Explorers (1985)

Synopsis:

In a small town, three friends — brainy Wolfgan (River Phoenix, Stand by Me), sci-fi geek Ben (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood) and blue-collar cynic Darren (Jason Presson, Lady in White) — build a starship that takes them to “a galaxy, far, far away.” However, the young boys soon learn that things don’t always turn out as planned.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I’ve waited all my life to say this: We come in peace.”

Admittedly, this childhood favorite doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny these days. Directed by Joe Dante (The Howling and Gremlins) from an original script by Eric Luke (Not Quite Human), Explorers doesn’t work as well as it could, yet the movie has enough good moments to make it a very pleasant piece of ’80s nostalgia.

I’m a huge fan of director Dante. He clearly loves cinema, specifically the B-movies of the 1950s. It’s always fun to see Dante’s allusions to old movies. Sadly, I think Dante came up a little short here. The basic idea is good, but this is hardly an emotionally rewarding experience. It’s a bit sluggish and shapeless — the climax lacks oomph.

Perhaps the blame should be placed on Paramount’s executives. The studio inexplicably lost interest halfway through the production and director Dante was forced to release the movie unfinished. It has never been determined what was left out, or why Paramount didn’t allow Dante to complete his work (Dante has disowned it). Explorers never found an audience, but the movie did become a cult hit on Home Video.

Flaws and all, I liked the movie. The film’s technical aspects are quite good. The work of the production designer is imaginative. The great Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen) wrote a lovely music score and celebrated make-up artist Rob Bottin (The Thing and Innerspace) is responsible for the funky-looking creatures. George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) created the visual effects and co-produced the film.

The three main actors are likable. Interestingly, Jason Presson gives the best performance in the film, yet he is the only one of the three youngsters who didn’t become a star — that’s Hollywood irony for you! The supporting cast is very good. Cult figure Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood) is a delight as a helicopter pilot who discovers the kids’ ship. The late Amanda Peterson (Can’t Buy Me Love) plays Ethan Hawke’s love interest. James Cromwell (Babe) is very funny as River Phoenix’s nerdy father.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Don’t get me wrong, Explorers is a fine and entertaining film. The flaws aren’t bad enough to ruin the movie. Mostly for Joe Dante fans and/or Gen Xers. P.S. The DVD (R1) is missing two scenes from the theatrical release (they are part of the extras), but it does have an extended ending. Color, 109 minutes, Rated PG.

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