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Flight of the Navigator

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Flight of the Navigator
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRandal Kleiser
Screenplay by
  • Michael Burton
  • Matt MacManus
Story byMark H. Baker
Produced by
  • Dimitri Villard
  • Robert Wald
CinematographyJames Glennon
Edited by
Music byAlan Silvestri
PSO Productions
Viking Film AS[1][2]
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution (United States)
PSO Productions (International)[1][a]
Release date
  • August 1, 1986 (1986-08-01)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States[4]
Budget$9 million[5]
Box office$18.6 million

Flight of the Navigator is a 1986 American science-fiction adventure film directed by Randal Kleiser and written by Mark H. Baker, Michael Burton, and Matt MacManus. It stars Joey Cramer as David Freeman, a 12-year-old boy, who is abducted by an alien spaceship and transported from 1978 to 1986. It features an early film appearance by Sarah Jessica Parker as Carolyn McAdams, a key character who befriends David in a time of need.

The film's producers initially sent the project to Walt Disney Pictures in 1984, but the studio was unable to approve it and it was sent to Producers Sales Organization, which made a deal with Disney to distribute it in the United States.[1] It was partially shot in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Norway, being a coproduction with Norwegian company Viking Film.[2]

The film is notable for being one of the first Hollywood films to use extensive computer-generated imagery (CGI) effects. Specifically, it was the first use of image-based lighting and an early use of morphing in a motion picture. It is also known to be one of the first Hollywood productions to feature an entirely electronic music film score, composed using a Synclavier, one of the first digital multitrack recorders and samplers.

The film has since developed a cult following among science-fiction and Disney fans. The latest plans for a reboot were announced in 2021.[6]


On July 4, 1978, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 12-year-old David Freeman walks through the woods to pick up his 8-year-old brother, Jeff, from a friend's house, when he falls into a ravine and is knocked unconscious. When he revives, eight years have mysteriously passed, and it is now 1986. He has not aged, and his appearance exactly matches his missing child poster. He is reunited with his aged parents and the now 16-year-old Jeff.

Meanwhile, an alien spaceship crashes through power lines and is captured by NASA. Hospital tests on David's brainwaves reveal matching images of the spacecraft and map of its galaxy origins. Dr. Louis Faraday, who has been studying it, persuades David to come to a NASA research facility for just 48 hours, promising him they can help learn what happened to him. Dr. Faraday discovers that his mind is full of alien technical manuals and star charts far exceeding NASA's research and that he was taken to the planet Phaelon, 560 light years away, in just 2.2 hours (about 2,105,990.4 x c). Having traveled faster than light, he has experienced time dilation, explaining how eight years have passed on Earth, but not for him. Dr. Faraday decides to cordon him there to finish his investigation, breaking his initial 48-hour promise.

Following a telepathic communication from the spaceship, David secretly boards it and meets its robotic commander, who introduces itself as a Trimaxion Drone Ship. David decides to call it "Max", while Max calls him the "Navigator". They escape from the facility and Max tells David that his mission is to travel the galaxy collecting biological specimens for analysis on Phaelon before returning them to their homes. Phaelon's scientists discovered that humans only use 10% of their brains, and as an experiment, filled the remainder of David's with miscellaneous information. Max returned him to Earth, but not to his own time, having determined a trip back in time would be dangerous for a human. When Max crashed the spaceship, the computer's databanks were erased. So, he needs the information in David's brain to return home.

While Max prepares for a mind transfer, David meets other alien specimens on board and bonds with a puckmaren, a tiny bat-like creature that is the last of his kind after a comet destroyed his planet. During the mind transfer, Max contracts human emotions and behaves eccentrically. David and his bickering trigger UFO reports in Tokyo and the United States. Meanwhile, NASA intern Carolyn McAdams, who befriended David, tells his family about his escape in the spaceship, so Dr. Faraday has them confined to their house, and Carolyn is sent back to the facility.

When the spaceship stops at a gas station, David calls Jeff, who sets off fireworks on the roof to locate their new house. David and Max arrive there, but NASA agents have tracked the spaceship. Fearing that he will be institutionalized and treated like a guinea pig for the rest of his life should he remain in 1986, David orders Max to return him to 1978, accepting the risk of vaporization due to the time travel. David awakes in the ravine, walks home, and finds everything now as he had left it. During the Fourth of July celebration, Jeff sees that the puckmaren has stowed away in David's backpack. David tells him to keep it a secret, while Max flies home across the fireworks-lit sky, calling, "See you later, navigator!" and laughs similarly to Pee-wee Herman.



Several actors auditioned for the role of David Freeman, including Joaquin Phoenix and Chris O'Donnell.[7]


Some of the scenes with the Trimaxion Drone Ship were rendered in CGI by Omnibus Computer Animation, under the supervision of director Randal Kleiser's brother, Jeff.[8] It was the first film to use reflection mapping to create realistic reflections on a simulated chrome surface.

Jeff explained that Randal had been inspired by work for a commercial that he had done at his previous company, Digital Effects. Jeff recalls, "Jean Miller and Bob Hoffman had written a reflection mapping software that simulated a drop of water dripping from a faucet, which had refraction and reflection on the spout and it drips off." According to Jeff, "Randal saw that and asked, 'Wow. Could you make the spaceship reflective, like reflecting the environment?’" The morphing effect was based on a 1985 work by Digital Effects for a Tide detergent commercial.[9]

Effects were rendered on the Foonly F1 computer before being matted onto the film print. The computer did not have much storage space, so once the frame was mapped, the data were deleted to make way for the new frame.[10] The rest were using one of two life-size props or miniatures on a computer operated camera.


The music score for the film was composed and performed by Alan Silvestri. It is distinct from his other scores in being entirely electronically generated, using the Synclavier,[11] one of the first digital multi-track recorders and samplers.

Flight of the Navigator
Soundtrack album by
GenreElectronic, film score
  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"
  12. "Star Dancing"

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mainly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 84% based on 31 reviews, with an average rating of 6.60/10. The consensus reads, "Bolstered by impressive special effects and a charming performance from its young star, Flight of the Navigator holds up as a solidly entertaining bit of family-friendly sci-fi."[12]

Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said the film's biggest plus was "its entirely believable, normal American family."[13] The New York Times described it as "definitely a film most children can enjoy."[14] People declared it "out-of-this-world fun."[15] Empire gave it 3/5 stars, saying it was "well-made enough to keep the family happy, but it certainly won’t challenge them."[16] Variety was more critical, announcing that "instead of creating an eye-opening panorama, Flight of the Navigator looks through the small end of the telescope."[17] Dave Kehr gave it 3 stars and described it as "a new high for Disney."[18]

Special effects analysis[edit]

In May 2021, independent filmmaker Alan Melikdjanian released a documentary about the film, explaining the various types of visual effects utilized to create the alien spaceship.[19]


In May 2009, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Disney was readying a remake of the film. Brad Copeland was writing the script and Mandeville partners David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman would serve as producers.[20] In November 2012, Disney hired Safety Not Guaranteed's director Colin Trevorrow and writer/producer Derek Connolly to rewrite the script.[21]

In September 2017, Walt Disney Pictures and Lionsgate announced that a reboot of the film is in preproduction with Joe Henderson from TV's Lucifer writing the script.[22] In November that year, Neill Blomkamp tweeted that Oats Studios has begun developing a reboot as its first feature film.[23][24][25]

Plans for a remake were back in development by September 2021, with Bryce Dallas Howard set to direct the Disney+ release featuring a female protagonist.[26]


  1. ^ Buena Vista/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures only have North American and theatrical UK distribution rights. Copyright to the film still rests at PSO.


  1. ^ a b c Mark Damon; Linda Schreyer (2008). From Cowboy to Mogul to Monster: The Neverending Story of Film Pioneer Mark Damon. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse. p. 376. ISBN 978-1-4343-7737-1.
  2. ^ a b Charles Solomon (1987-08-01). "Commentary : Computer Graphics Shows Its Stuff". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-10.
  3. ^ "Flight of the Navigator - 1986 - Joey Cramer, Randal Kleiser - Variety Profiles". Variety. July 30, 1986. Retrieved December 20, 2009. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Flight of the Navigator (1986) | BFI". Archived from the original on August 3, 2017.
  5. ^ "Flight of the Navigator (1986)". The Powergrid. Wrap News inc. Archived from the original on January 10, 2016. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  6. ^ Disney to reboot 'Flight of the Navigator' with Bryce Dallas Howard at the helm
  7. ^ "The Untold Truth Of Flight Of The Navigator". 4 November 2021.
  8. ^ Anderson, Martin (2009-07-15). "Jeff Kleiser Discusses the Early CGI of Flight of the Navigator". Den of Geek!. Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  9. ^ Hoare, James (2022-06-17). "CGI Fridays | Jeff Kleiser's Strange Journey from Super-8 to Stargate". The Companion. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  10. ^ "Jeff Kleiser discusses the early CGI of Flight Of The Navigator". Den of Geek. 2009-07-15. Archived from the original on 2021-05-21. Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  11. ^ Film's end credits
  12. ^ "Flight of the Navigator (1986)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  13. ^ Kevin Thomas (1986-07-31). "Movie Review : 'Flight Of Navigator' Offers A Family Outing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-10.
  14. ^ Caryn James (1986-07-30). "The Screen: 'Flight Of The Navigator'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
  15. ^ Scot Haller; Tom Cunneff; Ira Hellman (1986-08-18). "Picks and Pans Review: Flight of the Navigator". People. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
  16. ^ "Flight of the Navigator". Empire. Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
  17. ^ "Review:"Flight of the Navigator"". Variety. January 1986. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
  18. ^ Dave Kehr (July 30, 1986). "'Flight Of Navigator' A New High For Disney". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 20, 2009.
  19. ^ Melikdjanian, Alan (20 May 2021). "VFXcool: Flight of the Navigator". youtube.com. Captain Disillusion. Archived from the original on 25 May 2021. Retrieved 25 May 2021. Captain Disillusion leaves Alan in charge of an episode and things get rapidly nostalgic.
  20. ^ Borys Kit (2009-05-26). "Disney, Mandeville file new 'Flight' plan". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
  21. ^ Trumbore, Dave (2012-11-27). "Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly to Rewrite FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR Remake; Trevorrow May Direct". Collider. Retrieved 2017-04-23.
  22. ^ McNary, Dave (2017-09-28). "'Flight of the Navigator' Reboot in Works With 'Lucifer' Showrunner". Variety. Retrieved 2017-09-28.
  23. ^ Blomkamp, Neill (22 November 2017). "So for clarity on @oatsstudios shorts, people are asking for part 2's of certain films, - the first follow up short will be for ADAM, coming soonish. The first proper feature film will be ..." Twitter. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  24. ^ Blomkamp, Neill (22 November 2017). "Image from the film, indicating that Oats Studios is making a remake of Flight of the Navigator". Twitter. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  25. ^ Brew, Simon (23 November 2017). "Flight Of The Navigator Remake Teased by Neill Blomkamp". Den of Geek!. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  26. ^ Boccella, Maggie (September 15, 2021). "Bryce Dallas Howard to Direct 'Flight of the Navigator' Reboot for Disney+". Collider. Retrieved September 15, 2021.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]