David back and are trying to figure out what happened.
In the back of our minds though, we know David is eventually going to have to say goodbye to not only Max, but the future family. Why is this impactful? The future family have gone eight years without David.
In Flight of the Navigator, you feel for what they must have been through over that time. You also know that the reprieve the feel is only momentary. David will have to go back. Sure we can get into timelines and all that. However, in the moment of it, we know David will have to say goodbye to the characters he spends a majority of the film developing bonds with: Max and his future family.
Yes, we all want David to make it back home. Which he does of course! And he does so with a renewed view of his family. However, at some point in the film someone always seems to be losing David. But the end result is the unification of the family and a different view on life. All thanks to Max, of course!
Flight of the Navigator is primarily associated with Disney today. However, a Norwegian company known as Viking Film (awesome name) originally started with the idea. The production company, Producers Sales Organization, end up approaching Disney to discuss distribution rights in North America. Disney ends up buying the rights as they are looking to into the sci-fi and fantasy genres. They bring Randal Kleiser as the eager director who is already known for Grease and Honey, I Blew Up The Kids. Even though he is new to the genre, he and Disney are both eager to dive in.
It’s Disney so it should be a recipe for success, right? In the 70s and 80s we have to remember that while extremely popular are not yet as dominant force across most genres as they find themselves now. Also, the films Howard the Duck and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives premiere at the same time, and find more success. Oh, and it does not help that Aliens is also in theaters at this time. While it does not see the initial success in the theaters, the film is seen as a cult classic by many. I definitely agree that it is a hidden gem in the awesome 80s kid-centric, sci-fi/adventure filled films!
Let’s be real, anything considered remotely nostalgic is surrounded by whispers of reboots. Flight of the Navigator is no exception. Since 2009 there is discussion regarding bringing the film back to life. In 2012 news somewhat progresses to adding a script rewrite and possible director in Colin Trevorrow. Still, nothing new until 2017. Lionsgate and the Henson Company take the charge with producing the reboot. However, that is about where it ends.
However, as recent as September of 2021 Disney states that there will indeed be a reboot by Bryce Dallas Howard (Terminator Salvation, Jurassic World, Black Mirror). Could the reboot actually get off the ground this time?
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Do you remember Flight of the Navigator? I still say it is one of the best, kid-centric sci-fi films of the 80s. What do you enjoy about the film? Do you want there to be a reboot? If so, what would you like to see? Leave your thoughts in the usual spot, and thanks for reading!