‘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.

‘The Monster Squad’

 

The Monster Squad (1987)
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Shane Black and Fred Dekker
Starring: Andre Gower as Sean Crenshaw
Robby Kiger as Patrick
Brent Chalem as Horace (The Fat Kid)
Michael Faustino as Eugene

Tagline: “Call them for a monster-ous good time!”

By: Jason Plissken

Pre-Screening Memories: I haven’t seen The Monster Squad since I was in high school, but since it had “Monster” in the title, it was required viewing. I would scour the TV listings every week, checking for what creatures would be featured for the week. This one sounded like the Mother Lode, in that it featured all the classic monsters from Universal Studios: Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The movie came out in 1987, but I didn’t see it until it came on HBO about a year later. My memories of the film are pretty vague but I did learn a number of things from watching it:

  • I remember the movie was corny but still able to keep my attention. There were several little details about the kids in the film that I wanted for my childhood: to battle monsters as a young kid, a really cool treehouse (that was two-story, no less!), and a neighborhood girl like Patrick’s sister (played by Lisa Fuller, which was really the height of her film career, unless you count Teen Witch).

  • I thought that it was really cool that the main character, Sean Krenshaw (played by Andre Gower), was able to watch a nearby drive-in movie from his roof. I could not have cared less if I could not hear the dialogue, just watching it would have been enough to occupy me. I could do the whole Mystery Science Theater 3000 thing, I suppose, and make up my own dialogue.

  • I remember Fat Kid declaring that the “Wolf man had nards.” Childish, I know, but ‘nards’ is just a funny word.

  • It was the first time I heard sex referred to as “dorking.”Again, I was a kid, these things were endlessly fascinating to me.

  • I remember a World War II bomber loaded with Dracula’s coffin in the
    beginning. At the time, it seemed perfectly plausible for the ancient tomb of Nosferatu to circle over middle America for no apparent reason whatsoever.

I remember having a fondness for the film in the way it handled its leads, not treating them as typical “Hollywood” kids, in much the same way that “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies” seemed to. They never seemed to talk down to their targeted audience.

Will the exclusive “Monster Squad” still allow membership to Jason now that he’s an old guy? Find out in the podcast here:

Or download it here.

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