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With a new reboot helmed by Bryce Dallas Howard now in the works, it’s a perfect time to revisit the original Flight of the Navigator. And you can stream it on Disney Plus.
The family-friendly sci-fi adventure was a real pioneer of visual effects, and it told an engaging, original story along the way.
It’s certainly worth checking out if you haven’t already.
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Fresh 80s family sci-fi
The 1980s saw a string of family-focused science fiction movies following the success of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Some of those were pretty blatant (and inferior) knock-offs like Mac and Me or Nukie.
Flight of the Navigator sometimes gets lumped into that category, but it marched to its own tune.
Despite one “phone home” joke, Flight of the Navigator managed to stand on its own quite well, capturing some of the E.T. magic, but carving out a different trail for itself.
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In Fort Lauderdale in the 1970s, 12-year-old David Freeman finds himself transported to the future. After a walk in the woods near his family home, he returns to find an elderly couple occupying his house. After the police are involved, he comes to realize that eight years have passed since he wandered away from home. His parents have moved, and his “little” brother is now 16.
David realizes he was abducted by an alien ship named Max. Armed with complex new knowledge implanted in his mind while he was being studied, David now has to work with Max to find his way back home to his own timeline.
Flawed but worth a watch
The special effects in Flight of the Navigator stand out immediately. Some of the CGI is certainly dated, but having come out in 1986, it’s way ahead of its time in many respects. The spaceship’s shape-shifting looks amazing, and combined with its practical effects, the film is way ahead of its time.
The acting is also quite good. Paul Reubens, famous at the time as Pee-wee Herman, voices Max and does a great job of lending the A.I. a very human personality. Veronica Cartwright and Cliff DeYoung play David’s caring suburban parents who are coming to terms with the return of their son. And Sarah Jessica Parker even makes a welcome appearance, pre-Sex and the City fame.
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Flight of the Navigator at times feels too small in scope. It hints at an incredibly rich and diverse universe without ever showing it to us. That, in and of itself, is fine and even bold and interesting. But the film does little to convince us that anyone involved cares. Or that we should care. It’s an odd choice, and not one that ultimately works, despite other strengths.
The film was mostly well-received by critics, standing out among the family fare of the day, though not to the point of ascending to the major classic status of E.T., Cocoon, WarGames, or Tron.
But it may be about to earn a second look.
Flight of the Navigator for a new generation
There have been a few attempts to revive Flight of the Navigator over the years. Colin Trevorrow and Neill Blomkamp were both attached to direct reboots at different times.
Little is known about the Flight of the Navigator reboot other than that it will feature a female lead. It’s not clear whether it will be a continuation or a remake, or if it’s planned as a series or film. It’ll be a great chance to explore some of the implications of the first film, from time travel, to intelligent life in the galaxy, to government cover-ups of alien life.
Howard has previously worked with Disney Plus directing two episodes of the Star Wars series The Mandalorian. She is also directing an upcoming episode of The Book of Boba Fett.
Until we see what she has planned for the reboot, you can check out the original Flight of the Navigator over on Disney Plus.