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‘Flight of the Navigator’ Remake Lands a New Writer

Joe Henderson’s attachment is promising news for those that have been hoping this reboot will finally take off.
By  · Published on September 29th, 2017

Joe Henderson’s attachment is promising news for those that have been hoping this reboot will finally take off.

Before Stranger Things, there was 1986’s Flight of the Navigator, which features a similarly thrilling cocktail of cute kids, aliens and nasty men in lab coats. Given that so much of today’s culture is looking like a redux of the ‘80s and ’90s, it’s almost no wonder that two major studios have just decided to revive reboot efforts for this family favorite, as The Hollywood Reporter announced.

The 1986 kids’ sci-fi features an adorable 12-year old named David Freeman (Joey Cramer) who loses consciousness after falling into a ravine in 1976. 8 years later, he wakes up, dazed and confused and not having aged a day. As David tries to puzzle out what’s happened to him, NASA arrives nearby to investigate a UFO that has coincidentally crash-landed into some power lines. Those clever folks at the space agency put two and two together and soon, David is put through Disney’s version of the Eleven treatment as the scientists probe their new “national security secret”.

To everyone’s shock, it’s discovered that David’s brain is loaded up like a USB stick with maps of galaxies completely unknown to humans. Sensing that NASA aren’t likely to let him go back home anytime soon, David hatches an escape plan with the help of Max, the UFO’s wisecracking robot pilot (voiced by Pee-wee Herman actor Paul Reubens). What follows is a bit of a cat-and-mouse chase with NASA agents playing the villains.

Given the movie’s Disney affiliation, you can rest assured everything comes up roses for the sweet kid, although Cliff De Young and Veronica Cartwright’s performances as David’s bereft parents are authentically touching enough to make this a more profound affair than your average Mouse movie.

While some considered the 1986 film a little too obviously derivative of Steven Spielberg, Randall Kleiser (of Grease fame) did well to make a family flick this poignant and funny. It didn’t exactly wow at the box office, but it was enough of a cult favourite that Disney saw reboot potential in it back in 2009, when Brad Copeland (Arrested Development, Life in Pieces) was hired to pen a first draft. For unknown reasons, his attempts never came to fruition, and in 2012, Disney set writing partners Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connelly to work on another draft with a view to having Trevorrow direct. In a June 2015 interview, though, Trevorrow indicated that Disney didn’t seem too interested in the idea of a Flight of the Navigator remake anymore.

Now, under a new writer and new studios – Lionsgate and The Henson Company – there is real hope that this current reboot could take off. It’s interesting to note that the original Flight of the Navigator used puppetry to animate its “Mini Pee-Wee’s Playhouse of cool alien creatures”, so The Henson Company’s involvement could be meaningful here, should the team behind the reboot decide to go old-school on special effects.

Appealing to our nostalgic sensibilities is in vogue at the moment, so it’s possible that one thing current reboot writer Joe Henderson (LuciferWhite Collar) won’t be changing is the period the story is set in.

However, this move might not be a wise one. In the original, the year David wakes up is also the year the movie was released. This meant that so many of the original’s era-specific gags (including Starsky & Hutch references) were essentially written so that the film would be zeitgeist-ly funny to its 1986 audience. If the remake is to include jokes – as a family film, it better – it would do well not to base itself around wry ‘80s throwbacks, which would play less well with distractible kids than with their parents.

As for Henderson’s previous work, his writing portfolio should help ensure this Flight of the Navigator captures some of the magic of the original. His work on Lucifer means he’s well-versed in writing the unearthly, while his contributions to White Collar helped provide the show with welcome comic relief. This all bodes well for his involvement on Flight of the Navigator, considering the story’s overarching otherworldly theme and the wisecracking tendencies of friendly robot Max, who will surely be returning.

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Farah Cheded is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects. Outside of FSR, she can be found having epiphanies about Martin Scorsese movies here and reviewing Columbo episodes here.