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Warner Home Video presents
The Boy Who Could Fly (1986)

"At the moment the plane went down, Eric was alone in his room. And without anybody even telling him anything, he started to pretend to fly. It's like, somehow he knew that his parents were about to crash. The way he figured he could save them was by being an airplane. He's been one ever since."
- Amelia (Lucy Deakins)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: August 03, 2003

Stars: Lucy Deakins, Jay Underwood
Other Stars: Bonnie Bedelia, Fred Savage, Fred Gwynne, Mindy Cohn, Louise Fletcher
Director: Nick Castle

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG for (some language)
Run Time: 01h:47m:38s
Release Date: July 08, 2003
UPC: 085392752423
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B-C+ C+

DVD Review

When the movie is called The Boy Who Could Fly, and the title is meant to be taken literally, a sappy, maudlin film seems in order—the name hints at an inspiring message as nauseating as that "Sugar in the Raw" stuff they put on the table in trendy restaurants (sweet, but with a bitter aftertaste that catches in the back of your throat). But writer/director Nick Castle's (The Last Starfighter) picture, released in 1986, is better than that—a romantic drama with a pinch of fantasy, touching but never cloying, uplifting but never false, and a cult family favorite. (Cult film, that is. Not cult family.)

I loved this movie when I was little, and revisiting a cherished childhood favorite is always a little scary. To watch nostalgically, revel in fond memories, and risk hating the movie as a mature moviegoer? Or to let the film linger in the memory? DVD provides a good excuse enough for the former, and with The Boy Who Could Fly, it was worth the risk—the film holds up and, indeed, has increased in my esteem. Rarely these days can you find such successful, PG-rated family fare.

The titular boy is teenager Eric Gibb (Jay Underwood), a withdrawn boy who has been obsessed with flying and paper airplanes ever since his parents died in a plane crash. Labeled autistic, he spends most of his time at school making planes in the back of the room, despite the best efforts of his teacher (Colleen Dewhurst), and most of his time at home sitting on the second-story windowsill, pretending to soar, despite the muddled efforts of his alcoholic uncle (Fred Gwynne).

Eric is shunned at school, but he finds a friend in Amelia (Lucy Deakins), who has just moved into town with her mom (Bonnie Bedelia) and little brother Louis (a young Fred Savage), following a family tragedy of her own. Title aside, this is really Amelia's story. Her mother is struggling with a new job, and her little brother is getting into trouble at school (and, disturbingly, morbidly fascinated with holding funerals for his G. I. Joes), and it's all Amelia can do to keep the family together. She sees something in Eric that gives her hope, a spark in his eyes when he looks at her. She makes it her personal project to coax the quiet boy out of his shell.

Castle's screenplay covers some fairly well worn territory, but his dialogue and characters are believable (and enriched by fine performances from his cast of veteran character actors and youthful newcomers), and his direction restrained. The "high concept" (that a boy can fly if he believes hard enough) is a ready-made moral, but it's only part of a much larger story, an affecting parable about dealing with loss and rediscovering hope. It's fearlessly sentimental, and not for the cynical—it nearly falls apart at the end, mostly due to a chase scene and a carelessly developed "villain" (the hospital officials who want to take the troubled Eric away from his uncle), but when that triumphant, title-inspiring moment finally comes, it's impossible not to smile.

Perhaps The Boy Who Could Fly has passed its prime (I've seen more than a few reviews compare it to a Lifetime movie of the week), but it still pushes all my emotional buttons.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Boy Who Could Fly doesn't on DVD, at least visually—this film looks its age. Many 1980s productions have a soft, hazy look, and this effect is particularly pronounced throughout this film. Some scenes looks crisp, while many look fuzzy and a little blurred. It isn't a major distraction, but you'll notice if you look for it. There is some persistent film grain, a bit more than could be considered natural, but again, nothing drastic. Colors and fleshtones appear natural, and black level is fairly strong. I didn't spot any mastering defects like aliasing or edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanish, Portugueseyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in rather subdued DD 2.0. The track certainly isn't flashy or immersing, but it's fairly well suited to this dialogue-based drama. Speech is forward in the mix and usually clear, though at times the volume is a little low (more a problem with the source recordings, I think, as it always happens at moments when very quiet delivery seems perfectly natural). Otherwise, this is a front-heavy mix, with the surrounds mute throughout, as far as I could tell (though my receiver did decode a surround element). The score is the only other major component of the track, and it sounds a bit constricted, with a sharp, slightly airy high end. Unimpressive, but adequate.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Nick Castle and actors Lucy Deakins, Jay Underwood, and Fred Savage
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Special Introduction by Nick Castle and Jay Underwood
Extras Review: The initial press release for The Boy Who Could Fly didn't list any extra features, and I certainly wasn't expecting anything—though the film is considered a minor family classic, it's nevertheless a marginal catalogue title for Warner. Happily, the disc includes a nice bath of unadvertised bonuses.

Nick Castle gets together with his now grown young cast for a lively, entertaining commentary. Lucy Deakins, Jay Underwood, and Fred Savage (really, what else does he have to do these days?) do most of the talking, overpowering Castle's quiet tidbits of trivia with boisterous accounts of on-set antics. Underwood is especially talkative, cutting into nearly every anecdote someone tries to tell. Useful trivia: Castle points out a cameo by director John Carpenter (Castle played the famous killer in the William Shatner mask in Carpenter's Halloween). An interesting walk down memory lane for the cast and director, and a fun insider peek for fans. Note that, though the back of the box lists her name, Bonnie Bedelia is not included on the track.

Underwood and Castle provide a brief video intro for the feature (again, the back of the box lists erroneous information, as Deakins isn't present for the intro). Brief filmographies listing credits for the major players and the unusual trailer (which features no footage from the film, just a pan down a high school hallway, where all the kids are talking about Eric Gibb) close out the features.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The storytelling engine that drives it a little creaky after nearly 20 years, The Boy Who Could Fly nevertheless succeeds, and occasionally soars. It's dated, but it remains a winning, heartfelt family film, and one of the few 1980s teen romances that truly captures the spirit of young love. It's clear skies all the way for Warner's DVD in terms of video and audio quality; the supplements are just the honey roasted peanuts.


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