Not many films instilled as much wide-eyed wonder in me as a youthful movie-lover as The Flight of the Navigator, which was released in the summer of 1986, and while not attaining the runaway big-screen blockbuster status that it truly deserved, has lived on throughout the years as an all-time cult favorite for many children of the 80’s. Directed with a terrific sense of old-school movie-magic by Randal Kleiser (Grease, The Blue Lagoon, Big Top Pee-wee) and written with gee-whiz excitement by Michael Burton and Matt MacManus from a story by Mark Baker, child star (and future bank robber…) Joey Kramer got the role of a lifetime as a kid who gets abducted by a friendly alien (voiced by Paul Reubens but credited as Paul Mall!) who then takes him forward in time from 1978 to 1986, all the while battling the charms of a then extremely young Sarah Jessica Parker. The supporting cast included Cliff De Young, Veronica Cartwright, Matt Adler, and Howard Hesseman, but the film’s narrative was squarely placed on Kramer’s young shoulders, and he did a great job interacting with the various creatures and showing genuine responses to his otherworldly craft.
The Flight of the Navigator included some of the earliest full-on CGI effects, and features strong cinematography from James Glennon (About Schmidt, Election, Deadwood, Carnivale) and a lively musical score from Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future, Predator, The Delta Force). The film had a weird gestation, as it was first attempted to be set up as a Disney production, with the Mouse House ultimately declining to produce, but agreeing to distribute. The film was lensed on location in Florida with the scenes set aboard the ship shot in Norway on a budget of $9 million, with box office receipts reaching nearly $20 million in America; critical response was favorable. And over the years, it’s become one of those treasured items for many people that feels too refreshingly quaint to be remade in today’s overly slick and cynical CGI movie landscape, though an update has recently been threatened. I hope they leave this property alone, as it works just fine as is, and no amount of money will be able to replicate the original’s sense of overall wonderment. The Flight of the Navigator is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and as an Amazon and YouTube streaming option.