Originally an independent film. The main production company, Producers Sales Organisation (PSO), put up two-thirds of the budget, while the rest came from Viking Film, a Norwegian company. Walt Disney Pictures picked up all rights for this film for North America, becoming the first distribution deal for the studio under new management led by Michael Eisner.
MAX, the ship's computer, speaks Bulgarian. When David enters the ship and takes the pilot seat, MAX says "Attention! Crois-moi! Assieds-toi! Vnimanie! Oblegni se! Chui me!" which means "Attention! Believe me! Sit down!" in French then "Attention! Sit back! Listen to me!" in Bulgarian.
When MAX and David stop behind the car to ask for directions, the song heard in the car is a fragment of "Trapped In My Mind", composed by David Kitay and Guy Moon, and performed by Kitay himself specifically for the movie, so a full version of this song does not exist.
When MAX, the ship's computer describes the animals on board, he says "That is a Feenastarus from the Pixar Elliptic". Five years later, Disney teamed up with Pixar, a fledgling special-effects computer company.
When MAX and David stop behind the car full of music listeners and asks for directions, MAX (played by Paul Reubens) asks if those were "geeks." "Geek" is exactly how Paul Reubens' most famous character, Pee Wee Herman, was described.
Sets for Dr. Faraday's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquarters and David's bedroom were built at a soundstage at Miami's Limelite Studios. The Federal Aviation Administration Tracking Station for Southern California was the site of several scenes, while the interiors of assorted hangars located at Opalocka Airport stood in for NASA property. Al's Alligator Farm, a general store and dilapidated roadside attraction, was filmed at the BR Horse Ranch, owned by actor Burt Reynolds, in Jupiter, FL.
Principal photography began 4 Dec 1985 for ten weeks in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The picture was budgeted for $17.5 million, and was a co-production with Viking Film of Norway, which financed one-third of the cost, while Producers Sales Organization covered the remaining two-thirds.
Adverse weather conditions in Los Angeles, CA, and Dallas, TX, forced the production of this movie to move to Florida. The company made its headquarters on a Ft. Lauderdale, FL, houseboat. Other locations included Watson Island in Biscayne Bay near Miami, FL, where the film's opening Frisbee championships took place. The Villa Vizcaya Museum and Gardens doubled as the forest adjacent to David Freeman's house.
The production relocated to Norway for an additional three weeks to shoot a section of a spacecraft that was transported in four sections to the outskirts of Oslo, and reassembled in an airplane hangar. Two identical spaceships were built and only differed in weight. The lighter 700-pound ship was used solely for flotation sequences. The heavier ship of 1450 pounds had a full interior made out of aluminum. Additional filming of glacier footage took place in a northern arctic area of Norway.
The robotic commander called MAX has a strong resemblance with the robotic autopilot AUTO from the Pixar film WALL·E (2008). At the time, in 1986, Pixar became an independent company, with Steve Jobs as chairman. Walt Disney Studios was then one of their principal partners.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
David's flight to Phaelon and back took "4.4 Solar Hours," while 8 years have passed on Earth, indicating that time was slowed down for David by a factor of about 16,000, which corresponds to a speed of about 99.9999998% the speed of light.