Having made a splash with his directorial debut, Splash, Ron Howard followed up his fishy tale with Cocoon in 1985. It was successful enough to spawn a less than satisfying sequel a few years later.
A group of quite literally old friends living in a retirement village spend their days, well, getting older, becoming less mobile, looking on anxiously as fellow residents die – a kind of Hollywood Waiting for God. Three of the old timers sneak out now and then to an abandoned house not far away where an indoor pool offers some much needed fun. On one such journey, one of the group reveals he doesn't have much longer to live... When a mysterious group take the house over, harvesting strange pods from the ocean and keeping them in the pool, the old timers find that their illicit swims start to have unexpected rejuvenating effects.
Cocoon is a lovely film, a kind of cross between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and On Golden Pond. It warms with a script mixing science fiction with very human situations, it's funny – the scenes of the aged revellers dancing, flirting, dive bombing into the pool with new spunk are genuinely delightful, the three old men talking about their erections is wonderful – and its heart is very much in the right place. Admittedly, some of the Oscar winning effects haven't aged well and there are some shots of the aliens that look like Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire when he puts his head in the cream cake, but overall they remain impactful.
But where the film scores most highly is in its touching and honest look at what it means to grow old. There's a genuine sense of friendship and shared understanding that, for these people, living out their final years in some shady pines rest home, this is it. When a second shot at youth comes along, who wouldn't take it?
The performances from the older cast are a joy, with The Thing's Wilfred Brimley a stand out. Golden era Hollywood royalty Don Ameche (winning an Oscar for his work here), Jessica Tandy and Hulme Cronin are joined by the then-recent Academy Award winner Maureen Stapleton (who won for Warren Beatty's outstanding REDS in 1982), and young things Tahnee Welch (daughter of Raquel), Brian Dennehy and Steve Guttenberg, wearing a pair of shorts so tight as to almost warrant a special effect credit of their own.
There aren't many films of this nature where the main characters are of pensionable age and this is one reason why it's such an affecting film, perhaps more-so now given that many of the stars are no longer with us and that we too have aged 30 years since it came out. There's a reason why the aliens glow and flit around on wings and have been around us for thousands of years – they look like angels, carrying a group of old people away towards a new adventure in the sky where they'll feel no more pain and will never grow older.
The allegory isn't subtle but, when a film is this charming, it's far from old hat.
Special Features: Audio commentary with Ron Howard / Five featurettes / TV spots / Trailers / Collectors’ booklet
COCOON – 30TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL EDITION / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: RON HOWARD / SCREENPLAY: TOM BENEDEK / STARRING: DON AMECHE, WILFORD BRIMLEY, HUME CRONYN, BRIAN DENNEHY, JACK GILFORD, STEVE GUTTENBERG / RELEASE DATE: JULY 18TH