Cocoon (1985)

Cocoon (1985)

“Men should be explorers, no matter how old they are.”

A man (Brian Dennehy) and his companions (including Tahnee Welch and Tyrone Power Jr.) charter a boat run by a down-on-his luck captain (Steve Guttenberg), intending to rescue alien-filled cocoons from the ocean floor and nurture them in the pool of a mansion near a retirement home. When a group of elderly friends (Hume Cronyn, Don Ameche, and Wilfred Brimley) go swimming in the pool, they find themselves mysteriously rejuvenated and healthy, and invite their partners (Jessica Tandy, Gwen Verdon, and Maureen Stapleton) to join them — but will they be able to keep their “fountain of youth” a secret from others?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aliens
  • Don Ameche Films
  • Elderly People
  • Hume Cronyn Films
  • Jessica Tandy Films
  • Science Fiction

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “popular sci-fi fantasy” about “four friendly aliens who have come to earth to take back members of a crew that was left behind centuries before” is “well-intentioned and has an undeniable sweetness”, but feels “endless and disjointed”. He points out how problematic it is that “the original premise about rescuing the alien crew is… exchanged for [a] storyline in which old people go off with the aliens”, given that “we’re never convinced that these old people will be better off going out into space”. Indeed, while we come to care at least somewhat for the core group of elderly characters — who respectfully ask permission to share the life force generated in the pool:

— the remaining old-age home residents (who we know almost nothing about) simply act like selfish “jerks” with “a total lack of compassion”. Ultimately, Peary argues that this film is “not bad, but overrated and filled with Spielberg cliches” — though it was actually directed by Ron Howard after his blockbuster success with Splash (1984).

I agree with Peary’s review, and would add that it’s troublesome how the script fails to sufficiently develop any of the lead elderly characters: we simply learn that Cronyn has cheated on his wife (Tandy) for years (a trait which becomes even more pronounced once he’s given renewed vim and vigor and is freed from cancer); that Ameche finally feels confident dating a sexy dance instructor (Verdon); and that Brimley — shown several times fishing with his doting grandson (Barret Oliver) — will regain his failing eyesight and be able to drive again. We also discover that Guttenberg, lo and behold, will fall for the sexy female alien (Tahnee Welch — Raquel Welch’s real-life daughter, who “looks like a young Ali McGraw with short hair):

and will get to experience alien sex (imagine a special-effects laden version of Woody Allen’s Orgasmatron in Sleeper (1973), taking place in a pool).

But, as Peary notes, all of this simply diverts our attention from the much more intriguing story of the aliens’ rescue mission; their lives and home context are glossed over quickly, with two of the aliens never even saying a word.

Speaking of the aliens, Dennehy gives the best performance in the film as a potentially formidable presence, bulky and domineering yet ultimately an intriguing and kind leader.

Of the elderly folks, Cronyn’s performance as a man given a sudden second chance at life is the most nuanced (though we dislike him for fooling around on Tandy). Ameche won a Best Supporting Actor award, but I’m not exactly sure why he would be considered a better candidate for this than Cronyn.

[On a side note, Ameche gives a wonderful lead performance as “Gino” in David Mamet’s Things Change (1988) — this is the film his fans should watch if they’d really like to see him in a worthy swan song role.] Ultimately, as Peary points out, “it’s great seeing so many fine veteran actors work together, all in good parts”, and “some of their scenes are perceptive and heart-warming” — but Cocoon itself is a minor disappointment.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Brian Dennehy as Walter
  • Hume Cronyn as Joe

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.


One thought on “Cocoon (1985)

  1. Agreed – not must-see, for some of the reasons already stated. I certainly agree that the film feels “endless”. It even takes a good 15 minutes in the beginning before it seems to shift into gear (so pacing is a problem, and it remains a problem as some scenes feel over-written).

    Fans of alien films of the ’80s probably won’t mind any of that. It does have some impressive special effects – particularly when the aliens are out of their ‘skins’. But this is basically a popcorn flick.

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