In this Florida retirement home, the residents are living out their final years in peace, but some of them long for the days when they were younger and try to be as active as they can. Today another resident has died, and the trio of Art (Don Ameche), Ben (Wilford Brimley) and Joe (Hume Cronyn) are well aware of old age creeping up on them - Joe has just received a health diagnosis that means he might be away sooner rather than later. But that is not going to prevent him or his friends visiting the swimming pool at the empty mansion across the way, as they like to do often, an activity that just might change them forever...
But for good or for ill? That's a conundrum Cocoon has trouble making up its mind about in this sleeper hit from the mid-eighties that gave a bunch of old time movie stars a second chance in the limelight. It has a nice idea at its heart, but that heart was sugary and soppy, so that the issues emerging from it - that these elderly characters are rejuvenated by science fiction means - was effectively defused. This was a project started by Robert Zemeckis, yet for whatever reason he was fired early on and Ron Howard, then establishing himself away from sitcom Happy Days, was recruited to bring it to the screens.
Or was it Steven Spielberg who was hired? For Cocoon looks like a slavish imitation of not only his style but the kind of plotting his most successful movies had been welcomed the world over for. This ploy certainly worked, as there were many audiences who liked what they saw here, but just as many naysayers who were keen to point out that this was saccharine and lacking in a strong storyline. They may have been right, as watching the results it comes across as a movie a few rewrites away from a truly satisfying final draft, with the various developments happening along as if nobody could think of a smooth transition between them.
More than that, this finds trouble in getting the characters to do something interesting, or even novel, once its premise had been established. It heavily relied on the twinkly, sentimental charm of its oldtimers, who thankfully were more than up to the task: if you ever wished to see Don Ameche breakdancing then this was the film for you. But with the comedy slapped up on the screen with the same emphasis as the tragic business, it would hard to see this as anything but shamelessly manipulative if it were not for Ameche and company. Sadly, Steve Guttenberg's boat captain was surplus to requirements.
Indeed, Steve seems to be parachuted in from another movie, as before the ending where everyone meets up Cocoon is almost two stories running at once with only glancing familiarity with each other. Brian Dennehy is rather good as the enigmatic leader of the alien crew bringing up the pods of the title from the deep and depositing them in the swimming pool the three friends like to use, thereby rejuvenating them, and Tahnee Welch shows up as the love interest (another offspring of a more famous star, Tyrone Power Jr, is there too), but after a while screenwriter Tom Benedek obviously said, OK, we'll just recreate Close Encounters of the Third Kind for the finale. There is a measure of conflict when Jack Gilford says his friends are messing in a domain they were not meant to be in, yet while that doesn't convince neither does the development that sees the aliens offering to take the oldsters off into infinity. It's nice enough, but not half as polished as it should have been. Music by James Horner.