Feb 15, 2013

[Movies] Explorers (1985)

Regardless of when you were born, there will always be those movies that you can't help but hold in relatively high regard in your memory but turn out to have been flops at the box office. But that's part of the magic of childhood - there are just those stories that appeal to you and that you fall in love with and you're too young to care about what critics say and all that jazz.

Explorers is oddly one of those movies - and I only feel it's odd since I can't quite put my finger on the memory of why we chose to watch it in the first place. I'm pretty sure that we didn't go watch it in a theater - like most other folks who seem to have also watched this movie, I watched it at home. It was one of those movies that we had on video for some time and thus on boring weekends it would inevitably find its way into the VCR.

The movie naturally had a lot of factors that appealed to me including space travel and of course kids bring brilliant. And what kid doesn't want to watch a movie that includes scenes of kids essentially being smarter than adults, right?

Too bad it didn't have much of a plot.

Synopsis: Explorers is a 1985 children's science fiction movie directed by Joe Dante with a screenplay by Eric Luke. It also holds the distinction of being the first movie to feature Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix as two rather adorable little boys.

Ben (Ethan Hawke) is your classic 80's kid. He's into comic books in a major way, enjoys a lot of the old science fiction movies that were almost always playing on TV during the odd hours of the night and all that good stuff. But one night he dreams that he is flying over what appears to be a giant circuit board. The dream is so vivid that he perfectly remembers the board upon waking - something he shared with his best friend Wolfgang (River Phoenix).

Wolgang is a young genius and is able to translate Ben's dream into an actual circuit board. To their surprise the board works and has most impressive capabilities - in this case generating this perfect sphere of energy like a force field of some sort. Wolfgang is able to exert control over the sphere using his computer. And boys being the curious little things that they are, they decide that there's a lot more that they can do with the sphere. They make friends with Darren (Jason Presson) and together the three of them build a crude spacecraft using an old Tilt-A-Whirl car as the base unit. These young tinkers are well on their way to become young explorers.

First, let's look at the good stuff.

The movie, or at least the beginning parts, are truly oriented towards children. And while the pacing may seem slow compared to modern movies, the whole experience of the kids exploring all these things, building stuff and conducting experiments on their own are sheer brilliance. For a kid, it's magical. For an adult, it's probably a little terrifying given they also engage in a little underage drinking and a  lot of cursing.

And whether or not you can suspend judgement long enough to believe that the kids managed to piece together a halfway decent vessel that is held together by a near-magical energy field sort of determines how much fun you have watching the movie. But this is supposed to be a children's feature after all, so one needs to temper one's expectations.

And the inevitable aliens (and please, that's not a spoiler), well, they were highly reminiscent of all the other aliens of the period. Well, not the xenomorphs, but more the types that one sees in old shows like Amazing Stories or something. And I know they were meant to be funny, but even by children's standards they weren't that humorous.

Explorers has its share of fun moments, but on the whole I have to admit it's not exactly a reliable narrative vehicle. Oh well, at least it made for great childhood memories. Thus the movie only rates a moderately decent 3 examples of boys being somewhat naughty boys out of a possible 5.

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