‘Explorers’

Title: Explorers (1985)
Rated: PG
Directed by: Joe Dante
Starring: Ethan Hawke as Ben Crandall
              River Phoenix as Wolfgang Muller
              Jason Presson as Darren Woods
Tagline: “You don’t need a driver’s license to reach the stars!”

By: Bo from Last Blog on the Left

Pre-screening memories: Ah, Explorers, I hardly remember ye.  When a buddy mentioned the movie, I had to freeze in place a moment as synapses not fired in years began to reconnect and offer up flashes of spaceships and a young River Phoenix.  And, then, more came.  I remembered the spaceship, looking much like the riders’ car from a Tilt-a-Whirl at a local fair, and the thing that drew me to the movie in the first place: adventure.

 

Ever a fan of the kids-on-their-own adventures like The Goonies (who are, indeed, good enough for me), and of the sci-fi flicks of my earlier years, such as Star Wars, this seemed like two great tastes that taste great together.  So why has Explorers fallen off the pop culture radar while others achieved ubiquitous reverence?  Who knows?  Prior to viewing again, I thought perhaps it was too fluffy, the Spacecamp-like entertainment that is immediately engaging, but has no lasting value; the cinematic equivalent of the Milky Way bar.  And those films have their place, the Saturday afternoon movies that you don’t feel guilty for falling asleep on, and no lingering urge to seek them out, to see what it is you missed while drooling on the arm of the couch.

 

Explorers is the tale of three kids who start having dreams of circuit boards, which they actually build.  Needless to say, it’s a fantasy.  The circuit boards turn out to be a method of traveling to the stars via some sort of electric bubble.  When they begin to receive strange messages while journeying in their makeshift spacecraft, they follow the signal into the stars and meet irritating aliens.

 

This is a movie that is more heart than brain by a long shot.  The spirit is so willing, too.  The themes of the outcast kids banding together to do something unexpected and wonderful hits all the right notes.  The first act of the movie hums along, introducing its characters well, and even treating the viewer to some post-Tron graphics that have managed to become quaint by today’s standards.  The whole thing goes off the rails, though, once the trio makes it to the aliens’ ship.  There are several too-long sequences that bog down the film as the kids investigate the strange alien vessel, but that’s nothing compared to the out-and-out trippiness of the aliens themselves.  Apparently, they’ve had access to Earth television, which has, in fact, rotted their brains.  They are schizophrenic and the scene overstays its welcome with a weird intergalactic talent show that’s about as entertaining as you remember every talent show you’ve ever seen.

 

New memories

I was happy to learn that I was correct on the Tilt-a-Whirl memory, but that was about the only solace I gained from this mess of a third act.  There are hints of frivolity, such as the school named after Charles M. Jones (or good old Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame to you and me).  There’s even a “Hey, wait, where’s the ground?!” Tunes-style joke here, but it feels so ridiculously out of place.  And what about the somber kid, Darren, whose father is apparently occasionally abusive?  What happened with him?  Eh, I just wanted it to be over.  There’s an hour’s worth of fun in Explorers, but the slop that ends the film makes it hard to suggest revisiting it.  This is probably one better left in the memory banks, where time has erased the irritation.

Listen to Bo’s recollection of his re-entry into space with ‘Explorers below or download it here.

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6 Comments

  1. I recently watched Explorers at a midnight movie triple feature. It played first, followed by Aliens and Dark Star.

    That third act is a MESS. I remembered tons from the first act but after that, it was like watching a whole new movie. Ridiculous. All those TV clips and stuff, so unneeded. I actually met Joe Dante a couple months ago, should have asked him about it.

  2. DId he ask you for change?

  3. […] public links >> appleii Episode XIX: ‘Explorers’ Saved by DustlessMirror on Thu 16-10-2008 New PC Based On Apple II Tech: $12 Saved by Shanaou on […]

  4. […] My memories of the film were faint, but not too obscured by time to feel as distant as, say, Explorers.  I still think trauma may have had something to do with that […]

  5. The problem with Explorers was always the terrible third act. The first hour of it is amongst the best kids entertainment of the decade, and then it all goes south. The UK (US theatrical) version which contains the kids walking to school has some of the best ‘teen dreaming’ ever caught on film, it’s note perfect. I think Dante had an overall idea, which he didn’t have time to execute properly. But I honestly believe that even with more time the third act would’ve sucked. Why? Well when he made the re-edited ‘Special Home Video’ version, he took out two perfectly good scenes, and re-inserted something trivial. Not only that, but there were a lot of scenes shot about the kids experiences pre-space travel that sounded great, but for some reason they never got put in. It’s a movie that was so nearly great.

  6. Hang on, having now listened to the podcast, I have a few bones I need to pick with you guys…

    First off, you say in the podcast that people have in recent years attributed the failure of the film to its release on the weekend of ‘Live Aid’. Speaking as someone that has trawled the internet for Explorer’s tidbits for years, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen the failure of Explorer’s to Live Aid *alone*. There was a cocktail of things that broke its back when it was released:

    1) It was not up against ‘Goonies’ (as you said in the ‘cast) when it was released, it was up against… ‘Back to the Future’! BTTF had been released only 1 week before and was crucifying every other movie with a similar audience, in much the same way that E.T. did in the summer of ’82.
    2) The studio moved up the release date of the film and subsequently the promotion of the film was at best patchy. The studio thought they could guarantee a good opening because it was the right time of year for the movies demographic audience. But they hadn’t counted on…
    3) It opened the weekend of ‘Live Aid’. Yes, opening the same weekend as the concert event of the decade would’ve had a *massive* impact. Millions of the target audience would’ve stayed home that weekend – just long enough for the negative reviews to come in and the film to tank. Which leads up to…
    4) The third act of the film was a mess. Yes, the rushed release meant that the unfinished film was even weaker in the third act than it should’ve been had Dante been given the time he originally expected.

    Those things together are the reason Explorer’s tanked. Live Aid did help kill the opening weekend (even BTTF showed no growth in the second week – the weekend of Live Aid – after spectacular reviews and a blockbuster opening). But it was a whole bunch of things that conspired together that killed the film.


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