Navigational Ineptness

By the end of The Navigator things go so off the rails, Buster Keaton is underwater in a diving suit, holding a swordfish, using it to fence against another swordfish. This while island cannibals make a run on his boat above.

Navigator doesn’t show any fear in going for off-the-wall gags. Sure, Keaton pratfalls and stumbles; that was his shtick. He’s not playing an average guy or even a poor one in this outing. No, Navigator casts Keaton with mocking the rich and their affluence. Accidentally alone and adrift at sea, paired with Kathryn McGuire, Keaton can’t figure out how to open a can. Making eggs? An impossible task. Their coffee? That comes from seawater.

Spoiled rotten, the two of them are. Neither did a lick of work on their own prior to boarding this ship. That shows. Unlike other Keaton comedies where by sheer luck he becomes a hero, Navigator shows him failing – hilariously too. Smugness and arrogance backfires. A few years later, and The Navigator turned into perfect depression era fodder.

Navigator’s creativity finds a way to slyly insult without taking away cause to cheer for this duo

Keaton and McGuire serve as heroes though. Romantics, too. They figure things out, especially the kitchen that becomes a ridiculous Rube Goldberg-like rope system – and because they can’t do any of this stuff on their own. It’s fantastic mockery, showing educated smarts, but a total inability to do basic tasks with their hands. Navigator’s creativity finds a way to slyly insult without taking away cause to cheer for this duo.

It’s masterful timing that keeps Navigator moving. Maybe the story isn’t as engaging as Keaton’s other work (most of it is tucked under the humor), yet the ability to keep one idea alive with such variety shows the brilliance of Keaton. For more than five minutes, Keaton tries to find somewhere for McGuire to sleep; time for a comedy of errors. Broken chairs, sliding chairs, blanket accidents, and thunderstorms interfere, just to help someone fall asleep. Comedic chaos, and at its best.

Nothing in the end is a surprise. Being from the early 1920s, the typecast, all-black natives (including an uncredited Noble Johnson, a decade before becoming King Kong’s island chief) imbue the finale with a racist slant. Then, man gets girl, and they sail off in safety. It’s simple enough to be charming – racial disparity aside – and both main characters likely learned how to live a little on this adventure, completing a satisfying arc.

Video

From the scratch and dent section of film prints, Cohen issues this new master from a roughened source. Not out of character for a ‘20s silent, yet after their flawless General Bu-ray, expectations exceed this norm.

Various marks mar the print for the full runtime. Sharpness wavers. Gate weave is under control though, a positive for sure. Heavier processing tries to manage all of this, leaving scenes smoothed and flat by digital correction tools. Grain fluctuates based on the intensity of those methods. Detail then follows, either notable or wiped clean.

The real fight comes with contrast. Blotchy and bloated exterior sunlight overwhelms the image. Other than the nighttime scramble to find somewhere to sleep (with dense black levels in control and gorgeous), Navigator looks bleached by age. It’s doubtful any prints survive in a better state given the work done to piece this together.

Audio

A DTS-HD 5.1 score uses the front soundstage with limited venturing to the surrounds. A bit of low-end bite to the drums brings some weight to things. Being a new recording, fidelity is excellent.

Extras

Paired on the same disc with Sherlock Jr., extras spread between the two films, with two short featurettes. The Comedian runs a bit under four minutes, with stars like Bill Hader and historian Ben Mankiweicz discussing Keaton’s style. A trailer for this restoration is also offered.

The Navigator
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Buster Keaton takes to the high seas in The Navigator, making a mockery of the rich and their posh, privileged lifestyle in hilarious ways.

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