On the original making-of featurette included on the new Blu-ray edition of 1985’s Cocoon, director Ron Howard has this to say about surprise at tackling the science-fiction genre: “A few years ago, maybe even a year ago, if somebody said, ‘Ron, I think you’re going to do a science-fiction picture one of these days,’ I’d have probably said, ‘No way. Because I’m interested in the characters, and I’m interested in the story those characters have to tell.’” Anyone looking for reasons why Cocoon remains lame can start with that quote. Apart from the bizarre assertion that science fiction and rich characters are somehow mutually exclusive, Howard’s fundamental disrespect for the genre as a vehicle for ideas is painfully apparent. So while Cocoon drafts off the benevolent alien contact of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, it’s merely a framework for old people acting cute.
In light of the crass beer commercials that followed a decade or two later, the scenes of revitalized St. Petersburg retirees aerobicizing and breakdancing do have a genuine sweetness, especially with the roles filled out by a cast of beloved Hollywood old-timers. (Though it should be noted that not-ageless Wilford Brimley was only 51.) The first half of Cocoon is easier to stomach, as a group of septua- and octogenarians steal away to a private pool that becomes the Fountain Of Youth. Turns out four aliens from the planet Antares, appearing in human form, have come down to Earth to pick up cocoons housing their own. Commissioning local tour-boat captain Steve Guttenberg, they retrieve the cocoons from the bottom of the ocean and temporarily store them in the pool, where they give off a healing, rejuvenating “life force.”
Watching Cocoon 25 years later, it’s a marvel just to see a big-budget Hollywood production concerning the elderly, even though it sneakily gets around the problem with the fantasy of being young again. Still, just look what the audiences loved in 1985: Brian Dennehy in a wetsuit. Brimley doing cannonballs. Guttenberg making interspecies love with an alien, courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic. A pitch like that would normally get a filmmaker banned from the lot, but for a Steven Spielberg wannabe with modest skills like Howard, the concept of an E.T. or Close Encounters with a few extra maples’ worth of sap sounded like a winner—and was. Now, it upholds its legacy only by thoroughly outclassing Cocoon: The Return.
Key features: A solid, informative Ron Howard commentary track joins five original featurettes (all under five minutes), and trailers and TV spots galore, including a teaser for the sequel. The Blu-ray transfer also helps rescue the film from the fade of ’80s film stock.