Flight Of The Navigator, initially released in 1986, is not your average Disney blockbuster, but it’s ground breaking for its special effects as any of the Marvel or Star Wars films due from the studio now. As a newly restored Blu-ray arrives, director, Randal Kleiser recalls his sci-fi classic.


Imagine a world before Disney dominated the feature film landscape, with ongoing franchises (Untitled Star Wars Project, Untitled Marvel Project) standing like a colossus over the release schedule.


Imagine a world where original film making and original stories were the most important thing, where blockbuster summer releases weren’t just an opportunity to sell toys and merchandise.


Imagine a time when one of Disney’s summer tent pole releases was a science fiction picture that wasn’t a sequel, that had an original story and new and untested special effects as its crew pushed the envelope in terms of how effects were filmed.


Well, strange as it may seem now, that happened little more than 30 years ago.

The year is 1986, and the film is Flight Of The Navigator.


Randal Kleiser, a journeyed director whose CV included a few years previously the worldwide hit Grease, signed on to make a film that was part action, part sci-fi, part family fare. “Everyone was pulling in different directions,” Kleiser now laughs. Of course, Disney won, but the longevity of Flight Of The Navigator has come from the fact it still blends other, non-Disney items, not least the sci-fi.


And as is often the case with films from a bygone pre-DVD, VHS era, it was darker than your average family fare, certainly compared with its current output.


 It starts with young David Freeman going missing as a boy, only to pitch up eight years later, albeit the same age as when he disappeared while his family, and particularly his brother, have all grown older.


As Kleiser notes: “When the boy goes back to his house, finding his family gone, his performance there was so good. And things there are dark. Disney has always done dark things.”


Things change, however, when a spaceship turns up, and the story behind Freeman’s disappearance is revealed. And it’s not just the reveal of the craft; it’s how it was created too.


 “This was,” Kleiser says, with the gravity required for such a monumental occurrence, “the first digital spaceship.”

Using primitive digital technology, including green screen, this is a truly ground breaking piece of FX.


 “We tried all different ways of doing it,” he recalls. “The extras on the newly-restored Blu-ray show all the attempts. Before Flight Of The Navigator, most of it had been done with models, models on a stick. We used aluminium foil on a pie play, paints, models, all different experiments.


“Some of them were so bad. We had to make it happen, though, and we did it digitally.”


His brother was a special effects whizz, and good luck also helped while they were experimenting with the ways of perfecting the spaceship.

“I went to a special effects company, a kid who’d just graduated from Cal Arts, what’s going on, he showed me his book of drawings, mostly high tech cars. I brought him to Disney, and he became the guy who invented the spaceship.”


Working on the Blu-ray special edition released by Second Sight on August 26 has seen Kleiser overseeing the restoration as well as the extras.


“It’s amazing what you can do today,” he says. “They’d send me each reel, I go through it, find any dirt making a note of it and have them fix it. It’s amazing. With new technology, these things can go on and live for a long time. When it’s just film, the image fades, with digital restoration, it can be frozen in time.


“It won’t change as long as it’s archived. Get it right, and it stays right.”


As a filmmaker, this kind of restoration is ideal for someone with as storied a filmography as Kleiser. His most prominent work, Grease, has already had numerous releases, although one from his CV, Getting It Right, starring, among others, Helena Bonham Carter, has all but disappeared (“it would be great to see it released, the company made it went bankrupt, don’t know who owns it.”).


He still returns to Grease – the film celebrated its 40th-anniversary last year, and there’s a DIrector’s Notebook, full of Kleiser’s old memorabilia, storyboards et al., on the way. But, as he wryly notes: “You’ve got to remember, when they were made, there was no VHS, no streaming, no DVD, you had to go to the theatre. Nobody knew about shelf life or how it wild all evolved. We had no idea when we were making them.”


So how does Kleiser thing it stands up now, in its newly restored form? “I was pleased with it. It’s got emotion and heart and exciting visuals. Very happy with the way it turned out. It had a cult following. On VHS, DVD and now Blu-ray. We’ve got loads of great extras, and it’s fascinating for anyone into it.


“Some people say it’s their favourite from that era. So many people love it,


“And now it’s got those little specks of negative dirt removed, some people might not have noticed them, but it looks pristine. I think it looks as good or better than when it came out in the theatre.”


Tim Murray.









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This web site is owned and published by London FrightFest Limited.

FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
 © 2000 - 2018