May 07, 2006

Flight of the Navigator

Last night I watched Flight of the Navigator, a made-for-t.v. Disney movie from 1986. It was my favorite movie as a 10-12 year old. I probably saw it one Friday evening in summer, because Disney would show these movies each Friday and we always taped them. I know that I wore that tape out in a couple of years.

It's a story about a 12 year old boy named David who is mysteriously transported eight years into the future in an instant, without aging.

The movie starts in 1978, where David is finding he's reached a difficult age.


He is realizing that he likes girls but doesn't know how to talk to them. His dad offers some well-meaning advice but it's clear he's on his own. No one really understands him. His little brother Jeff is a four-eyed terror. He's caught between childhood and the next stage.


I remember I identified strongly with him as a fellow eleven and twelve year old. I was the oldest, and my younger siblings were terrors. No one quite understood what I was going through. Like David, the only people close to me who could offer advice were my parents, they came across as well-meaning but utterly inept. David fixes his telescope on to the harbor (they're in Fort Lauderdale) and spies on a cute girl. He's watching the world from afar while prettier, more able people have all the fun.


Later that evening, David's mom tells him to walk through the woods and meet his little brother, whose coming from a neighbor's house. In the woods, he's a little frightened, his dog Bruiser isn't much of a guard dog. Jeff frightens him and he becomes disoriented and falls into a ravine. Seemingly moments later, he wakes up and climbs out of the ravine.


But upon returning home, he finds an old couple living in his house! The wallpaper is uglier, and instead of fireworks and telescopes in his bedroom, an old man in a red velvet smoking jacket is reading the newspaper and drinking whiskey on the rocks!


He's eventually reunited with his parents, who have aged considerably. Especially his mother--you can see it in her eyes. It's been eight years since David went missing. They've given him up for dead. David is still twelve, but everyone around him is eight years older. Jeff is now eighteen years old.


"You're like my big little brother."

As a little kid, I was incredibly jealous of David's predicament. Ignoring the trauma he's going through, the tears and confusion...he's reunited with his parents, but they aren't really his parents and he shies away from their touch...but he is suddenly special, and people are noticing him. Something has happened that hasn't happened to anyone else. He's different. Jeff feels horrible for scaring him like that--he spent every Saturday for years after his disappearance putting up fliers around town.

At the same time that everyone is paying attention to David, another plot line is developing that will soon converge with David's. A beautiful silver spacecraft has crashed into some powerlines, and NASA is currently trying to figure out what to do with it. After some tests on David's brain activity reveal some startling answers as to where he's been for eight years, NASA catches wind, and offers to run some tests on David for 48 hours to determine where he's been for eight years.



This is my favorite part of the movie. When hooked up to NASA's computers, David's brain begins communicating directly with the computer systems, downloading star charts and answering questions as to where he's been--on a distant planet being studied by aliens! That's why everyone's aged while David has stayed the same--traveling at the speed of light, time slowed down for him! I wish I had the clip to show you because it's beautiful. Dark organ chords rumble while David's brain appears to overload the computer monitors with a dazzling confusion of star charts, eventually showing the scientists where he's been...the planet Phaelon!

I wanted to feel special as a little kid. I wanted to be a genius. I wanted to be so smart so effortlessly that people would have to take notice. I was in love with this part of the film as a kid because I relished the fantasy of having a brain so powerful that it would overwhelm computers. I wanted to be kidnapped by aliens and taken to a far-away planet, to be changed by them and to come back part human, part alien. I dreamed of an untapped potential in my brain. The house I grew up in was surrounded by acres and acres of forest, untouched, miles to the next house. In these woods I would play...often pretending I was Luke Skywalker. Luke Skywalker and David both appealed to me because I wanted to be special. I dreamed that there was a destiny in store for me, greatness. That I would have to do is be at the ready for when it chose to overwhelm me. These fantasies included leaving the planet. Like Luke Skywalker left his desert planet. Like David left earth.


On the NASA base, the spaceship begins speaking to David, calling him. And with the help of an intern named Carolyn, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, David escapes his locked room and enters the spaceship.



The spaceship is a drone ship powered by a computer (the voice is that of Paul Reubens) who had its star charts erased when it crashed into the powerlines. After escaping the hangar, the spaceship zooms off, taking David with it. Eventually he becomes friends with the computer, who he names Max, and they fly around the world, freaking out unassuming humans, listening to the Beach Boys, and running circles around the NASA scientists, who can't quite keep up with them.


Eventually, David decides its time to return to his family. But when they arrive in Fort Lauderdale and David steps outside the spaceship, he's faced with a confusing scene. The government officials, guns drawn, will obviously take him away from his family but even if he was left with them, they are strangers to him.


In another key scene of the film for me, David addresses his family and tells them that he's sorry but he doesn't belong here anymore and so he's leaving. The looks on the faces of his family were priceless for me as a child.


But instead of spending the rest of his life in intergalactic exploration, as I would have done, David makes a different decision--despite the risks involved, he asks Max to take him back in time, back to 1978 to the moment he left, even though the trip might vaporize him.


he wakes up where he fell, behind his house. A train is rumbling past. He returns to his family, who are back to being the boring 70s era people he left. Still clueless. Despite loving the film as a child, these last scenes always disappointed me. Nothing is as boring as the 70s...his family is so not sexy.

When I was a kid, my bedroom had those glow in the dark stars plastered across the ceiling--very cool. Fantasizing about leaving the woods of Northern Minnesota and my family, who didn't understand me and who I viewed from a critical distance, as though through a telescope, I would pray to my concept of the god at the time to take me away. Or, if it should be the case that I was being protected from alien abductions, to please lift the protective veil. I dreamed to be woken up, to be taken, to leave the atmosphere. Unlike David, I never would have returned.

viagraholics | daily kos: minnesota congressional update | condi loves the trannies! | what can elephants hear? | pornzilla | the return of a jedi: christian themes in anakin skywalker's redemption | perinatal imagery in the star wars trilogy | cool workspaces

Posted by jason at May 7, 2006 11:42 PM | TrackBack

What a great post.
It made me remember seeing this movie
a long time ago
when I was too young to remember
I am younger than you.

I thought that there was a little cute creature,
but that is probabl=y another 80s film!

Posted by: charles at May 8, 2006 12:40 AM

I saw that movie three times in the theater. My god I loved it. But I never realized until now that the aid was Sarah Jessica Parker. I never though tI saw her before "Girls Just Wanna HAve Fun."

There was a cute little alien. His home was destroyed and there was no place for him to go back to, so David bought him back to earth in his backpack.

Way better than ET.

Posted by: rew at May 8, 2006 04:58 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?