1986 had seen a number of sci-fi films released with adult aimed films such as Aliens & The Fly at one end and Short Circuit & Star Trek IV at the other. One of the best was Flight of the Navigator a Disney live action film written on spec by first time writer Mark H Baker. Set in 1978 the story follows David Freeman (Joey Cramer) knocked unconscious while out playing. Waking up he discovers it’s now 1986 and that he’s been missing for 8 years. NASA believe he’s been abducted by aliens and want to use him for research. But with the guidance of a strange unseen entity he discovers a hidden spaceship and with the help of Max the computer sets off on an incredible mission to get back to the past where he belongs.
Producer Dimitri Villard loved the script but it needed rewriting and money was put in by David Joseph who worked in music but had been involved with a handful of films previously although this was to be his last. The Flight of the Navigator script was one that the studio kept a eye on. This was the era of Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg at the helm of Disney and Katzenberg loved his 7am meetings calling in producers to discuss their scripts in development. The late John G Avildsen director of Rocky had been brought in to direct but was himself rewriting the script to make it far more Star Wars like and in the end he left the production due to ‘creative differences’. The choice to take over were diverse and included Brian DePalma and even James Cameron who loved it but was too busy at the time with Aliens and so it was handed over to Randal Kleiser director of Grease and The Blue Lagoon which had huge teen appeal and his light touch was ideal for Flight of the Navigator. Originally intended for the exteriors to be shot in Texas but weather problems had the crew relocating to Florida and bizarrely the interiors ended up being shot in a studio in Oslo due to tax breaks offered to the production.
Flight of the Navigator has an interesting cast with an early notable appearance by Sarah Jessica Parker and the voice of Max the computer was supplied by Paul Mall an unknown actor but was actually an alias for Paul Reubens who had achieve huge success as kids favourite Pee-Wee Herman. The film also starred Veronica Cartwright who had a career stretching right back to Hitchcock’s The Birds but had also appeared in landmark sci fi films Alien and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. For child actor Joey Cramer this was to be his best film having appeared in Michael Crichton’s Runaway and then The Clan of the Cave Bear but a couple of years after Navigator he would retire from acting.
As a sci fi movie the effects, notably a reflective space ship inspired by a blob of mercury were crucial and in a time of early computer effects much rested on it being convincingly rendered and drew on the technology developed for Disney’s Tron. The effects were immensely time consuming not helped by the fact that PC power then was less than most mobile phones are today. With every pixel having to be rendered in many of the flight sequences as well as the ship itself the effects guys realized that they were going to miss their deadline and no one dared do that for a studio as powerful as Disney. Instead they managed to rent out a super computer, The Cray 2, which saved the day by massively cutting down the time need to complete the remaining sequences.
Flight of the Navigator was released 1st August 1986 but wasn’t a huge hit and really found its audience on Disney’s TV channel where kids lapped it up watching it repeatedly and remains a favourite with a new generation discovering what is a highly enjoyable sci-fi romp.
The 4K scan and restoration of the limited edition blu ray brings the sparkle back to a film which has aged well. The blu ray has a host of decent bonus features with a number of informative featurettes with stab alone interview with director, producers, Joey Cramer and Veronica Cartwright and a decent commentary along with a 100 page paperback with the storyboard, production notes and BTS photos which makes this a great disc for those old enough to remember the film the first time round and its re-release on blu ray should find a new audience of fans to what is an immensely enjoyable space adventure
Here’s the Flight of the Navigator trailer…….
FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR IS RELEASED ON BLU RAY ON 26TH AUGUST 2019