Flight of the Navigator

I am trying to serially recollect the science fiction movies I have seen. The second one after ET was a rather complex one for my age – ‘Flight of the Navigator’ the 1986 film directed by Randal Kleiser. Time Travel paradoxes are difficult even for adults to comprehend. I am not sure whether at 10, I was even aware of the concept of time travel. But the movie was supposed to be a children’s movie. So children must have been expected to understand. But I definitely found the movie a challenging watch.

This movie is based on the idea of UFOs. The protagonist is a 12 year old boy who gets picked by an unidentified flying object (UFO) for a day only to return and find his whole world has changed completely. As he tries to understand what is happening, it is revealed that he has experienced time dilation due to travel faster than light and eight years have passed in the world during his day long absence. The other change is that his brain has been filled with all kinds of alien data. As is usually the case in such scenarios, scientists want to investigate him and he obviously does not want to become a lab rat. Rest of the story follows his interaction with the ship that had kidnapped him, which apparently is benevolent and escape from the ‘evil’ earth scientists with the help of his family members. Like all children’s movie, it has good humor, generated from the boy’s interaction with his younger brother who has now become an older brother and the ship’s artificial intelligence system.

In terms of science fiction concepts, there are quite a few of them here – time travel, aliens, UFOs, machine intelligence, space travel at speeds faster than light. That in my opinion is quite an overload for a children’s movie. But I guess each and every element was needed for the story to work.

The story has two key conflicts. One of them is the scientist’s need to research uncommon occurrences against an individual’s right to freedom. It is dealt as an exciting action filled chase with the boy taking the help of the space craft’s artificial intelligence to escape from the scientists. The second theme is the experience of a person readjusting to a world that has moved on during his absence. This theme has often been explored in a more serious way in non-science fiction settings such as people returning from war, from jail, from coma etc. Here of course it is explored in a more cavalier manner. A third theme is the development of human characteristics by intelligent machines. This has been the sole theme of so many movies and it can be addressed from serious theological, philosophic and existential angles. But here this theme is there for comic relief and to just move the plot forward. That way this movie is too crowded in terms of themes as well. How many themes can one do justice to in the course of an hour and a half?

The movie has nothing amazing in terms of visuals. The story happens in our world itself and aliens do not make a direct appearance. So most of the science fiction is only thematic. The best visual parts are some natural scenery. But then 1986 was way before development of all the technology for graphics and animation.

In general, it is a fun watch with some humor, some family sentiment and a good chase. That way people can enjoy the movie without breaking their head over the science fiction concepts. I like it as one of those golden oldies from my childhood days.


  1. Have not seen this one but then I have not been much of a movie person generally. Yup, the movie does sound too crowded with concepts and themes.

  2. Even I am not big on movies. But then I have these phases when suddenly I don't feel like reading. In those phases I take recourse to movies or computer games.

  3. I haven't seen this movie, but the description and the review is crystal clear and alluring to give it a watch. Looking forward to seeing this soon.

  4. Thanks Rio. It is definitely a fun watch.

  5. I am surprised I missed out that one, if you would believe me, perhaps I saw that and don't remember any of it —that might happen to me. Thanks for enhancing my sphere of science fiction.

    1. Somehow the movie created a buzz especially among children when it came out but hardly have heard it mentioned much since. So not surprising that you may have missed it.


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