FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR – Alan Silvestri
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
A science fiction film for children, Flight of the Navigator was a popular hit at box offices during the late summer of 1986. Directed by Randal Kleiser, the film starred 12-year old Joey Kramer as David, a young boy who lives in Florida in 1978 with his parents and young brother. After accidentally falling into a ravine near his home on the evening of the fourth of July, David awakes to find that eight years have passed, but he has not aged a day; he returns home to his shocked parents, who believed he was dead. Before long, various government agencies come knocking on David’s door, revealing that he was apparently abducted by an alien spaceship on the night of his disappearance, and that the spaceship – which subsequently crashed, and is now being held by NASA – appears to be trying to communicate with him telepathically. The film co-stars Cliff De Young, Veronica Cartwright, Howard Hesseman, a young Sarah Jessica Parker, features the voice of Paul Reubens, and has an original score by Alan Silvestri.
In 1986, despite his success with the fully-orchestral Back to the Future the previous year, Alan Silvestri was still primarily known as a synth composer, with his best known works being Romancing the Stone, Summer Rental, The Delta Force, and episodes of CHiPS. For Flight of the Navigator, Silvestri stayed well within his comfort zone as a composer at the beginning of his career, writing a score that makes use of a vast array of electronic and synthesized sounds – including the ubiquitous Synclavier – but allows them to embrace a wide range of thematic and textural ideas, resulting in a score which appears to be more varied and sonically dynamic than it actually is.
The score’s main identity is the “Theme from Flight of the Navigator,” a wondrous piece that builds from an innocent 8-note central motif into an expansive theme that captures the sense of adventure inherent in the story, and the mysterious alien nature of the spaceship. As the piece builds Silvestri introduces a noble French horn idea, sampled rolling drums, and cymbal clashes to increase the scope and dramatic effect, giving it a feel not too dissimilar from James Horner’s Cocoon, albeit without the emotional weight that the full orchestral brought to that score. The theme re-appears frequently, such as in the majestic and triumphant “Ship Drop” when it is accompanied by a bubbling watery electronic undercurrent, the uplifting “Have to Help a Friend” where the noble brass section is given more prominence, and during the cathartic “Finale.” A secondary theme, sweet and delicate, represents the relationship between David and the robot Max, and often appears within these same cues, illustrating the core values of the story – friendship and trust.
Several cues embrace a full-on 1980s pop music vibe, with late-era disco rhythms, drum pads, and more obvious synth effects that could either give you a wonderful nostalgia buzz, or make you cringe with the dated cheesy corniness of it all, depending on your point of view. The second half of the “Main Title” – which, for real, accompanies a montage of dogs catching Frisbees – as well as tracks like the unstoppably cheerful “Robot Romp” and the goofily good-natured “Star Dancing” adopt this style wholeheartedly. At this point in his career Silvestri was very much on the same page as synth composers like Harold Faltermeyer, Giorgio Moroder, and Sylvester Levay, and your familiarity with and tolerance of their scores will decide your capacity to endure the more upbeat and poppy parts of Flight of the Navigator. Personally, I love them.
There’s darker, more abstract material too, including some moody textures and a four-note siren song in “The Ship Beckons,” starkly aggressive exclamation points and watery dissonant screeches in “David in the Woods,” a second performance of the alien ship motif in the other-worldly sounding “Transporting the Ship,” and some unexpectedly grim and oppressive sampled brass ideas in “The Shadow Universe”. One action cue – “Flight” – sees Silvestri engaging in some clever, energetic, intricate layering of sampled sounds that come across as a less sophisticated precursor to some of the music he would later write for scores like Predator, and is pretty impressive. Allowing the score to go down some of these dark paths gives the score depth and dramatic balance, but these sequences are the exception rather than the rule, and certainly do not overwhelm the music or allow it to deviate from its central theme of positivity and child-like innocence.
The score for Flight of the Navigator appears not to have been released at the time the film came out, but did appear on CD in the mid 1990s on the Supertracks label. Several sources list this release as a bootleg, but producer Ford A. Thaxton has categorically stated on numerous occasions that the item was fully licensed, and that Silvestri himself provided the masters, which is why I feel confident enough in its legality to review it here.
I have always been a fan of Flight of the Navigator, both film and score, since my childhood, and as such I have a strong nostalgic personal connection to the music. The wholly unmistakable sound of the synclavier is forever linked with the mid-to-late 1980s, and your ability to tolerate it thirty years down the line will be the primary factor in whether Flight of the Navigator puts a smile on your face or drives you insane. Beyond that issue, I personally feel that Flight of the Navigator represents one of the high points of 1980s synth scoring from a purely technical point of view, and the sounds Silvestri generates from it are impressive in their range. Furthermore, the relative sophistication of the dramatic scoring, and the pleasing accessibility of the themes heard here hints at the type of composer Alan Silvestri would eventually become; anyone interested in exploring how his compositional style developed over time will find this score to be fascinating from that standpoint alone.
Buy the Flight of the Navigator soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Theme from Flight of the Navigator (2:54)
- Main Title (3:33)
- The Ship Beckons (1:10)
- David in the Woods (2:40)
- Robot Romp (2:36)
- Transporting the Ship (1:23)
- Ship Drop (2:41)
- Have to Help a Friend (3:14)
- The Shadow Universe (2:04)
- Flight (2:29)
- Finale (1:17)
- Star Dancing (3:23)
Running Time: 29 minutes 24 seconds
Supertracks STCD-449 (1986/1995)
Music composed and arranged by Alan Silvestri. Featured musical soloists Randolph Alsenz, Dane Davis and John Paul Fasal. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Kenneth Karman. Score produced by Alan Silvestri. Album produced by Ford A. Thaxton.