Cocoon (1985)
Cocoon (1985)

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: June 21st, 1985 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Ron Howard Actors: Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Brian Dennehy, Jack Gilford, Steve Guttenberg, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Gwen Verdon, Herta Ware, Tahnee Welch, Linda Harrison




omething otherworldly visits Earth, shining a beam of blinding light down into the ocean (which freaks out a gathering of dolphins). Nearby, at the Sunny Shores Villas Retirement Community in St. Petersburg in Tampa, a collection of elderly folks struggles to maintain their enthusiasm for life – let alone their failing memories. Art Selwyn (Don Ameche) and Ben Luckett (Wilford Brimley) are two of the more active of the bunch, though they’re just as discouraged by the sight of paramedics attending to a stopped heart in a room across the way.

“Doctors don’t know everything.” Art doesn’t wish to divulge information about his latest checkup, which isn’t surprising to his friends, who are generally tightlipped about health issues themselves. Joined by Joe Finley (Hume Cronyn), the trio sneaks into an indoor swimming pool next door to relax and to occupy their minds with something other than premature deaths.

Meanwhile, Manta III tourist boat captain Jack Bonner (Steve Guttenberg) can’t seem to pay the dock manager on time, largely due to unsuccessful fishing stints. But his luck is about to change when Walter (Brian Dennehy) and Kitty (Tahnee Welch, looking quite a bit like her mother, Raquel Welch) look into renting Jack’s vessel for a full 27 days (intending to investigate the site of the alien light). This works against Art, Ben, and Joe, however, as the newcomers also stop to lease the estate where they’ve been secretly using the pool.

“Y’know, I can’t remember the last time I really took a risk.” The basic premise combines two things that have surely never been examined in a modern drama: science-fiction and an old folks home. It’s also unusual for a sci-fi experiment from the ’80s (a time period which might not have been immediately recognizable were it not for the dated pop music montages) not to dwell on the morbid side of alien visitors. Here, there are no evil invaders bent on world domination. Instead, there’s a lighthearted, comedic tone, which goes so far as to include offscreen sex scenes between the retirees.

“Do you think there’s cocaine in that pool?” When Walter’s deep sea expeditions retrieve giant snail shells, which are stored back in the pool that Art, Ben, and Joe continue to use, the trio begins to experience some dramatic changes to their health; for some inexplicable reason, they feel like a million bucks. And their medical conditions start to clear up. Of course, extraterrestrial elements are also at play, though they’re shockingly reasonable (and strangely harmless), despite requiring a considerable suspension of disbelief. And these revelations are met with skepticism (chiefly from Bernie [Jack Gilford] and his wife Rose [Herta Ware], who claim that they’re content with the cards they’ve been dealt), much like in any movie with suggestions of visitors from outer space.

Unfortunately, Guttenberg is his usual goofball persona, quickly becoming the weakest link. For a film that is inherently blithe, there’s no room for a comic relief intruder prone to slapstick interruptions. He’s so air-headed that he speaks to himself, saying out loud many of the things audiences will take for granted. His involvement is not only unnecessary, it’s in the way, especially as the bulk of the story ponders youthfulness, vitality, fulfillment, second chances, and mortality.

Would anyone past their prime ignore the opportunity to feel decades younger? And at what cost? Darker complications arise with marital fidelity, betrayals of trust, and the difficulties of keeping secrets (especially when they involve fountains of youth), but where natural life and death are concerned, genuinely emotional material comes easily. “Cocoon” may not be the most striking of sci-fi dramas (it definitely carries on for too long), but it’s a pleasant, life-affirming, touching bit of entertainment.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10