Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Navigator: A Mediaeval Odyssey (1988)

Seen: On vhs on my tv, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

Recommended by my lovely fellow podcaster Allison, a lady of fine tastes, The Navigator was another find from the VHS section of Hollywood Express. It tells the strange story of an isolated village in medieval England trying to avoid the Black Death. Following the lead of a psychic young boy (Hamish McFarlane), a group of men set out to tunnel their way to a special city he's had visions of, where they can pay tribute to God and pray for an end to the plague. Turns out the tunnel leads to 1980s New Zealand. And now everyone is in for a confusing night.

I'm at a bit of a loss with this one. The Navigator is tough to pin down. It's a time-travel story, but not a clear-cut one, and it's a medieval "adventure", but not much actually happens. It's extremely low-budget and it looks it; I actually had trouble understanding certain parts because the black and white, dimly-lit imagery sort of runs together (maybe it was just the quality of my vhs tape though). It's slow-moving and ambiguous most of the time, with under-developed characters and an over-simplified story.

What's interesting about it is how the story is told. The structure is quite different from other fish-out-of-time-water stories, which usually involve the time traveler(s) meeting some modern folks and learning about the wonders of the future and hilarity ensuing and/or probably falling in love with someone. Here we see everything entirely from the travelers' perspective, who never understand exactly where they are, thinking it's just a treacherous and strange city. They're nearly attacked by cars on the highway, the leader's nearly killed by a train-monster, televisions rant and rave like demons. Everything relates to religion somehow, since that's basically all these guys know. The switches between color and black and white are at times jarring, but they make sense in context and add a Wizard of Oz-esque layer to the proceedings.

I went into this thinking it was a family film for some reason (I think I confused it with something else? Or maybe it's because there's a kid in the lead), but really this is a sad, almost hopeless kind of movie and I liked that about it. It feels very realistic despite its fantastical aspects. It's unpolished and odd, but wholly original and at times rather exciting. The kid's kind of annoying though. He yells a lot.


Pair This Movie With: I'm gonna go with Primer, another offbeat, quiet look at time travel. Alternatively, if you're in the mood for another dude-displaced-in-time story, Kate & Leopold is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures.


  1. Maybe you were thinking of 'Flight of the Navigator?' That's a kids movie.

  2. Yeah, this movie is strange. I'm glad you were able to find it though! Kind of afraid that it's going to be lost to the tides of cinematic history. Then where will we get our vague, Scottish/Australian time traveling from?