Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Cocoon (1985)

Cocoon is my contribution to Tuesday’s Overlooked/Forgotten films and television over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check out the other fascinating reviews over there. 

“Men should be explorers, no matter how old they are. I don't know about anybody else, but I'm going.”
— Art Selwyn (Don Ameche) 

No one likes to grow old, fall ill, and die. Every one wants to live forever, with health, vigour, and a dash of spice. Like the elderly folks in Cocoon.

Director Ron Howard made this enchanting film under the sf banner probably because Cocoon can never happen in our life and on our planet. You need aliens to make you feel young and happy and invigorated all over again. Prozac and Viagra is the closest thing we have to a fleeting rejuvenation of mind and body. Crack is no more than a mind-numbing addiction spelling slow death. Of course, there is spiritual nirvana, but how many of us get that far.

So Howard leaves it to a small group of intelligent and peace-loving extraterrestrials from a distant planet called Antarea to inject a new life-force into the elderly people living, with their aches and pains, in a retirement home in Florida. The four aliens, disguised as humans and led by Walter (the very gifted Brian Dennehy), travel to earth to retrieve the cocoons his kind had left behind thousands of years ago.

But things don’t go as the aliens plan: instead of taking back the lost Antareans in their giant cocoons, they offer the “vacant seats” to the elderly who, except for one gentleman who has lost his wife and doesn’t believe in distorting the divine laws of nature, happily accompany the aliens to their new home — where there is no decease, decay and death and where an immortal life awaits them all. 

Wilfrod Brimley (behind), Hume Cronyn and Don Ameche.

There are some unforgettable moments in Cocoon. For instance, when three elderly men from the old-age home — Art Selwyn (Don Ameche), Ben Luckett (Wilford Brimley) and Joe Finley (Hume Cronyn) — accidentally discover the life-force in a swimming pool (where the cocoons are stored) and are never the same again; or when one of them inadvertently spreads word about the magical powers of the pool and all hell breaks loose among the retirees, much to the annoyance of Walter; or when Jack Bonner (Steve Guttenberg), a local boat owner, falls for alien Kitty (Tahnee Welch) and the two, presumably, make cosmic love in the swimming pool without physical contact.

In spite of his overbearing presence in most of his films, Brian Dennehy is rather restrained as the alien chief, Walter, but that’s because the role demands it. He is an alien and already far superior to earthlings. Hollywood veteran Don Ameche is his usual affable self, the trademark smile a permanent fixture on his face. The amiable Steve Guttenberg, hired by the aliens to ferry them to and from the spot where the Atlantis sank, the original site of the cocoons, is in awe of all the strange things happening around him but he knows how to keep a good secret. 

Steve Guttenberg and Tahnee Welch make cosmic love.

Cocoon, as far as I can recall and at least among the movies I have seen, has the maximum number of elderly people in one film, stealing the show from beginning till end. They are all character actors, most of them well known, such as, Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Jack Gilford, Maureen Stapleton, Gwen Verdon, and Herta Ware. All of them reprised their “youthful” roles in the 1988 sequel Cocoon: The Return. Sadly, however, none of them, including Don Ameche, is alive today.

In Cocoon, Ron Howard tackles the subject of old age and death, which haunts every one at some point or the other in their lives, and the perpetual longing for immortality in the human heart, with a great deal of sensitivity. The film is a celebration of the indefatigable human spirit. Though classified as a sf film, it could pass off as a fairy tale — charming all in all.

Walter (Brian Dennehy): I want you all to consider what I am about to suggest to you. You people seem to want what we've got. Well, we have room for you. We have room for you and about 30 of your friends. You would be students of course, but you'd also be teachers. And the new civilisations you would be travelling to would be unlike anything you've ever seen before. But I promise you, you will all lead productive lives. 

Ben Luckett (Wilford Brimley): Forever? 

Walter: We don't know what forever is. 

In case you missed, I wrote a small piece titled The horror of horror films on June 30, 2012.


  1. This is a very sweet film but also has a melancholy undertone which helps keep it grounded (pardon the pun), which even a fantasy needs after all. Lovely score by James Horner as well as some nice recreations of the big band sound. The sequel was very lame by comparison (as is so often the case of course).

  2. Ron Howard is the right choice for a film like this one. He is said to have an unusually generous spirit--unusual for Hollywood--and you can tell that it infuses his projects. His comments on Andy Griffiths' death suggest where that part of his character may have been nurtured.

  3. This is a very nice post about a very sweet film. If COCOON happens to air on TV when I'm channel surfing, I'll usually stop and watch it till the end. As you say, the cast of elderly, veteran supporting players really make this special, but I have to single out Steve Guttenberg; this is the one film where he is not only bearable -I think he actually does a fine job in it. Tahnee Welch is also quite, ahem, memorable.

    For me, though, the film is stolen by Wilfred Brimley. His relationship with his grandson is very well handled. And the premise of the old and infirm being restored to youthful vigor by contact with the alien pods is irresistible (especially as I get older).

  4. I had almost forgotten this movie for sure, but I remember liking it quite a lot when I saw it years ago. I"ve only watched it over once.

  5. Sergio, it is, indeed, a sweet film and very moving too. I don't remember James Horner's music in COCOON which is one of many films I have been meaning to see again. You are right about the sequel: it didn't work for me either.

  6. Ron, after I read your comment, I checked out Howard's tribute to Andy Griffith who passed away recently. He does, indeed, pay a fine tribute to Griffith; for instance, when he says, "...I think it was a reflection of the way he felt about having the opportunity to create something that people could enjoy." Though I have never seen THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, I can see how working with Griffith might have influenced Howard in the making of COCOON. Thank you for bringing this to my notice.

  7. Jeff, thank you for the kind appreciation. I haven't seen COCOON in several years though I remember the film well. I agree, Steve Guttenberg, who has a secondary role in some of his more notable films like POLICE ACADEMY and THREE MEN AND A BABY, actually does well in COCOON though you could easily miss his presence amongst the elderly and the aliens. I remember Wilfred Brimley whose grandson jumps onto the boat in the last scene, to be with his grandfather, and then jumps right back (into the water, I think). Brimley and Don Ameche, along with Jessica Tandy, were the pick of the elderly lot.

  8. Charles, writing for "Overlooked Films" is always a tricky business. What I perceive as overlooked or forgotten may not be the case for someone else. The safe thing would be to write about some of the earliest films. I liked the COCOON too and don't mind watching it again, for the joy of seeing the ecstatic look on the faces of the rejuvenated pensioners.