Flight Of The Navigator – visually inventive, tightly scripted and in possession of a great ensemble cast – has a charm all its own that remains undimmed even after three decades.
Any film which relies on child actors lives or dies according to the casting. For every Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire) or Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) there is a precocious Kindergarden Cop scene-stealer, shepherded by manipulative parents into a business driven by vicarious ambition before claiming ownership, control and in some cases (Macaulay Culkin) financial access to funds they played no part in earning. Thankfully Joey Cramer who carried Flight of the Navigator upon his young shoulders in 1986 had charisma in spades and parents who supported him.
In many ways this film has grown into Sunday afternoon matinee material by touching on the universal themes of love, loss and family. Whether we are talking about a loss of innocence, loss of experience or loss of time with loved ones there is a poignancy which undercuts the lighter moments. Paul Reubens, better known as the Penguin’s father in Gotham, uses his vocal skills to control tone, whilst Cramer delivers naturalism with minimal effort. Featuring Veronica Cartwright who brings recognition from her time in Ridley Scott’s Alien, Flight of the Navigator might seem like family friendly sci-fi fare but conceals substance beneath a universally rated surface.
Directed by Randal Kleiser who is best known for Grease there is a subtext of government intervention coupled with gentle thriller elements, which add depth without sacrificing entertainment value. There is poignancy weaved into the time travel elements which have emotional heft thanks primarily to moments between David and his family following his reappearance. These are grounded further by little interactions on board ship which are solely down to Cramer, Reubens and a selection of alien creations.
In truth Flight of the Navigator might feel dated but there is no denying that it’s visually inventive, tightly scripted and in possession of a great ensemble cast. This might not be Close Encounters of the Third Kind or even The Explorers, but it has a charm all its own that remains undimmed even after three decades.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Michael Burton, Matt MacManus
Starring: Joey Cramer, Veronica Cartwright, Paul Reubens, Sarah Jessica Parker
Released: 1986 / Genre: Sci-fi Adventure
Country: USA / IMDB
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Flight of the Navigator is out now on Blu-ray.