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Flight of the Navigator DVD Review

Flight of the Navigator movie poster Flight of the Navigator

Theatrical Release: July 30, 1986 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Randal Kleiser / Writers: Mark H. Baker, Michael Burton, Matt MacManus

Cast: Joey Cramer (David Freeman), Paul Reubens (voice of Max), Veronica Cartwright (Helen Freeman), Cliff De Young (Bill Freeman), Sarah Jessica Parker (Carolyn McAdams), Matt Adler (Jeff, 16 years), Howard Hesseman (Dr. Faraday), Robert Small (Troy), Albie Whitaker (Jeff, 8 years), Jonathan Sanger (Dr. Carr)

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Flight of the Navigator opens with a Frisbee Dog Contest on the Fourth of July, 1978.
An ordinary 12-year-old boy named David Freeman (Joey Cramer) is there with his family. He's got a mother, a father, a pesky younger brother, and an unspectacular dog named Bruiser.

That night, David goes to find his brother for the holiday celebrations. Wandering in the woods, he falls quite a distance into a ravine. When he gets up, it appears to be just a moment later. But, as he learns, it is actually eight years later. David hasn't changed in any way, but the rest of the world has.

Now it's 1986. An old couple now lives in his house, his younger brother is now his older brother, and "Starsky and Hutch" is off the air! David has no knowledge of where he's been. It's a mystery that fascinated specialists are trying to unravel.

David Freeman (Joey Cramer) is an ordinary boy about to go on an extraordinary adventure! David undergoes tests at the NASA base.

Enter Dr. Faraday (Howard Hesseman), who makes it clear to David and his family that the top-of-the-line resources of NASA are the best shot at figuring out what has happened. So, David agrees to spend 48 hours at a NASA base, letting the best men in the field pry his mind in a search for answers.

Simultaneously, Dr. Faraday and the other NASA specialists are mulling over the discovery of an unusual body which appears to be a spaceship. To reach a sufficient understanding, they decide that David will need to stay longer for tests.

With the help of Carolyn McAdams (Sarah Jessica Parker), a friendly young intern at the base, David seeks to escape. His breakout quickly takes him to the spaceship, where he begins to make sense of the some of the strange dreams and voices he has been experiencing.

The ship is commanded by a robot of higher intelligence (voiced by Paul Reubens), who David names Max. Max needs help from David, specifically his mind. David wants answers from Max and a departure from the curious scientists. They take off on a unique and thrilling journey through space and time.

A young Sarah Jessica Parker plays a friendly worker at the NASA base. The Freeman Family (Veronica Cartwright, Matt Adler, Cliff De Young) is baffled by the reappearance of long-missing David.

Flight of the Navigator is brilliant. All of its elements seem to work just right. Its extremely clever premise is played to perfection, thanks to skillful crafting. The film starts out strong with a highly intriguing set-up, and sets a fast and flawless pace that it never departs from.

In the lead role, Joey Cramer has just the right amount of curiosity and charisma to make the protagonist fully likable. Supporting performances from the family members all seem to hit the right notes. The robotic character, Max, is a lot of fun. Once he acquires some personality from a mind-mining procedure, he begins to sound quite a bit like Pee Wee Herman, in the best possible way.

Though its script and direction deserve highest praise, a great sense of humor helps to distinguish Flight of the Navigator from other strong science fiction films of the late '70s and early '80s. While its time-travel tale is a serious one, it deftly uses comedy to enhance the adventure and crank up the entertainment value. In many of the best ways, the film calls to mind the perfect blend of Back to the Future, without feeling the least bit derivative.

Buy Flight of the Navigator from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 1, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $19.99)
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Flight of the Navigator is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions.
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The opening scenes of the film looked very grainy, but you needn't fear. This only reveals the technical shortcomings of optical credits sequences. There were a few brief scenes, either effects or exterior shots, that exhibited an excess of grain. By and large, though, the video quality was overwhelmingly pleasing. Colors are vibrant and solid; fleshtones seemed extremely natural. Though not as sharp as a film from today, the picture was consistently clean and crisp. Without a doubt, this transfer offers significant improvement over any other home video release the film has received.

Flight's Dolby Surround 2.0 audio presentation was also most satisfactory. The film features a prominent and powerful score by Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future), which often comes in a bit louder than the rest of the audio, and effectively hits and underlines the film's adventure and suspense. Though the film's score was the most significant surround element, a number of the film's sound effects made use of the rear channels, as well. Dialogue was crisp and always intelligible. Aside from the inconsistent volume level (as usual, a desired effect), I didn't notice anything about the audio which detracted from the experience. A solid presentation, particularly for Dolby Surround, and Silvestri's memorable score is put to good use.

An exciting view from inside the spaceship! That cowboy's just a bit chucky.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Unfortunately, there are no extra features. That's a shame, as I really could have gone for some supplemental material on this most enjoyable film.
A commentary, a documentary, or even an press kit video or theatrical trailer would have been welcome. In consideration of the film's large following and the time it took for this to arrive on DVD, one is more than a little disappointed that Disney didn't make an effort to include any bonuses.

The disc's menus are still 16x9 frames which are accompanied by portions of the film's score. The Main Menu fortunately features the coolly energetic and distinctly 1980s title theme.

Worth noting, I suppose: the disc opens with a 90-second fullscreen preview for recent live action films on home video. Clips highlight The Rookie, Remember the Titans, Tuck Everlasting, The Other Side of Heaven, The Princess Diaries, Snow Dogs, Freaky Friday, Holes, and The Lizzie McGuire Movie.

David needs a rest stop. Max gets in David's face.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Flight of the Navigator is a fantastic film that is well worth discovering, if you haven't already. For years, fans have waited for a DVD release. While the complete lack of bonus features may not be what they had in mind, the presentation of the film itself deserves acclaim. Clever, suspenseful, and at times very funny, Flight of the Navigator simply offers as much fun as any movie I've seen in a long time. This film is one of Disney's best, one that widely departs from the studio's formulas or any conventions at all and manages to entertain without fail for an hour and a half. I highly recommend it.

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Related Reviews:
Labyrinth (1986) | Return to Oz (1985) | Castle in the Sky (1986)
Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) | Return from Witch Mountain (1978) | Tron (1982)
One Magic Christmas (1985) | The Journey of Natty Gann (1985) | Midnight Madness (1980)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) | Cheetah (1989) | The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

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Reviewed May 21, 2004.