Thursday, February 16, 2012

Explorers (1985)

Seen: On dvd on my laptop, rented from Hollywood Express.
93/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

Dude, somehow I hadn't even heard of this movie despite the fact that it's River Phoenix's first role? And it has a baby Ethan Hawke. What? I know. Joe Dante's ambiguously-titled Explorers follows the adventures of three tween boys who accidentally invent a means of flying into outer space. Ben (Hawke) is a sci-fi-obsessed kid who wants to be an astronaut and dreams about circuit boards. He shows his dream imagery to his friend Wolfgang (River Phoenix), a serious-minded scientific genius, who manages to build a machine that creates a movable forcefield with it. Local loner Darren (Jason Presson) joins them in building a ship that can fit inside the forcefield, and after a test flight through the drive-in theater they realize that someone (or something) is trying to contact them and steer them into space.

With a premise that starts off pretty basic and then gradually evolves into something much bigger, Explorers does capture that sort of innocent wonder of young kids who discover something secret. The script and effects are so-so and the pacing draaaags but I the kids are cute and there are some very cool moments- including an awesome b-movie spoof called "STARKILLER". I could have done without the half-assed romantic subplot, though, it just wasted time and nobody cared. It's got a weird, unexpected ending, though- kind of a let-down, really.

Ethan Hawke exudes the kind of charming enthusiasm that eventually just gets annoying, but River Phoenix is fucking adorable as Wolfgang. He's stiff and kind of mean and wears big glasses, and in real life Phoenix didn't know how to be a regular kid since he was raised in communes or whatever, which just makes the character more endearing and weird. I liked Jason Presson too, though as an actor he's the weakest. They look like they're having fun and that's what counts. I liked their little scientific montages and adventures, I won't lie. There are some good ideas and some bad ideas, basically, so I can't really feel strongly one way or the other about the film as a whole.
A plus: it's got James Cromwell for like 5 minutes as a wacky mad scientist dad! Roger Corman stalwart Dick Miller pops up for a bit too, which was a nice little wink to the audience I thought, even though his character is totally unnecessary and gets no resolution.


Pair This Movie With: I think if you put this with Invaders From Mars (the remake) you could have an 80s-riffic "Kids and Aliens"-themed evening.


  1. Quintessential 80's viewing along with Gremlins, Goonies and Monster Squad! Glad you liked it, it's always been one of my favorites from the 80's.

  2. My love for Explorers is mainly built on nostalgia so while I rate it highly amongst my childhood 1980s favourites, you're right to give it a mediocre score Alex. I think the whole concept is brilliant...a real childhood fantasy adventure and Joe Dante is the perfect director to capture it. But the ending lets it down for me. I never liked the last quarter as a kid and I think that is the film's biggest flaw. The kids are great though and the film has one of the best makeshift spaceships!