David (Joey Cramer (Runaway)) is your regular 12 year old 1978 kid that just wants to play with his dog and spy on chicks with his telescope. It’s innocent though, he’s checking out the girl (fully clothed) that he has a crush on. Anyway, later that night his parents ask him to go get his younger brother who’s playing with some other kids in the woods. During his trip through the brush David comes across a crevice, falls in it and goes unconscious. After a short time he wakes up, climbs out of the pit and goes home. But when he bangs on the door to be let in a stranger answers and David freaks the fuck out. He runs inside to find that all of the furniture is different and there’s an elderly couple living there now. Naturally the police are called and they determine that this is a kid that’s been missing since 1978. That’s right, all of a sudden it’s 1986 and the world has moved on except for David. He’s still the same age and thought he was only out for a brief period while in reality it’s been eight goddamn years.
Can you imagine how fucking creepy that would be? The first half of the movie is totally serious in tone and pulled off really well with how fucked up the situation is. Doctors run tests on David but can’t figure out what happened. His younger brother is now sixteen and grown up, his parents aged a fair amount and they don’t live in the same house. Everything’s gone fucking crazy.
At the same time David is “found” a spaceship is also discovered crashed into an electrical tower. NASA takes it to their lab to study but can’t make sense of how to get inside or why it’s there or anything at all. Eventually the connection is made that David and the ship have something to do with each other. NASA then persuades David’s parents to take him to their facility to study for a couple of days so they can connect the dots.
This is all really great stuff. The plot is innovative, the style is straightforward and the kid isn’t some bratty asshole. Getting the balance right of the Twilight Zone-esque horror, the drama of having this permanent mysterious barrier now between a kid and his family and the adventure of discovering exactly what happened had to have been pretty damn tough. But they pulled it off.
The second half of the picture on the other hand turns into a total kids movie, like in the most exasperating way possible. Once David and the ship are reunited at NASA they go on a wacky journey together. Part of it is physical, David is trying to navigate his way back home, and part of it is spiritual, the ship and David become friends. The ship, now christened Max by David, is voiced by Paul Rubens (Batman Returns) and at first you wouldn’t know it was him because it sounds like they pitched him down and maybe put some other effects on there. But once Max scans David’s brain for star maps (it stored them in there for safe keeping…I’m not sure why either) the thing turns into fuckin’ Pee-wee Herman. I’m not saying I’m against Pee-wee Herman but the movie had such a unique and fascinating thing going for itself. Changing course for Rubens Land exchanges exploring the unknown in a thought provoking way for cheap jokes and silly voices. Not a great decision in my opinion.
To make matters worse the switch is so fucking jarring. One minute Max can’t understand emotions or slang and the next he’s riffin’ on David and acting like a big fuckin’ goof. I don’t know if this had to do with Disney coming in because they did not initially start this project (they sure finished it though). It’s difficult to tell if this was them putting their stamp on the movie to make the material more kid friendly or if the film was gonna go that way anyway. Would Disney pay to reshoot a bunch of scenes and do some crafty editing? Maybe. David’s hair does noticeably change length throughout the later spaceship scenes indicating reshoots. I guess that’s all the proof I have. Shit, that’s not a lot.
I know you probably won’t do it but this one is sorta worth checking out for the first half. It’s a mindfuck because the movie was smart enough to keep the audience in the dark about David’s disappearance until two thirds of the way through when it’s finally revealed what happened to him. But really they should’ve only hinted at an abduction and had the entire thing be about David and his family coping with the completely bizarre and eerie situation without giving a definitive answer. But sure, this is a kids movie and I guess they should throw some stuff in there for them.