Flight of the Navigator (UK - BD)
Chris takes a trip back in time with this Disney childhood favourite on Blu-ray...
The year is 1978 and twelve-year-old David Freeman is knocked unconscious while playing. He wakes up and discovers it’s now 1986 and he’s been missing for eight years. NASA believes he’s been abducted by aliens and want to use him for their research. But with the guidance of a strange unseen entity he discovers a hidden spaceship and with the help of MAX the computer sets off on an incredible mission to get back to the past where he belongs. (Taken from the PR.)
This marks the first time I’ve seen Flight of the Navigator in its entirety in many years. Watching the film again as an adult it’s the earlier scenes of loss and alienation that resonate; in fact, as a child I never realised just how much of the film is devoted to setting up David’s predicament. In all honesty I remember him spending much longer on the spaceship than he actually does, but in taking its time when setting the scene the film allows you to become invested in David as a character. Of course it’s the spaceship that most people will remember, largely because its artificial intelligence, Max, is voiced by Paul Reubens (of Pee-wee Herman fame). The interaction between Max and David is one of the highlights of the film, and while the effects look dated there’s still a certain charm to the ship’s sleek, uncomplicated design. For my money Flight of the Navigator still holds up pretty well today (well, maybe not from a scientific standpoint) and should certainly charm younger viewers with its fantastic premise and cute alien creatures.
Once upon a time Cinema Club released Flight of the Navigator on DVD in the UK and it was bad. Not ‘could be a little better’ bad, but ‘they literally put a VHS quality transfer on the disc’ bad. In fact it was so terrible I only made it through the first twenty minutes or so before I turned it off and buried it at the bottom of a pile of DVDs never to be seen again. This pretty much ensured that the Blu-ray would be a marked improvement over the DVD, but of course it wasn’t a guarantee that it would be particularly impressive in its own right.
Second Sight's BD release is framed at 1.78:1 (1080/24p AVC) and has all the hallmarks of an effects-heavy 80s movie that hasn't been treated to a full-on restoration. The opening scenes suffer from noticeable telecine wobble, while film artefacts of varying size and colour are visible throughout. Although heavy grain is not uncommon on BD releases of 80s movies it's possible that some of what presents itself as grain here is actually dirt/noise introduced at some point in the chain. This can be distracting, but thankfully it’s only really off-putting during a handful of scenes, particularly the darker ones or those featuring effects shots. The image is a little on the soft side, which is I believe more likely owing to the original shooting style than any egregious filtering, but detail is generally about what you'd expect from a catalogue release of this age. The strongest element is undoubtedly the colour palette, which features rich, naturalistic hues that really impress, but contrast and black levels are also surprisingly good. You may get the impression from this that I’m not hugely impressed by the video, but the truth is that it’s actually quite pleasing if you overlook the limitations of the source and it looks better in motion than the images below might suggest. In any event this BD annihilates the current DVD release.
Whereas at least one version of the film has featured a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, the UK release delivers an LPCM 2.0 track. I can see some people getting upset by this - and truth be told I'm a little puzzled by its omission - but I'm glad that the original audio track is included in an uncompressed format (odds are that the 5.1 remix probably isn't that dynamic or expansive anyway). No, what we get is an authentic 80s experience. Dialogue comes through strongly throughout, never once finding itself drowned out by the other elements. Obviously the limitations of the mix preclude any surround activity, but there are one or two nice stereo pans at key moments. While Alan Silvestri's score doesn't envelope it does have considerable presence, at times defying the two-channel limitations of the mix to fill the room with its pleasant melodies. Unfortunately bass is almost non-existent, even during moments when you’d expect to feel a sizeable rumble from the subwoofer, but that’s to be expected from a 2.0 track. I don’t think anyone will use it to demo their audio equipment, but it’s perfectly serviceable and engenders nostalgic memories of bygone days before the advent of surround sound in the home.
The disc includes only one supplemental feature, but it’s a good one. Director Randal Kleiser and executive producer Jonathan Sanger have recorded a new commentary track that is, I believe, exclusive to this UK release of the film. It’s a warm track that’s full of anecdotes and fond production remembrances, and while it would have been nice to have a few vintage featurettes and the like the commentary goes a fair way towards compensating for the relative lack of bonus material.
In summation, while some of that may have sounded negative it's actually not a bad effort. Realistically speaking this was never going to be given the sort of attention that high-profile titles receive, so the aforementioned issues weren't entirely unexpected. Even so, they are issues and as such it's my duty to report them. Still, one has only to weigh the cost of bringing a film like Flight of the Navigator to Blu-ray against the relatively small target audience to understand some of the deficiencies. To be honest I'm amazed that films like this are still being released on the format at a time when most major studios have given up on catalogue titles. Thank goodness for distributors like Second Sight championing some of these niche titles. If you can get past the minor niggles you might find yourself pleasantly surprised with what's on offer here. Hell, if you're a fan who’s been getting by on the appalling DVD release you'll be overjoyed with this Blu-ray!
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
The images below present a comparison between the old UK DVD release of the film and this new Blu-ray edition. As you can see, the DVD was poor even by SD standards and the HD version is a significant improvement.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable for all
Release Date: 19th November 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: Audio Commentary
Easter Egg: No
Director: Randal Kleiser
Cast: Joey Cramer, Paul Reubens, Howard Hesseman, Veronica Cartwright, Cliff De Young, Matt Adler, Sarah Jessica Parker
Genre: Adventure, Family and Sci-Fi
Length: 90 minutes
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