Flight of the Navigator was Disney’s late entry into the “cute alien” genre defined by E.T., though it contained a number of novel ideas. The film involves a child from 1978 mysteriously transported to 1986 by an alien spacecraft, and his efforts to get back home while bonding with the ship’s alien pilot. While the film vanished quickly from multiplexes, it has enjoyed a healthy afterlife on cable TV and has become something of a cult favorite for children of the 80s who saw it in syndication.
Composer Alan Silvestri had catapulted himself into the Hollywood spotlight the year before with his muscular score to Back to the Future, a film with similar (though superior) time travel elements and family-friendly content, and these factors probably led to his assignment to Flight of the Navigator. However, Silvestri would be working with a much more limited palette–while Back to the Future was wholly orchestrated, Flight of the Navigator was to be completely synthesized, performed by Silvestri himself on a Synclavier. A generous amount of trendy 1986 soundscape was included as well, giving the album a distinctly more dated feel than Back to the Future.
Still, Silvestri did whip up several impressive themes for the project. The album’s main theme is slow and contemplative, very much in the mold of similar music from Back to the Future despite its synthesized nature, and it occasionally bursts forth into fuller (but still synthesized) performances, notably in “Ship Drop.” The theme’s mood is one of subdued, almost tragic adventure, and works well even with the limitations imposed on it by synthesizers. A spooky, mysterious theme for the alien ship itself appears in “The Ship Beckons” and “Transporting the Ship.” This music is arguably more successful than the main theme because its synthesized nature improves, rather than diminishes, its otherworldly power, as the electronics give the music an alien feel.
Some of the film’s thematic material was clearly dictated by the 1986 setting of the film as well as the temp track. The “Main Title” is a bouncy melody that, depending on your appreciation of 1980’s music, is either campy and enjoyable or unlistenable. The “Robot Romp” track was clearly inspired by Harold Faltermeyer’s work on Beverly Hills Cop, and retains the same robust performance and healthy helping of kitsch. The concluding “Star Dancing” track, which was not heard in the final edit of the film, is one of the most bizarre, off-kilter tunes Silvestri has ever written, incorporating synth vocals, tuned cowbells, and a rendition of the main theme–again, something that most listeners will either love or hate. The album also includes its share of dull music, with “David in the Woods” and “Flight” having little other than an ambient soundscape to offer.
Therefore, depending on your viewpoint and tolerance for 1980s Synclavier music, Flight of the Navigator is either a hidden gem or unlistenable, dated trash. The strong thematic elements Silvestri introduces partially make up for the album’s shortcomings, and fans of the film will definitely get a kick out of the music. This release was once available from the now-defunct Super Tracks record label, being easier than many scores to release because it was both composer and performed by Silvestri. Copies can still be found in the secondary market, where it can often be found for its original release price of $19.99. Seek it out if you’re an Alan Silvestri completist or fan of the film who’d enjoy some strong Alan Silvestri thematic material with a healthy dose of synthesized 1980’s cheese.