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Flight of the Navigator

List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 15, 2004 | E-mail the Author

Children of the 1980s have yet another reason to be happy, as 2004 marks the long-awaited release of Disney's Flight of the Navigator on DVD. Largely ignored during its theatrical run in 1986, it totalled a disappointing $18M at the domstic box office. Eventually, it gained something of a cult status on VHS, capturing the attention (and imagination) of impressionable young minds with memorable characters, decent special effects, and Pee-Wee Herman as the voice of a spaceship. Needless to say, if you've never had the pleasure of watching Flight of the Navigator, you're in for a real treat.

At the time of the film's theatrical release, you'd think that it would have been a sure-fire hit. The genre classic E.T. became one of the most popular movies of all time upon its release in 1982. In 1985, the time-travelling adventure Back to the Future won the hearts of audiences with a unique blend of sci-fi, drama, and comedy. By the time 1986 rolled around, it's safe to say that Flight of the Navigator simply arrived a little late to the party. Despite its relative obscurity---especially today---it's a movie that brings back some great memories for anyone who watched it through the eyes of a child.

Here's the basic plot: young David Freeman (Joey Cramer, I-Man) gets lost in the woods one summer night in 1978 while searching for his younger brother. After losing consciousness for a short period of time, he returns home by himself. Strangely enough, nothing is the same as young David remembers it, as it turns out that eight years have passed since he left...but he hasn't aged a day. After being reunited with his family, David is shocked at their older appearances (especially that of his once-younger brother), but eventually agrees to undergo some tests at NASA to find out what happened to him. Coincidentally, local authorities also discover a spaceship at roughly the same time as David's "return", so a connection between the two is possible. Eventually, David makes his way on board the spaceship, and learns what really happened to him during his eight-year absence.

For nostalgia's sake, Flight of the Navigator is one of the many hidden gems of the 1980s. I was still in the single-digits when I first saw it, and it got plenty of play time in the "brand-new" VCR over the years. While it really wears the decade on its sleeve, Flight of the Navigator has a certain charm that keeps things moving for the film's breezy 89-minute running time (despite the dated references for "New Coke", "Twisted Sister", and even a remote control "wand"). The acting isn't half-bad either, as young Joey Cramer does a serviceable job of playing the young David Freeman. Also notable is Veronica Cartwright (Alien) as David's mother, and Sex and the City fans can also keep an eye out for a 21-year old Sarah Jessica Parker as Carolyn McAdams (seen in the first picture). Of course, Pee-Wee Herman Himself (Paul Reubens, credited as "Paul Mall") turns in a memorable performance as the voice of "Max", the brains behind the spaceship. Also of note are some early "morphing" special effects which would later be sharpened in films like Terminator 2. In short, this film was a real eye-opening adventure for children of all ages, and remains a relatively obscure treasure for fans to discover on DVD.

Thankfully, Buena Vista has come to the rescue with this new release of Flight of the Navigator on everyone's favorite shiny disc. It's not a feature-packed special edition by any means, but it does serve up a decent technical presentation of the film. By and large, I really had doubts that this one would ever make it to DVD, so it's good to have in any capacity. While it's not a perfect movie in all regards, it's a charming piece of 1980s nostalgia that holds up well...even by today's standards. In any case, let's see how this one stacks up:

Quality Control Department

Video Presentation:

In a welcome move by Buena Vista, Flight of the Navigator is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen! Although I've heard a few rumors that this may be a slight hack job (a few claims have surfaced that the original aspect ratio is actually 2.35:1), the compositions are generally pleasing and don't seem to be cropped significantly. The low-budget nature of the film doesn't lend itself to a crystal clear image, though, and the moderate layer of grain present during many scenes keeps this from being a pristine transfer. The added clarity of DVD also exposes the limitations of special effects on a few occasions (the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation also springs to mind). With that said, this is easily the best that Flight of the Navigator has ever looked, especially for fans with worn-out VHS copies. The colors are especially bold and bright, while the dirt and scratches are kept to a minimum. In fact, some of the brighter outdoor scenes are quite sharp and well-rendered, and actually look better that I was expecting. Long story short, this is a very good transfer that should really please fans of the film. It might not knock your socks off, but it gets the job done nicely.

Audio Presentation:

The audio seems to be presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, and it's a perfectly serviceable presentation. This is a great sounding track, especially for a film of its age and budget. There isn't an enormous amount of low end, but the dialogue and music come through nice and clear. Directional activity also pops up from time to time, creating a modestly immersive atmosphere (especially during the flight scenes). While I'm sure many fans were hoping for a full-blown 5.1 Surround mix (or, dare I say, DTS?), this 2.0 Surround track won't disappoint in the least. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are also included for your convenience.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:

Menus for this release were pretty basic, featuring static scenes from the movie and familiar music and themes playing in the background. Due to the light amount of content on this disc, the navigation is relatively simple and straightforward. The 89-minute movie is divided into a scant 9 chapters, and no layer change was detected. The packaging was not on hand for this screener copy, but I don't really care for the choice of cover art. I'm a big fan of poster art-themed covers (especially for nostalgic movies such as this one), and it would have been nice to...eh, who am I kidding? I'd take this movie in a plain brown wrapper.

Bonus Features:

The main drawback of the disc is a total lack of bonus features, but I can't say I'm surprised. Since I can dream, I'd have loved to hear an audio commentary or a series of more modern interviews with the cast and crew, or some basic behind-the-scenes stuff. Heck, even the original theatrical trailer would have been a welcome inclusion. Unfortunately, Disney only threw in a crummy commercial for "other great releases" that plays before the main menu. With that said, it's pretty nice that we got this on DVD at all (especially in anamorphic widescreen!), so beggars can't be choosers.

Final Thoughts

Flight of the Navigator has finally landed on DVD. Was it worth the wait? From a technical standpoint, this disc is a major upgrade from the worn-out VHS tapes of yesteryear, but the lack of bonus features really kept this one from being a home run. The importance of this release really depends on your interest in the movie itself: if you've never seen this one, it's a relatively underrated gem that aims to please any fans of the sci-fi fantasy genre, and easily makes for a solid rental. However, if you're like me and literally grew up watching this movie, this disc is a must-have for your collection. It stands up pretty well for a 20-year old "kid's movie", and that fact alone makes Flight of the Navigator a real treat for children of all ages. Recommended.

Other Links of Interest

Fast-Rewind.com's Guide to Movies of the 1980s
Flight of the Navigator info page at IMBb
Hey, Blimpo...oink oink! Too many Twinkies!


Randy Miller III is a time-travellin' cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, and also works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.
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