Back in 1978, when audiences were seeing Halloween for the first time, did any of them think, "I wonder if that guy in the mask will ever make any family films?" I highly doubt that, but the man in the mask, Nick Castle, did go on to make a string of family films, including The Last Starfighter, Dennis the Menace, and Major Payne. But his most unique film is 1986's The Boy Who Could Fly, which has now found a home on DVD.
Following the death of her father, teenager Milly (Lucy Deakins), moves with her family, mother Charlene (Bonnie Bedelia) and brother Louis (Fred Savage), to a new town. She soon learns that her next-door neighbor is a boy named Eric (Jay Underwood). Eric is autistic and never speaks, and since the day that his parents died in a plane crash, Eric has acted as if he were flying. Milly attempts to fit in at her new school, but keeps running into Eric. At the behest of teacher Mrs. Sherman (Colleen Dewhurst), Milly begins to work with Eric to see if she can break through his aura of silence. If progress cannot be made, Eric may be institutionalized. As Milly gets closer to Eric, odd things begin to happen, such as a flower or Eric himself suddenly appearing in her window. How is Eric doing this? Can he really fly?
All films ask the audience to suspend disbelief in some fashion, but The Boy Who Could Fly wants the audience to throw any logic right out the window. If one can get past that, The Boy Who Could Fly is a very moving and entertaining film. The film takes the familiar story of an individual with special challenges, and adds a fantasy element. (Actually, the plot is somewhat similar to Mickey Rooney's TV movie Bill: On His Own.) This is combined with the story of Milly's family starting over, and with Milly's own teenage anxieties. That description may make The Boy Who Could Fly sound like a very depressing film, and it is quite sad at times, but the film has an overall positive message. The only real drawback to the film, aside from some sluggish pacing, is the questionable blue-screen special effects.
Director Nick Castle has done a good job with this film, although some of the subplots involving Milly's mom and brother could have been scaled back. He gets a great deal of help from his stellar cast. Lucy Deakins, who is reminiscent of a young Jodie Foster, is excellent in the lead role, bringing a needed sense of maturity to the part. Underwood is good as well, making the most of a character who doesn't speak. A young pre-"Wonder Years" Fred Savage is surprisingly good as Louis. And the comic relief comes from "Facts of Life" star Mindy Cohn who plays nosy neighbor, Geneva. The film also gets a huge boost from the adult cast of Bonnie Bedelia, Colleen Dewhurst, Fred Gwynne, and Louise Fletcher.
The Boy Who Could Fly comes to DVD from Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The picture is sharp, but slightly grainy. The colors are very good and never look faded. The image shows some minor defects from the source print, and some images are slightly hazy. But, for an obscure, older film, The Boy Who Could Fly looks pretty good.
The DVD carries a Dolby 2.0 Surround audio track which has some issues. The dynamic range on the track is very unstable, as the music is much louder than the dialogue. In addition, the dialogue varies in volume. The track does offer some nice surround sound effects, most notably the musical cues and crowd scenes.
The Boy Who Could Fly DVD offers some nice extras. The disc is kicked off with an introduction by writer/director Nick Castle and star Jay Underwood. We then go into an audio commentary with Castle, Underwood, Fred Savage, and Lucy Deakins (which is interesting, considering that she's been out of acting for a while). This is a great commentary as this group discusses their memories from the film. They speak at length throughout the film, and recall an amazing amount of detail about the production. It's very clear that they had a good time making the movie. Castle offers some good insights into the origins of the story. The DVD also features the teaser trailer (which is inaccurately labeled as the theatrical trailer), letterboxed at 1.78:1, and it's the worst trailer ever. Cast & crew bios are included as well.
The Boy Who Could Fly is that rare film that combines a moving, realistic story with fantasy elements. Also, it's one of the few films that offers a look at autism. Some of the film may seem dated today, but the message of the movie still feels sincere.