Hollywood Lost and Found

"Explorers" (1985)

One night, teenage science-fiction fan Ben Crandall (Ethan Hawke, in his first film) dreams that he is flying over a huge circuit board. When Ben and his friends Wolfgang (the late River Phoenix) and Darren (Jason Presson) build the circuit and attach it to a computer, they discover that they have the ability to travel into outer space.

When they do, the film suddenly and completely changes tone. They meet outrageous-looking creatures whose only knowledge of humans and Earth’s history comes from our television transmissions. Naturally, they communicate using dialogue from Bugs Bunny, Ricky Ricardo, and Ed Sullivan.

The first half of Explorers, which follows the boys while they build their spaceship, is full of youthful energy and adventure, with the spirit of a fanciful Tom Swift or Danny Dunn novel. The second half, which includes a dance with an alien creature who lip-syncs Little Richard’s "All Around the World," is an otherworldly pop-culture whirlwind detour – and not for everyone. Ironically, at about this point in the film, our hero Ben even says "I hate to say this, but this isn't the way I thought it would be at all." But those with their inner-child intact and a twisted sense of fun will have a blast.

The film is directed by Joe Dante and written by Eric Luke. Standout contributions include Robert Picardo’s performance as one of the aliens (as well as an over-the-top hero in a movie within the movie); the late Jerry Goldsmith’s soaring score; Mark Mangini’s wildly creative sound effects; and Rob Bottin’s freaky creature creations. And don’t blink or you’ll miss James Cromwell as Wolfgang’s befuddled father. "Explorers" is rated PG.

The DVD of the film currently available is slightly shorter than the theatrical version, and includes two scenes that were deleted from the original. As charming and entertaining as "Explorers" is, it was never finished to the director’s complete satisfaction. A "Director’s Edition" DVD was proposed, but the plan was not embraced by Paramount’s Home Video division.

- Steve Lee
24 July 2006

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