Saturday, 19 February 2011

80s Movies: Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Today's 80s movie is genuinely one of my all-time favourites, despite the fact that I still don't think I fully understand what happens in it. Joey Cramer stars as 12-year-old David Scott Freeman in one of the most believable alien abduction storylines ever made. I mean, of course it doesn't have you thinking they actually hired some aliens to come make the film with them - but it's very easy to suspend disbelief and go along with this one, which makes for a smooth ride.

As for understanding Flight of the Navigator: it's set in 1978. But the first thing that happens is that David travels eight years into the future, to 1986 (which is actually the present, in terms of when the film was made). Only he hasn't travelled into the future really - he's just forgotten the eight years in between, which he lived through. But they wouldn't have seemed like eight years to him anyway; they'd have seemed like only a few minutes, perhaps, as he spent the time travelling faster than light speed to the planet of Phaelon and back.

For a kids' film, it's a pretty convoluted plotline involving aliens, time travel, relativity, genetics, astrometric starcharts, spacecraft with the morphing abilities of the T-1000, and Sarah Jessica Parker. It's not easy to grasp - and it's the 80s, so the military show up in force - but it's a lot of fun and the peril is low even on the zero-to-mild scale.

The Plot

I probably didn't do the best job of explaining the plot up there. Here it is put a little more simply:

In 1978, David is sent into the woods to collect his little brother. He has a bit of a fall, bangs his head, wakes up, returns home and everyone's eight years older.

It's now 1986 and David's returned just as an alien spaceship has crashed into some power lines. While trying to find his eight years of apparently missing memories, doctors discover David knows all about the craft and the star systems it has visited.

Perhaps their biggest mistake, then, is to put him in a room basically next door to the spaceship. There's a bit of chat with Carolyn McAdams (Sarah Jessica Parker, pictured right) and he escapes. Inside a robot, because this is the 80s, after all.

Just a note on Sarah Jessica Parker - I was three when this film came out, there wasn't satellite telly back then, so I was probably 6-7 the first time it was on TV. On reflection, I'd have to say SJP strikes a perfect balance between being cute enough to count as a love interest, but nice enough to be a big-sister kind of character for any viewers who are a bit too young to really get the point of girls.

So David makes it to the spaceship and meets Max, the robot that flies it. Max tries to retrieve the starcharts from David's memory, as his own were scrambled when he hit the power lines. In doing so, he takes on the persona of a 12-year-old boy.

There's a bit of flying around, a very cute alien, some mild peril and, finally, a bit of time travel to get David home. Where, let's face it, he's probably gonna spend the next eight years trying to bump into Sarah Jessica Parker, who thinks he's cute. I know that's what I'd do.

By any measure, that's a lot of plot. This movie has phases, it shifts and turns like the spaceship itself and if I had to say without thinking about it, I'd swear every time that he ends the movie eight years into the future. But none of that seems to matter, there's just something inherently great about it. SJP's the perfect 80s girl, Max is the perfect alien robot thing, the military are involved, the kids come out on top and the music... well, just check below.

The Music

Ah yes, the music. In particular the closing credits score. It goes a little something like this:

I'm pretty much speechless on this one, to be honest. It's just so brilliantly perfect. For the film, for the time, and for my own slightly skewed personal tastes. Usually I'd be hoping for one of those epic duets like in Mannequin or Short Circuit, but Flight of the Navigator was never going to have one of those. Instead it has this crazy, fantastic, hyperactive theme that deserves its place among the great compositions of the decade.

To cut a long story short (too late...)

Flight of the Navigator hints that writers Mark H Baker and Michael Burton sat down and started with the premise of "how much sci-fi can we get on screen at once?". The visual effects on the spaceship are pretty incredible even now. The acting - particularly from Cramer during lengthy scenes effectively by himself - is strong. The storyline is complex but well thought out. All in all, this is truly one of the great films of the decade. If you haven't seen it yet, do.

80s Movies

In February, POPSICULTURE are dedicating the month to a look back at the iconic films of the 1980s - a decade whose films continue to draw massive audiences when they are shown on TV. To follow posts in this series, check the 80s Movies label or sign up to the dedicated RSS feed.

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