Let’s get this out of the way: Flight of the Navigator is mostly crap.
I don’t mean to urinate all over your eighties memories. Truly I don’t. I’m not one for nostalgia existing for its own sake but I recognise that certain things that have dated badly were very much products of their time, rendering their mockery superfluous. There is no merit in sneering at the apparent sexism in the works of Enid Blyton, for example, simply because (right or wrong) it was how most people thought back then. The same goes for Tintin and The Congo, a work that’s come in for its fair share of controversy over the last few years because it’s a still-very-famous example of the casually accepted racism of its time. Dumping on cultural attitudes or stylistic idiosyncrasies gets you lots of recommends over at the Guardian, but it’s not big or clever. That such attitudes are no longer as widely held ought to be enough without making all sorts of left-wing comments about language too far out from our times to be politically correct.
No, if you’re going to mock Blyton, mock her for her derivative and formulaic storytelling – as Joyce Grenfell memorably did – and look at the content, rather than the style. Because as far as style is concerned, Flight of the Navigator mostly holds up. The CG / stop motion effects used to portray the ship were quite astonishing in their day and still don’t look too bad some twenty-six years later. The puppet aliens are fun and convincing. And Alan Silvestri’s Synclavier-created score is frankly one of the best things he’s ever written, and still gets played in my car from time to time.
But the film itself? Gaah. It’s a third-rate mashup of serious and ‘fun’, where the tense, conspiracy theory first half degenerates into farce once David steps on board the ship. Structurally it’s about as robust as a play centre built by the Challenge Anneka team. There’s far too much preamble, and then once the ship actually takes off, there’s a lot of arguing, heaps of eighties slang (which is fine, really, it’s a product of its time), and dancing to the Beach Boys. That’s not to mention the dialogue – which sounds like it was written by a first-year undergrad on a Film Studies course – along with the frankly woeful performance of Joey Cramer. Paul Reubens does his best, hamming up the performance of Max the Robot with the silliness that the script deserves, but even the presence of Veronica Cartwright couldn’t save this turkey.
None of this matters when you’re a kid, of course, and even if the movie has dated badly, I’ll freely admit that as a boy it was one of my favourites, at least for a while. After wearing out our VHS tape in the late 1980s, I switched off from Flight of the Navigator until 2004, when Emily and I watched it one evening under the influence of a 70cl bottle of gin, which rendered it absolutely hilarious. Then we promptly forgot about it again, along with most of the other things that supposedly happened that night. But it was in the opening quarter of this year, when I was playing through Portal 2 with Joshua, that Disney’s playful romp once more permeated my consciousness. Because it occurred to me, exploring the corridors and test chambers and dark underbelly of Aperture Science, that Wheatley – the imbecilic (but lovable) robot that accompanies you throughout the first part of the game before [WHOPPING GREAT SPOILER] is an absolute dead ringer for Max. Well, sort of.
It’s more convincing when Max is flashing blue instead of red, and to be fair, there are only so many ways you can do spherical robots with big eyes before they all start to look the same, but you get the point. As far as the script is concerned, the presentation and characterisation of Wheatley is arguably Portal 2‘s high spot (along with all those wonderful monologues from Cave Johnson, of course). The humour in the game is about as subtle as a house brick, but if you’re not giggling away at the mashy spike plate, there’s something seriously wrong with you. Anyway, at some point or another – probably while I was driving or eating, that’s usually when I get my ideas – I must have thought “Ooh, Flight of the Navigator would be really interesting with Max’s voice taken out and Wheatley’s put in”.
This was this year’s Darth Gene, in that it took me an entire summer in between weeks away here and there. The longest and most laborious job was sifting through Wheatley’s dialogue – there is a ton of it, and I spent over a week (on and off) listening to over eight hundred voice files. There was a lot of expository narrative that was unsuitable – anything that mentioned GlaDOS or the portal guns had to go – but I wound up with enough usable material to have probably created this from scratch using entirely different dialogue. Because it was all ripped directly from the game it was easy to place, and all I then had to worry about doing was stitching up the audio with various engine sounds and bits of the score, which I was fortunate enough to have on MP3. So it was a long job, but it hangs together much better than many of my other more recent efforts.
Because you’re all busy people, I should probably let you see the highlights version as well – it’s half the length, and lacks narrative cohesion, but it’s a decent selection of the best bits (of course it is. It wouldn’t be called ‘highlights’ if it wasn’t). Still – the full-length cut embedded above, if you have the time, is the video I originally intended to make (unlike the aforementioned Darth Gene, which is arguably better in its trailer format). I suppose the creation of this was therapy, in a way, in that it enabled me to exorcise a few demons, with some success – sadly it’s still not effective enough to exorcise the ghost of Joey Cramer slumping onto his arse in a hideously-decorated 1980s riverside property wailing “Please…where’s my mom and dad?”. But hey, it’ll do.