Cocoon was based on a somewhat obscure novel by David Saperstein. It was also an unlikely film for beginning director Ron Howard. He had made it known since his career began that he had little respect for the science fiction genre. In an interview provided on this very release, he condemns the genre as not being about character or story. I’d say that Ron Howard just hasn’t watched the right science fiction. I beg to differ with his assessment. Science fiction has been a remarkable tool to discuss some of the most important issues facing our society. When issues can be couched in aliens and other worlds, the censors and those who avoid socially conscious messages tend to make certain allowances, which has made it a very powerful genre over the decades. Still, that’s not the way Howard sees things, and that’s why he was likely a bad fit for Cocoon.
The movie has a lot of great actors and some very memorable characters. But Howard left the story somewhere else. Was it the cutting room floor? I don’t know, but it never really appears on the screen. What we end up with is a movie with a ton of emotion and charming characters and moments, but it never quite comes together in a memorable film. It did well in 1985, pulling in a respectable $76 million at the box office and earning itself the number 6 spot for the year. There were Oscar nominations, and even a win. These are all impressive accomplishments. Still, Cocoon very swiftly passed out of interest and revealed itself as more a fad than an enduring film. To show just how far and how quickly the film fell, you need look no further than the 1988 sequel. While Ron Howard was not a part of Cocoon: The Return, most of the exceptional cast was back. The film bombed, pulling in just about $18 million, not enough to cover its budget.
Now the film gets a high definition Blu-ray release, and in 2010 it’s nothing more than a catalog title with no new extras to mark the occasion.
What plot there was in the film is pretty simple. Millions of years ago an expedition from Antares had an outpost on Earth. It was located on the legendary Atlantis continent. When Atlantis slipped into the ocean, not everyone was able to escape. The ground crew was left behind in life-sustaining cocoons under the ocean floor. Now a team has been sent back to rescue their long-lost kin. “Walter” (Dennehy) is the leader of the Antareans, returning to pick up the cocoons. They hire a boat from struggling captain Jack Bonner (Guttenberg) to retrieve their friends. They have energized a pool in an abandoned beach-front property to revive them. But a group of old folks from the retirement home next door have been secretly using the pool. Once it has been energized, the old boys begin to feel rejuvenated. Suddenly, they have the strength and drives of youth once again. The Antareans allow them to continue to use the pool after they are caught with a promise to keep it secret. One of them has cancer and will die without the healing waters. Meanwhile, Jack has also discovered their secret when he is peeping in on Kitty (Welch) undressing on his boat. He witnesses her remove her human skin, revealing the brightly glowing alien creature beneath. He’s at first frightened, but convinced to carry on with the rescue attempt. He’s also got the hots for Kitty. Eventually, the secret of the pool gets out, and the entire home stampedes into the water, draining the entire life-force and destroying any chance to revive the stranded Antereans. With the help of the remorseful trespassers, they attempt to return the cocoons to the ocean where they can survive until the next rescue attempt. In the end, the elders are given the chance to accompany the Antareans and never grow old and die.
The real charm of this movie is not the science fiction elements of the story at all. The real power is in the veteran actors that make-up the retirement community. We’re talking huge names here: Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Jack Gilford, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy and Gwen Verdon. Only Brimley is still alive today. It was a wonderful gathering of Hollywood’s golden-age actors.
Cocoon is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25 mbps. The age of this film really shows in this high definition release. Colors are quite soft and muted. Even the glowing alien effects don’t quite dazzle the way they were originally intended to dazzle. The only place where I found the detail and color to stand up was in some of the flesh tones and people close-ups. Perhaps my perceptions are a bit more forgiving with this wonderful senior cast. There is evidence of some DNR overdoses at times. Black levels are only average at best. Some of the night scenes appear to be completely washed of any shadow definition. The exteriors on the Gulf Of Mexico are particularly disappointing.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is somewhat more impressive than the image. When you consider that surround sound wasn’t a standard in 1985, someone did a pretty solid job of remixing this movie. There are some pretty sweet ambient sounds, particularly with the saucer and preceding boat chase. Dialog is always clear and well placed. There is even some pretty deep sub work going on here. The score appears to warble at times.
The extras are all in standard definition and lifted from the DVD release.
One of the charms of watching this movie is the location. It was filmed in St. Petersburg, Florida, just across the bay from me here in Tampa. I didn’t arrive here until the next year, so that wasn’t really an element for me in the movies. I remember hating the idea of the film because the story was close to a short story I had worked on a few years earlier. In retrospect, it wasn’t quite that close after all. It was a nice enough diversion, certainly, but it’s a rental, not a keeper. It’s like eating fast food. It fills you up at the time, but it doesn’t really last very long. Perhaps I’m a bit harsh on the cuddly movie, so, “Forget I ever mentioned it”.