Flight of the Navigator

Since Tina and I ditched the TV license last year, we’ve been using the money we saved to amass films and TV from times gone by. You know, back in the days when TV and films were good and could be as honest and carefree as they liked. Of all the films we have, we’ve built up a steady collection of horror movies but we’re pretty short on family and holiday movies. Remember that time? When you’d gather around the TV at Easter and watch a Bond movie or something you remembered from childhood? Well, I recently bought a film I remembered loving as a child and it’s just as good as I remembered it.

Flight of the Navigator is about a 12-year-old boy, David (Joey Cramer), who falls into a ditch and wakes up 8 years later with no memory as to what had happened in the intervening years. His family have moved and have aged; David remains a 12-year-old boy. The only link to David’s disappearance is a spaceship recently caught by NASA. As doctors begin to test David, to find out what he remembers, they discover that his head is full of strange phenomena and it’s not long before NASA come knocking, to find out what connects the spacecraft to the boy. As the scientists at NASA struggle to work out the ship they’ve caught, David finds himself drawn to it and the adventure, and unlikely friendship between David and the ship (Max), begins.

Flight of the Navigator was released not long after big sci-fi successes as ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Thing so, in some ways, might have slipped under the radar as an inferior genre flick but I loved this film as much if not more than its predecessors. It had no big star names, aside from a young Sarah Jessica Parker, but I was never interested in big stars – for me, it was always about the story. Story aside, it had some pretty good special effects and a decent ‘80’s soundtrack. Watching it again, after such a long period, took me back to my childhood and while others at the time who watched this movie might have thought about how cool it’d be to fly a spaceship, I only thought of getting out, as far away as I could go. Scenes, like the one where David flies the ship while listening to the Beach Boys Get Around, still sit with me today.

There are many things I like about this movie apart from the nostalgia. For one, it’s fascinating looking back and seeing how the world changed, not only for David but for the viewer, in the 8 years from 1978 to 86. Technology and fashions, music and attitudes. David, in one scene, finds himself watching MTV on a television that has a remote control – he, not unlike many of us, would have remembered the days when you had to get up to change the channel. For some of us, fiddle about with the aerial too.

I love the family dynamics in this film as well. It doesn’t play about with the cliched dysfunctional family that is prevalent in so many movies and the family unit is tight. David gets on well with his parents and in a scene at the start of the movie, his dad sits down with him and talks to him about a girl he’s been watching through his telescope. It’s a very warm father and son scene, not cringeworthy at all, and at odds with many such scenarios I’ve seen in films since then.

Paradoxically, while David still looks 12, the world has changed massively around him and yet his parents, who have gone through the change, are still stuck in the past, hopeful of their son’s return to them. Apart from his younger, now older, brother who is wearing some of the worst that ‘80’s fashion had to offer.

The pace of the film flows beautifully, it never feels overly rushed or stuttered, and for an 80’s movie, it doesn’t feel too aged. Joey Cramer doesn’t annoy me either – I’m not a great fan of kids in movies, especially American movies – but he plays the role rather well. We feel his confusion and fear when he sees his family 8 years later; his curiosity when he discovers Max; his resilience when he realises what he must do to get his life back and his relief when he’s reunited at the end. I reckon young actors today would be much better if they looked back and watched how their counterparts did it before them – especially that turd in Love Actually.

Interestingly, there were things about this film that I believe James Cameron picked up on for his blockbuster sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The liquid metal, for one – the ship in FOTN opens as liquid before steps form in perfect solid metal. There’s also the conversation David has with Max about why humans laugh; this is replicated in T2 when the terminator asks John Connor why he laughs. The idea of a superior being taught in the ways of humanity is something Cameron thought would work for his own film and I have no doubt he got some of his ideas from this film.

If you’ve never seen this film, give it a watch and if you have seen it, but not for years, snap it up. Trust me, it won’t disappoint you but rather renew your interest in adventure.

© 39 Pontiac Dream 2021

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file