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Film / Flight of the Navigator

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Flight of the Navigator is a 1986 live-action sci-fi film from Walt Disney Pictures and Producers Sales Organization (The Neverending Story, Short Circuitnote ). David Freeman, a 12-year-old boy living in 1978, falls into a ravine after searching for his younger brother, and wakes up eight years later — everyone has aged but him and he's apparently been gone all that time. An analysis of his brain reveals hidden schematics and star charts, and David later discovers an alien spaceship that was captured by NASA around the same time he was found. Now he must work with its computer program, which he later calls Max, to figure out what happened to him and get back home.

This film provides examples of:

  • '80s Hair: Carolyn's - discussed with reference to the purple streak therein.
    Carolyn: You know something? You're a weird kid!
    David: Me? I'm not the one with the purple hair!
    Carolyn: Oh... yeah...I went to a concert with some friends last night.
  • 90% of Your Brain: Used to store the star charts in David's head as an experiment. Result? "It leaked."
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • Downplayed with R.A.L.F. the mail delivery robot, whose rudimentary A.I. sometimes malfunctions in harmless ways (according to Carolyn, anyway). Though Max was able to control it to bring David to him.
    • Played straight with Max who got himself into the whole mess (crashed into power lines) in the first place because he was gawking at some daisies.
  • Alien Abduction: David was taken to Phaelon for study.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Jeff spends a quarter of the movie bugging his older brother until he grows up without David. Now that David's back in his own time, he won't be that much annoying.
    • In the middle of the movie, the now-teenage Jeff apologizes to the still-12 David for all the crap he gave him.
  • Anthropic Principle: The Phaelonians couldn't simply return David to his original time in the beginning of the film, as they feared time travel would vaporize his fragile body.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Max is a robotic A.I. for an entire spaceship. His race is never seen, so the question of whether they are organic beings who achieved Brain Uploading or evolved as Mechanical Lifeforms is never addressed.
  • Artistic License Physics: When the ship travels 20 miles straight up, David floats up to the ceiling as if in microgravity. In reality, at 20 miles up the Earth's gravity is pretty much just as strong as on the surface (astronauts float because they are falling along with the ship or space station around — it's just that they are traveling sideways fast enough that the Earth curves away beneath them so they never end up hitting the ground). Though this is probably ignored for Rule of Funny.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Max crashes his ship into an electrical tower due to looking at daisies during his departure from Earth. David can't help but find it amusing.
  • Bad Future: For David, anyway. NASA only treating him like a test subject, earlier on, he learns that he was declared Legally Dead.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The movie opens with that appears to be a flying saucer flying above the city. It soon turns out to be frisbees thrown in a dog contest. Later in the same scene, something floats above the crowd, it was a low-flying blimp. And while David treks through the woods to get Jeff, there's something above the trees: it's a water tower. It doubles as a Lampshade Hanging/Homage to classic The '50s B-Movie sci-fi which used hubcaps and frisbees for Off-the-Shelf FX flying saucers. In addition, it also shows how much time has passed when Jeff has successfully taught the family dog to catch frisbees; in the opening, the dog couldn't be bothered. Also, it doubles as Foreshadowing since that first frisbee is a sleek, featureless silver object, just like the ship David would be in.
  • Big Brother Instinct:
    • Inverted with Future!Jeff and David. He reassures David once he realizes that he is talking to his grown-up kid brother and he helps David get back home using fireworks to help David identify their house.
    • Its implied that David becomes more doting towards Jeff when he returns to his time.
  • Big Little Brother: Jeff became this for David as he is now taller and older than David. The change is extremely awkward — but thought-provoking — to the both of them. Jeff even mentions this by name ("This is totally rad, I mean... you're my big little brother!")
  • Blatant Lies: "Get back Jack, I've got a gun!"
  • Broken Tears: David comes home and finds his family no longer lives there, and everything has changed. Adult viewers would recognize the impossibility of such a thing really happening, but any kid watching understands immediately why David breaks down crying from the confusion, panic and terror that hits him all at once.
  • Call-Back: Before David falls into the ravine, a freight train can be heard approaching. The sound of the train is suddenly gone when David wakes up, a bit of foreshadowing. After Max returns David to his time, the passing train wakes him up.
  • Catchphrase: "Compliance."
  • Chekhov's Gun: The fireworks.
  • The Comically Serious: Max, before being affected by David's humanity.
  • Cool Starship: And one that looks like a watermelon seed.
  • Darker and Edgier: Somewhat, compared to other Disney movies (live-action or animated). The Freemans are somewhat (but not completely) dysfunctional, and the NASA scientists (at least from David's point-of-view) only really see him as a test subject, among other things. note 
  • Dreadful Musician: David has this opinion of the opera and Tejano music that Max picks up on his radio.
  • The '80s: As if music videosnote  and multiple brands of Coke being the new "in" things which confuse David, or Carolyn's hairdo, wasn't enough to remind viewers exactly which decade David finds himself in, we also have the synthesized soundtrack which practically oozes '80s.
  • Electronic Telepathy: Subverted. David has no control over his subconscious and isn't even aware it can accurately answer questions and output metric tons of data only the brightest minds on the planet could hope to comprehend, whilst interfacing with computers. Ultimately this gets him made into a Unwitting Test Subject as scientists realize it would take them years to decipher the information a five-minute session yielded.
  • Exact Words: David told Max to take the ship twenty miles away from the NASA base. He never specified a direction...
    David: I didn't mean straight up! I meant along the ground!
    Max: Oh.
  • Extreme Omnivore: One of the aliens on the ship eats David's hat, and might have eaten his head.
    Max: Don't get too close to them, David. They're hungry.
  • Faceless Eye: When David meets the other living specimens aboard the Trimaxion Drone Ship, one of them is a creature inside a darkened tank which initially appears to have a face — but when it opens its "mouth", it reveals itself to be a giant eyeball (and lets out a piercing shriek that sounds a lot like "eyeyeyeyeye...")
  • Fake Action Prologue: The film opens with a lingering shot of a shiny Flying Saucer hovering in midair... and then a dog leaps up and catches it. It was a frisbee.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: 560 light years in 2.2 (solar) hours, also used to explain why David hasn't aged.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Although it's only been eight years, David has difficulties adjusting to music clips and five brands of Coke.
  • Foreshadowing: In addition to all the examples listed under Bait-and-Switch, as David makes his way through the woods in search of his brother, we get multiple shots of an eerie light shining through the trees, always accompanied by a creepy musical cue. Sure, it could be the last of the daylight (though the darkening sky as David crossed the railroad track suggested that the sun had already set)... but perhaps it indicates that the Trimaxion Drone Ship is already hovering silently somewhere nearby, surveying the area for potential samples.
  • For Science!:
    • Max's race were so intrigued by the unused mental capacity of humans that they decided to cram all their star charts into David's brain, just to see what would happen.
    • The people at NASA are perfectly willing to keep a kid locked up for life, if that's how long it takes to obtain and decode all of the alien information in his brain. When David manages to escape, the loss of this massive bounty of data is all they lament.
  • Fun with Acronyms: RALF: "Robotic Assistant Labor Facilitator."
  • Genre Savvy: when David is being observed by scientists via a one-way mirror he angrily makes clear that he knows perfectly well what that mirror is there for, because he watches TV.
  • The Ghost: Almost nothing about the residents of Phaelon are revealed, other than their technology.
  • Hearing Voices: David hears the voice of Max calling him to the ship.
  • Humanity Is Infectious: As Max realises to his horror after downloading a copy of the star charts from David. He quickly embraces it.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: In this case, traveling backwards in time is not a pleasant experience at all.
  • Identity Absorption: Max got a little more data than he bargained for when he scanned David's mind for the star charts.
  • I Know You're Watching Me: After David learns that his stay at the base has been extended indefinitely, he reveals that he knows the mirror in his room is a two-way mirror, and he's being constantly observed.
    David: But that's impossible! They promised it would only be 48 hours! *turns and starts bashing angrily on mirror* You guys hear me in there? I want out of here right now! You think I don't watch television? Wake up!
  • It's All My Fault: Jeff blames himself for David's disappearance. It isn't shown, but from the way Jeff describes the almost manic way he pinned "Have You Seen?" posters for him, he was hurt a lot more than he puts on.
  • Japanese Tourist: David and Max encounter some of these when Max accidentally takes the ship to Tokyo instead of Fort Lauderdale.
  • Last of His Kind: Puckmaren, who doesn't know that he can't go home because his planet was destroyed by a comet after he was taken.
  • Lawful Stupid: More like Lawful Immoral. The staff of the NASA facility decide to keep David virtually imprisoned indefinitely without regard for the consequences when they realize how much alien data is contained in David's brain.
    • Though the head of the facility may have meant it he'll return him home after 48 hours. Until the alien information changes things.
  • Left Hanging: David ultimately gets his Happy Ending, but one small detail is overlooked. His brain. Max downloaded a copy of the star charts to navigate back to Phaelon. David's subconscious still retains vast amounts of information on the spacecraft, its means of propulsion, etc, and does whatever it wants to whenever he gets near a computer. Not of much consequence in the 70s. As he goes through his natural life, however, technology becomes more prevalent in the next decade, and he's going to end up, once again, attracting government attention.
  • Machine Monotone: The previously mentioned mail delivery robot R.A.L.F..
    R.A.L.F.: "Pardon me, coming through."
  • Missing Child: The film places appropriate emphasis on the parental fear of one's child disappearing without a trace. Of course, no parent would expect their child to turn up eight years later and still be the same age they were when they disappeared.
  • The Navigator: And this is his flight.
  • Never Grew Up: Not by choice, but David experiences firsthand the consequences of travelling faster than the speed of light.
  • Not So Stoic: Max had a moment of this before he absorbed humanity from David when it's revealed he crashed into an electrical tower because he was checking out daisies.
  • Older and Wiser: David's brother Jeff grew up to be a pretty cool teenager. On a lesser note, the family dog "Bruiser" may have taken eight years, but he grew from an oblivious puppy who couldn't follow commands to save his life into a competent frisbee-catching dog.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Max stops being fun-loving the moment David requests to return to the past, fearing his fragile human body would be vaporized.
  • Popular History: If we are to believe the filmmakers, The Bee Gees were the only pop group in 1978 that preteens wanted to go see. (So up yours, KISS, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, Aerosmith, Foreigner, Styx, and Van Halen!) What makes it really ludicrous is that the Bee Gees are equated with Twisted Sister.
    • Well, David did say that it was his mother who took him to the concert. She may not approve of those bands or liked the Bee Gees herself and brought him along.
    • Also, parents in 1978 had a lot more power and control over their kids than even they would some years later. Granted, his sex/gender might help slightly as David's social life would have been even more restricted in 1978 had he instead been a 12 year old girl named Deanna.
  • Puny Earthling: See Time Travel below.
  • Rip Van Winkle: David loses consciousness for "a second" and wakes up 8 years later. Once the science is explained, this situation doesn't quite fit the trope, but from David's point of view that's what happened.
  • Robo Speak: Max before getting his data back, as exemplified in the second page quote.
  • Robot Buddy: RALF is this for Carolyn, and she even talks to it like it was a pet.
  • Sadistic Choice: David can either stay in 1986 and spend the rest of his life as a test subject, or try traveling back to 1978 and risk being vaporized. It's seeing the NASA staffers at his house that convinces him to take his chances on the latter.
  • Sapient Ship: The Trimaxion Drone Ship.
  • Scary Shadow Fakeout: Toward the beginning of the movie, a Flying Saucer-shaped object throws a huge shadow on the ground, and people look around in alarm to see— the Goodyear Blimp.
  • Secret-Keeper: Jeff knows David's got a small alien creature.
  • Shiny-Looking Spaceships: The Trimaxion Drone Ship is polished silver, inside and out.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "He just said he wanted to phone home..."
    • One of the alien critters on board the ship comes from the "Pixar Elliptic." (Pixar was founded the year the film was released.)
    • After absorbing some of the information in David's head, Max briefly starts talking like Scotty.
    • Max himself seems to be channeling HAL-9000 early on, being a coldly logical AI represented by a single glowing "eye" who speaks in a flat monotone and interacts with a character named "David". Of course, a few of those commonalities go out the window once David's personality bleeds over onto his.
    • "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun!"
    • In one of the 80s scenes at the home of David's parents, they are watching The Price Is Right. (Specifically, the primetime version with Tom Kennedy.)
    • The little girl at the gator farm is wearing an EPCOT Center tee-shirt.
  • Spheroid Dropship: Not quite, but the ship's original form is roughly spherical.
  • Spock Speak: Max originally speaks like this.
  • Stage Names: Paul Reubens had himself billed as "Paul Mall". No one was fooled.
  • Starfish Language: David's brain has been filled with data in a totally alien language that would take years to decipher, according to the NASA men.
  • Stunned Silence: During the whole scene at Big Al's Alligator Farm, Big Al just stares in shock at the spaceship, even silently giving David money to use the phone and not hearing a tourist talking to him. When the spaceship takes off, Al just comments on how David just wanted to phone home.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Trimaxion (or Phaelonian?) race has perfected the ability to travel at any speed and travel anywhere at any point in time they wish.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The security guard dog immediately detects David is stowing away inside the mail delivery robot R.A.L.F. The guard however, pays it no attention thinking his dog is just barking at the moving machine, or that he smells food in it ("C'mon, we'll get you your own breakfast!").
  • They Would Cut You Up: Not literally, but David realizes he would never be able to live a normal life if he stays in the 80's with the government hounding him, and risks being vaporized to go back.
  • Time Dilation: The reason why David goes from 1978 to 1986 without aging a day.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Matt Adler plays 16 year old Jeff for the majority of the movie, while Albie Whitaker plays 8 year old Jeff at the start and end of the film.
  • Time Travel: Max would normally take his specimens back in time to when they were abducted, but has reluctance at taking David, fearing it would vaporize him since his body is "too fragile". Fortunately, David was able to survive the journey.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Jeff as a teenager. When he was a child, he annoyed his brother constantly and scared him when David went to pick him up. As a teenager, Jeff realizes his behavior was wrong and takes on a more supportive role for David.
  • Totally Radical: Max speaks like this after downloading the info from David's brain.
  • Touched by Vorlons: David is never the same again after his trip to Phaelon.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: 1978, as the movie was made in 1986.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: While David is having his memories scanned, he is asked how long it took his ship to reach the planet Phaelon. The computer screen prints out the answer: 2.2 solar (Earth) hours.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: After getting his data back, Max trades many barbs with David, yet still is concerned for his welfare and regrets getting him into this mess.
  • Watch Out for That Tree!: Max's crash. After initially dropping David off where he found him, he was in the process of leaving the planet when he got distracted by seeing daisies and ended up crashing into an electrical tower, erasing his star chart data. David found it funny that Max crashed because he was looking at flowers.
  • Wham Line:
    Jeff: "You think it's easy for me to believe you're David? You should be 20 years old by now!"
    • And during the scene where Dr. Farraday interviews David using the computers to scan his brain waves, asking where he was for eight years:
    *on the computer screen* In analysis mode on Phaelon.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Before David was abducted, he was watching a girl he likes through his telescope. She wasn't brought up again, even after he reappeared 8 years later.
  • What Year Is This?: Inverted. David, who's unaware he's traveled 8 years into the future, is asked this by the suspicious police.

"See ya later, Navigator! Ha ha!"