Cocoon Blu-ray review

Following in the wake of the 1970s, the Star Wars phenomenon and the likes of wunderkind directors Steven Spielberg the science-fiction film genre headed in a direction targeted at family audiences that would also appeal to adults. One of the biggest successes was unsurprisingly Spielberg’s E.T: The Extra Terrestrial in 1982. Not so surprising then that other films would follow along similar lines with a strong emphasis on sentimentality. Cocoon was one of those films. Where E.T. was focused on childhood and their understanding of the world, so Cocoon would reverse that and look at the octogenarians or near that age group and their understanding of the world who are striving for something better in their twilight years. It was directed by the then 31-year-old former child star and successful actor from TV’s ‘Happy Days’, Ron Howard who brought together a mostly veteran cast of actors in a film that would prove to be a big smash and one of the biggest hits of 1985.
The film opens with a scene that could easily have been lifted from ET, that of a young boy star gazing through his telescope. This scene is very reminiscent of the opening of another important science-fiction film, the Cold War era Invaders From Mars (1953) (also made, like Cocoon by 20th Century Fox). But unlike the older film, Howard’s film doesn’t have his aliens body snatching humans to do their alien bidding, but instead are more benevolent creatures from outer space. The boy, Jack is the beloved grandson of Ben (Wilford Brimley), the still spirited walrus mustached inhabitant of a retirement community in St. Petersburg, Florida the big retirement place for America’s snow birds. (Although much of the film is filmed in Manatee County, Florida, a large part of it is filmed in the Bahamas.) Ben is also friends with Joe (Hume Cronyn) and Arthur (Don Ameche) and between them they always seem to be looking for a place to escape to. They come across an abandoned villa with a beautiful, if run down indoor swimming pool. In the pool are some strange larger than beech ball type rock looking pods which, while curious about they duly ignore. The men from the retirement community, all still married, meet here daily for a swim for escapism. It soon turns out that whatever is in the water is giving them a new vitality in life and recapturing their youth and even libido. The villa is being rented by three men and a woman who appear to be research scientists. The leader of the group (played by the wonderful Brian Dennehy) rents a boat from young and struggling boat charterer Jack (played by Steve Guttenberg, fresh from the success of the first Police Academy film). The team go out each day collecting the pods. Jack is naturally curious and falls for the girl in the group (played by Tahnee Welch, daughter of Raquel Welch). But when he spies on her getting undressed he sees that she peels off more than her clothes which extends to her skin to reveal that she and the rest of her team are aliens with the pods containing alien beings emitting a life force. Inevitably the aliens soon catch the old men in their pool and the secret of all parties is exposed.
It is perhaps an unusual film for Eureka! to release, but a welcome one none the less. It received Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (for Ameche) and Best Visual Effects. It was also a science-fiction that appealed to an older generation, not a genre normally associated with older viewers. The film proved to be the second hit for Howard who the previous year had a smash hit with the fantasy romantic comedy Splash and would of course go on to have a glowing directorial career. Extras on the disc are bountiful and not long drawn out documentaries, but instead 2-7 minute vignettes that explore the actors experiences making Cocoon, Making Of shorts and so on. There is also an interesting commentary track by Howard talking about the film, adding plenty of background context. The picture quality also looks good bringing out the best of the ocean shots and the arrival of the Altarean spacecraft that still looks like its straight from an ELO album cover or video. It is one of those films that is worth a revisit every few years and is still a joy to watch. Long may it remain enjoyable.
Chris Hick

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