The Navigator (1988) – Vincent Ward

The 101 Sci-Fi Movies list brings me this medieval plague tale, that interweaves dreams and reality, into an odyssey of hope.

In the 14th century the Black Plague is sweeping across Europe, and young Griffin (Hamish McFarlane) fears for his tiny village, even while he longs for his brother Connor (Bruce Lyons) to return to them. He’s troubled by dreams, of a giant pit, and a tunnel that leads through the flat earth to its other side.

He believes that they must make an offering to the great cathedral on the other side in an effort to please god and to save their village from the plague, which they fear will strike by dawn.

When Connor returns he convinces him, and the village that they must go on this pilgrimage, and they must do it all in one night. A rag-tag group sets out, and using a machine to punch through rock they dig through to the other side of the world.

navigator2Now if you’re paying attention throughout the film, you realize Griffin’s reality is black and white, when he dreams, everything is in color, so it should come as no surprise that as soon as they enter the pit that everything switches to color, but it doesn’t change the impact of the story.

They end up in 20th century New Zealand, a frightening place with black lanes filled with monstrous bright-eyed metal beasts, and giant metal fish that swim the oceans.

Parallels are drawn between the plague and the AIDS virus, as TVs blare in the background showing a reaping skeleton cutting down folks suffering from the modern-day plague.

With a little help, the group make their way towards a cathedral with their cast copper cross to mount atop its spire, yet all they while they must face down the dangers all around them, and Griffin’s vision that one of them will die.

CONNOR (Bruce Lyons) in a scene from THE NAVIGATOR 2I had never seen all of this film, I remember being shown the tunneling through the earth segment at one point, either in high school or university, though I don’t remember the context, and of course seeing that bit out of context doesn’t do justice to the film either, but I can finally chart this one up as seen, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

The balance between the grainy black and white and the color stock works really well, and is never jarring, and watching the final minutes of the film, as Griffin is first hopeful and jubilant that they saved the village, and then is stunned by a personal discovery and deduction is a brilliant moment.

The modern-day segments are actually rather frightening, as you see them all from the characters’ perspective, you know what they are seeing, and yet their fear and misunderstanding of it is almost contagious – trains, bulldozers, wrecking machines, walls of televisions, highways…

This was an interesting watch, balancing lighter moments, with the threat to the village, and tender moments between brothers, as everything culminates on that spire, and the cross they cast to pay tribute.

Did you see this one? What did you think?


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