20th Century Fox | 1985 | 117 mins. | Rated PG-13
Based upon the novel by David Saperstein, Cocoon was the fourth directorial effort by Ron Howard and stars a number of Hollywood veterans. While actor Steve Guttenberg was a staple of 1980’s films, many in the primary cast including Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Jack Gilford, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton and Gwen Verdon had been in show business since the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Despite the older cast, Cocoon was a box office success, earning two Academy Awards; Don Ameche for Best Supporting Actor and Visual Effects.
The main story centers in three aging men who enjoy swimming. Ben Luckett (Wilford Brimley), Art Selwyn (Ameche) and Joe Finley (Cronyn) all live in a Florida retirement community. Good friends, their all feeling the effects of aging, but try to make the best of it. They still talk about sex like young boys, even though they’re not actually having any. One day, a man rents the estate where their swimming pool of choice is located. This means they’ll have to sneak in to use it, but they figure nobody will care if three ´old farts´ want to take a leisurely swim. Once they sneak into the pool and hit the water, the guys start to feel better than they have in years. Rejuvenated, the men go back to the home and their partners, and have the best sex they’ve experienced in decades.
The man who rents the pool is named Walter (Brian Dennehy) and he also rents a boat from Jack Bonner (Guttenberg) for an extended period of time. Following a strange map, Walter has Jack take he and his friends to a specific dive location, There, they pull up large rock-like objects that are then stored at the bottom of the swimming pool. Along with Walter, Kitty (Tahnee Welch) is part of the crew and Jack quickly finds himself attracted to Kitty. Unfortunately for Jack, he discovers that Kitty and Walter are not human. They are aliens on a mission to rescue several of their comrades, who were preserved in cocoons at the bottom of the ocean when the lost continent of Atlantis sank some 10,000 years ago.
To recover the cocoons, Walter had to charge the swimming pool with a ´lifeforce´ and that has been the source of the new energy discovered by the three aging men. It was the ‘lifeforce’ that had the men doing flips off of the diving board, breakdancing at a nightclub, and convincing their significant others and rest home compatriots to hop in the pool and join in the age-reversal shenanigans.
Despite the light and fun tone of the story, Cocoon does explore some more serious themes about family, aging, life and death. An offer from the aliens—known as Antareans—leaves the aged and in-firmed residents faced with some tough choices regarding the possibility of immortality. Could you leave behind a caring daughter and a devoted grandson if it meant you could live forever? After playing the hand that nature dealt you, is it okay, as one reluctant character asks, to reshuffle the deck? (Wilford Brimley’s Ben certainly doesn’t mind, as he replies, “The way nature’s been treating us, I don’t mind cheating her a little.”)
Steve Guttenberg´s character is annoying, and seems present only to provide a love interest for Kitty. His character is full of one-liners that takes away from the primary storyline involving the three old men and others in the retirement home. One man´s horniness over a glowly alien who happens to wear a gorgeous human suit doesn’t really belong in a Fountain of Youth story.
Don Ameche is very good in this film, as is Wilford Brimley. Jack Gilford is another standout in a supporting role. Having legendary actresses such as Jessica Tandy and Maureen Stapleton doesn´t hurt either. Dennehy is asked to play an alien of a different nature and he brings compassion to the role, but he feels a little stiff. Linda Harrison is best remembered for her role in “Planet of the Apes” and I enjoyed seeing her in a small role as Ben´s daughter Susan. As is typical with most Ron Howard films, his brother Clint has a small cameo role.
As a science fiction fantasy, Cocoon has its share of effects and imaginative elements, but what makes the movie truly special is in its utterly true and unfiltered approach to its elderly characters. These senior citizens are treated with respect by screenwriter Tom Benedek detailing their plights with a sense of humanity and humility that is rarely brought to the big screen. The camerawork is superb, and several shots of sunsets and of light and cloud formations are awe-inspiring. There are some fascinating underwater shots, too, with the human and dolphin interaction undeniably beautiful.
Cocoon is a film I never mind watching every couple of years or so. Ron Howard effectively used some science fiction elements to make a film that asks us how far we’d go to avoid the sadness and indignities of death. The fact that the film allows the audience to have all kinds of fun along the way, makes it even better.
The new high definition mastering of Cocoon looks surprisingly good and the 2.35:1 film is detailed and colorful. Ron Howard and company apparently used cameras or film stock that has held up nicely and doesn’t look nearly as dated as many other films of a comparative age. At a quarter of a century old, the Oscar winning special effects may not look nearly as convincing or sharp, but the coloring and imagery are crisp and clear. Some of the water-based shots are not as impressive, but the skin, clothing and other textures are rather sharp. Black levels were good and aside from some age appropriate film grain, the transfer is incredibly clean.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a nice expansion of the original stereo recording from the mid-eighties. There isn’t a lot of bass in the mix, but some good split surrounds maximize the surround elements along with James Horner’s score for the film. There are a few moments where dialogue levels are a bit lower than in the rest of the film, but it’s not a problem that happens very often.
The special features offer nothing new, and have been available on previous releases.
• Commentary by Director Ron Howard: Howard gives a friendly, and informative commentary track that spans the usual topics—technical details, on-set stories, and other pertinent reminiscences.
• Behind the Scenes Featurette (SD, 6:56) A vintage EPK promo that gives an overview of the story and includes several brief interviews with director Ron Howard.
• Ron Howard Profile (SD, 2:34) From Opie to Richie to feature film director, this vintage profile gives an overview of the then-34 year old director’s career.
• Underwater Training (SD, 3:35) Actor and diving instructor Mike Nomad—who trained Ron Howard for the production of Splash—discusses the challenges of shooting underwater.
• Actors (SD, 2:52) An overview of Cocoon’s ensemble cast, with snippets of interviews with a few of the actors and footage from the film.
• Creating Antareans (SD, 3:56) The actors who play the film’s aliens talk about the process of creating their characters.
• Theatrical Teaser (SD, 00:55)
• Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:27)
• Three TV Spots (SD, 00:31 each)
• Cocoon: The Return Theatrical Teaser (SD, 1:20)
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