Flight of the Navigator:
Max's Creature Collection!
Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Images provided by DINODRAC!
Following the massive success of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the later 1980's saw an explosion of sci-fi fantasy family films, from the weirdly disturbing Mac and Me to the classic The Last Starfighter. Many of these attempted to recapture E.T.'s buddy dynamic between a human child and some sort of space monster, and Flight of the Navigator may have been the strangest of all, pairing an ordinary boy named David with a talking, sentient starship later dubbed "Max."
Flight of the Navigator rather notoriously begins with the tone of an almost eerie, hardcore sci-fi drama until about the mid-way point, when the whole film abruptly shifts gears into a wacky buddy comedy and a "cerebral interface" between Max and Elliot transforms the ship into a giant, robot Pee Wee Herman. Literally. The voice of Max is initially performed by a surprisingly solemn Paul Reubens, until the computerized being is apparently corrupted by contact with the earth-child's imagination and Reubens dives into full playhouse-mode. It was as if E.T. unexpectedly ripped his skin off and molted into Ace Ventura immediately after using his magical healing finger.
Needless to say, many critics didn't really know what the hell to make of this film, but at only around three or four years old, I ate it all up with a completely straight face over and over. It was one of those films I'd force an adult to rewind and play again all damn afternoon, loving virtually every moment of it, but none so much as one particular scene; the scene that would truly anchor the film in my primitive, primordial child-brain.
David, you see, was only one of many organisms Max collected for study from across space/time, and though we're only introduced to them for a few brief minutes, I was enthralled enough that this sequence dominated the entire film in my memories. Flight of the Navigator was, to me, that movie where the funny robot eyeball has a big collection of lovable alien muppets, whether or not they ever really factored into the rest of it.
The world renowned (at least, it should be) Dinosaur Dracula already reviewed a collection of nostalgic toys from another highly specific scene in the film, and Matt was nice enough to pass additional screenshots of Max's biological menagerie on to Bogleech, because I'm probably one of the only other people on the internet who would devote paragraphs of text to a rubber slug made of vomit. Let's get this show on the road!
The first galactic goblin we're introduced to is the "Garpuntle" from some place called "South Petrawlis." Max, regrettably, does not provide names or locations for everything, but when he does, they're damn cool. The writers nicely avoided the likes of such tired sci-fi suffixes as oid, on, ian or alia, and came up with more exotic, but still believable terminology.
The Garpuntle is a charmingly rugose and scuzzy little weirdo, like a naked mole rat and a baby emu were sent through a matter transporter together. Max warns David that once a Garpuntle bites you, he never lets go. This is the kind of thing country folk will tell you about snapping turtles, crocodiles and probably opossums or something, but doesn't make much biological sense. Being a machine, however, it's unlikely Max would fall for an old wive's tale or resort to hyperbole. Maybe Garpuntles are like ticks, but they never drop off their host? They just fuse there, like a male anglerfish, and poop out little Garpuntlets for the rest of their life?
Max's only aquatic specimen, the Feenastarus hails from "the Pixar Elliptic," and was my personal favorite back in the day. We only get a full view of it in one other shot (see above), and to this day, I've never been able to deduce the shape of its body. Its goofy, hairy head and jointed, turkey-like neck seem to hang straight down from some nondescript fleshy blob, possibly floating on the water's surface like a Portuguese Man O' War. Interestingly, it seems to belch clouds of black ink almost constantly from its gaping, toothless duck-mouth... or maybe it's just pissed at David for tapping on the glass.
Speculating on the Garpuntle's physiology was fun. Let's see if I can keep that up. The Feenastarus seems like it might spend a lot of time just floating freely in the waters of its homeworld, possibly letting the current carry it around. Like Earth's own violet sea snail, Janthina janthina, it could have evolved to prey on some other surface-floating organism, reaching out its long neck to tear chunks from some kind of giant, gelatinous drifter.
David doesn't ask about this one, but we get a close look at it while Max exposits a bit about collecting and returning specimens to different points in time. We can't see much through the thick, murky climate in its enclosure, but this one seems to have a rigid, jointed exoskeleton, like a four-limbed insect, and I'm always down for creatures with seahorse-heads. I really like how its eyes are just big, white, featureless spheres sticking clear out of its head.
It's obvious this one comes from a very different atmosphere than the other creatures. That fog could be anything from heavy water vapor to deadly chlorine gas. That tubular skull could end in a sucking mouth, but I'm only judging by terrestrial standards here. That could be damn near any kind of orifice. Maybe it doesn't even eat; maybe that thick atmosphere is full of microorganisms that sustain it, like some sort of air-plankton.
There isn't all that much I can say about this one; it's basically just a frog with fish lips and hair. Still adorable, for sure, and I certainly wouldn't turn it down if it were the only one offered to me. The pupil-less eyes are nice and creepy.
It did always sadden me a little how cramped some of these specimens are. This little guy can't possibly be content to sit all day in a dome barely bigger than its body...or can it? We don't even know for sure if this froggy thing moves around to begin with. It clearly has at least one pair of legs, but maybe it's like a horned or "pac-man" frog, sitting most of the time in the same spot as it waits for prey to come within tongue-distance. It's always possible that this dome is just part of a larger, off-screen habitrail, too. Maybe these are tunnel-dwellers? Maybe this one is part of a caste that just plugs up the colony entry holes all day. Turtle ants do something like that.
Okay, forget what I said about hyperbole; Max only identifies this squirming, oozing, gurgling worm as "a very unpleasant little creature," which isn't something that makes a lot of logical sense for a scientific research computer to express. I don't know what they're teaching their robots over on Phaelon, but even our Earthly biologists tend to avoid such biased and emotionally charged statements about research specimens. David asked you what it was, Max, not for your nonsensical electronic feelings about it. It only gets worse when David follows this up with "what's his problem?" and Max only offers a dismissive "he's got a cold."
He's got a cold? That raises more questions! AUGH. To be fair, we don't learn that much more about any of the others, so I guess this is just one I'm especially enamored with. It's just so delightfully gooey and indistinct, like a big wad of hideously rotten cheese curds, but it makes these hilarious little burbling and sniffling noises. I think this is honestly the one I would want most for a pet.
Now, considering how moist this thing is, it probably requires a suitably damp environment. With no discernible sensory organs, pigmentation or even orifices, it could very well be a troglobyte - a blind, subterranean animal - and feed through some sort of retractable pharynx or osmosis, like various flatworms. Perhaps it subsists on subterranean, microbial biofilms? It's hard to say whether it's naturally so thick with mucus or its "cold" results in over-production. The latter seems implied, but I don't know if I'd really want these guys to ever be any less sticky.
When Max warns David not to get too close and that his creatures are "hungry," David immediately does exactly that, allowing this gluttonous little bastard to snap up and devour his "NASA" baseball hat, chewing it up with a satisfied belch because in children's films, any goofy creature that eats at any point must also belch. Even the Sarlacc belched after Boba Fett fell in it. I also remember being unreasonably saddened as a child by the loss of this hat, since it was given to him as a present by a NASA researcher. I think he was meant to come across as a patronizing, impartial agent of cold, compassionless science but I guess I felt like it was a really nice hat and that I'd have still really appreciated the gesture if it were me. I felt so freaking bad for that stupid damn hat.
Anyway, I always thought this creature looked closely related to the Garpuntle, with a pretty similar if bulkier anatomy. It comes across primarily like a toad, but the eyes and hairs are extremely fly-like, and with its humanoid touches, I keep wanting to say it's "troll"-like.
Max admonishes David that it could have been his head, rather than just a cool hat he didn't care enough about. After the "unpleasant little creature" FIASCO, it's hard to say anymore whether Max is exaggerating. This doesn't look nearly large enough to tear off and devour a human head, but who knows? Perhaps its mouth can unhinge, its stomach can expand and it has some wicked nasty pharyngeal jaws down in there.
This is one of the first film scenes I can remember giving me a "jump scare," but I hadn't even hit the floor yet by the time I fell in love. As David leans in to what seems like an unlit, empty tank, an eerie, veiny face looms from the darkness to greet him, seemingly with a pair of nubby, grown-over little eyeballs...
...But as you probably guessed, there's really only one big eyeball here, and as it pops open, it emits a ridiculous, high-pitched, twittering shriek of "Ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai!!!"
At least, that's how the official script writes it. It's adorable either way, yes, but my mind always interpreted it as screaming the word "eye" over and over, and while that makes positively no scientific sense for an alien life form, I will carry that assumption to my grave.
We can only begin to speculate what the rest of this creature looks like, though I always preferred to think that there wasn't much more to it; just a big, floating, lidded eyeball. What those smaller eye-like warts are for is anyone's guess, but I'm going to go with chemosensory nodules. I prefer to think it doesn't have any other orifices or facial features, either. It could have some sort of unseen feeding appendage it can extend somewhere, but maybe its giant eye just collects light, or something, and metabolizes that into energy.
The very last creature we're introduced to is the tiny, herbivorous "Puckmarin" from "Binpuka Minor," a planet that was unfortunately "destroyed by a comet" before he could be returned home. David forms an immediate bond with the Puckmarin, which becomes the go-to cute alien sidekick for the rest of the film, and by the end, it stows away in David's backpack, presumably remaining with him on Earth for the remainder of its lifespan, which we can only hope is reasonably long and healthy for something that now has to adapt to an entirely alien world. While we're meant to find the whole situation cute, I remember fearing that any number of unassuming Earth materials could be toxic to the little guy. I could sure be one buzz-kill of a four year old.
Gloom and doom aside, the Puckmarin is a fairly reasonable choice for the token "cute" one, since it's still not too conventionally cute. It's basically a hairless bush-baby with creepier doll-baby eyes, suckers and one leg. Still, I always wished we saw a little more of the other creatures, especially after the false promises of the VHS box art:
Seriously, what kind of false advertising is that? The Garpuntle and head-eater never leave their little holding pens in the actual movie, much less ride around on David's shoulders, and why are there two Puckmarin here? It's like somebody asked for just one more alien and the artist just didn't want to learn how to paint any more. They totally should have put the puke-slug here. What child wouldn't have been more captivated than ever?
If you've never seen this one, I highly recommend it, if at the very least to see Pee-Wee as a robotic eyeball on a pole; Pee-Wee as he was meant to be. Otherwise, someone was nice enough to upload the entire creature scene to youtube, so now you can watch in two minutes what you may have just wasted a good fifteen to twenty reading about!
And if you don't already, I'm sure the kind of person who made it to the end of this nonsense will also enjoy today's helpful contributor, friend of Bogleech and professional dead Tyrannosaurus: