Flight of the Navigator

Flight of the Navigator
Flight of the Navigator

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Randal Kleiser
Produced by Dimitri Villard
Robert Wald
Screenplay by Michael Burton
Matt MacManus
Story by Mark H. Baker
Starring Joey Cramer
Paul Mall (voice)
Veronica Cartwright
Cliff DeYoung
Sarah Jessica Parker
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography James Glennon
Eric McGraw
Editing by Jeff Gourson
Studio Walt Disney Pictures
Producers Sales Organization[1]
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release date(s) July 30, 1986[2]
Running time 90 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $18,564,613

Flight of the Navigator is a 1986 Disney science fiction film directed by Randal Kleiser and written by Mark H. Baker and Michael Burton, about a 12-year-old boy named David who is abducted by an alien space craft and finds himself caught in a world which has changed around him. It was partially shot in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.



David Freeman (Joey Cramer) is an average 12-year-old American boy living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1978. On the night of July 4, his mother Helen (Veronica Cartwright), asks him to retrieve his younger brother, Jeff (Albie Whitaker), from a friend's house on the other side of the woods. While in the woods, he falls down an embankment into a ravine and is knocked unconscious. He awakes after what seems like a few moments, and walks home only to find that everything around him has changed because it is suddenly the year 1986. The police take him to a house where he is reunited with his family, now aged by eight years. The shock of it all causes him to pass out.

Meanwhile, an extraterrestrial spacecraft has crashed into some power lines. NASA agents convince the Police that it is theirs and take it to their base, intending to study it, but find it seamless and impenetrable. In the meantime, David is taken to the hospital for a medical examination and to discover why he hasn't aged. The doctors begin performing tests on his brain and find it containing accurate information pertinent to the alien spacecraft that is at the NASA base; alerted to this fact, NASA operative Dr. Faraday (Howard Hesseman) requests him to be taken to the NASA facility (the same place where the UFO is kept) to unravel the truth behind this. Further scans reveal that his brain contains alien data and star charts leading to an alien planet named Phaelon, 560 light-years from Earth. The concept of time dilation due to faster-than-lightspeed travel is used to explain how he may have been in space for only 4.4 hours, while eight years passed on Earth.

David befriends an intern named Carolyn McAdams (Sarah Jessica Parker) and tells her to let his parents know that the institute plans to keep him longer than the promised 48 hours. The next morning, he hears a voice calling to him telepathically. He escapes from the room by hiding in a service robot and is taken to the hangar where the ship is stored. Once inside it, he meets its robotic pilot, an artificial intelligence calling itself a Trimaxian Drone Ship from the planet Phaelon, whom he subsequently nicknames Max (voiced by Paul Reubens). Referring to him as "Navigator", Max accepts his command to escape the base.

The ship takes off from the NASA facility and subsequently hides on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Max informs David that his mission was to travel the galaxy, collect biological specimens, and take them back to his home planet of Phaelon for analysis before returning them to the place and time from which they were taken. His sensors had discovered that humans only use 10% of their brain and as an experiment, David's brain was filled with miscellaneous information, including star charts. Max then returned him to Earth, but didn't take him back to his proper time, fearing that humans were too delicate to survive time travel. When trying to leave Earth and return home to Phaelon, Max accidentally crashed the ship into some power lines, erasing all the star charts and data necessary to return home from its computer. He therefore needs the information placed in David's brain to complete his mission and return home.

Max prepares to perform an encephalic scan on David, during which he shows him the remaining alien specimens he has yet to return to their homeworlds. David bonds with a Puckmaren, a small and harmless alien species and the last of his kind, since his homeworld was destroyed. After a while, Max performs the scan, but in the process also contracts the ability to feel and express emotions, making him more human-like in behavior, but also more erratic, stubborn and argumentative.

David and Max start bickering as to their next course of action, to which Max's response is to shut down and allow the ship to fall from its orbit, taunting David to execute his title as navigator for real. He manages to activate the manual controls and takes over. They travel the Earth trying to decide what to do next, being tracked and chased by NASA all the way. In the meantime, Carolyn has made contact with David's family and told them about his departure in the ship; as a result, Dr. Faraday puts them under house arrest.

To find the way to his family, David uses a gas station pay phone, calls home and catches Jeff, asking him to send a signal so that he can find their new house. He successfully signals the ship by lighting David's old bottle rockets and other fireworks. He is initially thrilled that he will soon return home, but becomes despondent upon realizing that he has lost eight years of time with his family. Upon arriving at his house and seeing the NASA people waiting for him, he decides that he does not belong in 1986, bids his family goodbye and tells Max to return him to his own time, regardless of the risks.

Max reluctantly travels back in time with David and successfully returns him unharmed and at the same moment he left. He makes his way home and finds everything the way he left it before he disappeared. He and his family take off in their boat to see the fireworks and he makes up with Jeff. He discovers that he has retained one memento from his experience: the Puckmaren. The only other one to know of this is Jeff who agrees to keep it a secret. The film ends with Max flying home to Phaelon amidst the 4th of July fireworks, shouting "See ya later, Navigator" to David.


Background information

When the film was initially released in the summer of 1986 it came and went at the box office, grossing only around $18 million; however, in later years it is fondly remembered among Generation Xers, who remembered the film from their childhoods[citation needed].

The movie opens with the shot of a silver vessel flying across the Miami skyline; however, a dog suddenly catches the object, revealing it to be a silver Frisbee. That dog is the 1984 Frisbee Dog World Champion, Whirlin' Wizard. He and the others catching Frisbees in the opening scene was filmed at the preliminary round of the 1986 Ashley Whippet Invitational in Pasadena, Texas (outside of Houston), whereas the ones running without Frisbees were filmed on the 79th Street Causeway, in a grass field alongside WSVN studios in Miami.[citation needed]

Visual effects innovations

Released at the dawn of 3D animation technology, Flight of the Navigator was the world's first 35 mm feature film to use environment mapping, creating the illusion of a chrome object occupying a live-action frame, considered by many[who?] to hold up to today's standards. The CG shots were produced by Omnibus Graphics, one of the first computer animation companies, responsible for most of the classic advertising 3D animation of the '80s.[citation needed]

Contrary to popular belief, CGI was not used to depict the suspended steps leading into the ship. The effect of the door liquefying to form them was achieved through stop-motion animation by creating a series of metallic sculptures for every frame of the animation. They appeared to support David's weight with a simple optical illusion. They were mounted on thin beams which were angled in such a way that they themselves hid the beams from the camera's lens. This arrangement even allowed for slight camera movement as can be seen the first time he climbs them. Also note that when he presses on the middle one, they all move slightly.

The two full-scale spaceship hulls used in most of the shots throughout the film (one with an open entrance, the other sealed) were constructed out of thin, curved sheets of wood over a metal framework and finished with primer and reflective paint. One of the hulls underwent refurbishment and is currently used as the Cool Ship in Tomorrowland of Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The other hull can today be seen on the Studio Backlot Tour at Disney's Hollywood Studios.


The music score for the film was composed by Alan Silvestri. It is distinct from his other scores in being entirely electronically generated, using the Synclavier,[citation needed] one of the first digital synthesisers and samplers.

  1. Theme from "Flight of the Navigator"
  2. "Main Title"
  3. "The Ship Beckons"
  4. "David in the Woods"
  5. "Robot Romp"
  6. "Transporting the Ship"
  7. "Ship Drop"
  8. "Have to Help a Friend"
  9. "The Shadow Universe"
  10. "Flight"
  11. "Finale"


On May 25, 2009, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Disney was readying a remake of the movie. Brad Copeland was writing the script and Mandeville partners David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman would serve as producers.[3]


External links

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