Explorers review by Mike Long

I've been a fan of Joe Dante ever since I saw Piranha back in 1979. And, as with most of the directors which I admire, I've tried to see all of Dante's work. But, somehow I'd always missed his 1985 film Explorers. The film is now available on DVD and I have to say that for nearly 20 years now, I really haven't been missing much.

As Explorers opens, we meet Ben (Ethan Hawke) and Wolfgang (River Phoenix) and soon learn that Ben has been having strange dreams in which he is flying over what appears to be a giant circuit-board. He describes these dreams to Wolfgang, who is a nerdy inventor type, who attempts to build them. We also learn that Ben and Wolfgang are often bullied at school. A boy named Darren (Jason Presson) comes to Ben's aid during one of the incidents and they become friends. Using the illustrations from Ben's dreams, Wolfgang feeds the information into his Apple II computer and a ball of energy is formed. The boys (Darren has now been brought into the fold) soon learn that they can control the ball of energy and use it to transport objects. They decide to build a spaceship to see if the energy can allow them to fly. Using old parts from a junkyard, the boys are soon fulfilling their dream and heading off to the stars.

If you've ever spent anytime exploring the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com), then you know that the site contains some rumors and false statements. Concerning Explorers, someone wrote, "The film was never finished, and was released as a work in progress when the studio decided to move up the release date and release the film as it was, telling director Joe Dante that he was finished and they were going to go ahead and release what he had at that point." I would usually ignore such an outlandish statement, but in this case, I'm prepared to believe it, as Explorers is truly a pointless movie. The film's opening is far from original, but it's at least interesting, as Ben is apparently receiving signals from an advanced race and is being taught how to build a spaceship. (Shades of Contact) But, as the film progresses, the story grows more strained and by the time the spaceship finally flies, we have ceased to care. The subplot with Darren being an abused child is horribly underwritten and is only used as a cheap excuse for him to pal around with Ben.

SPOILER WARNING! But, the biggest insult comes when the boys finally fly into space and are taken aboard an alien spacecraft, only to find that the aliens are essentially stand-up comics?!?! Did they really think that anyone in the audience, even children would be satisfied with this period, much less in the wake of E.T.. END SPOILER WARNING! I've heard some people say that they have nostalgic feelings about Explorers, but I can't see how even those would hold up, as the film is very dated by its technology and the special effects don't play well today. The only reason to see the film is an a curiosity piece to see a young Ethan Hawke at work and River Pheonix in a role which is very different from his "cool" legacy. Every director has at least one stinker on their resume, and Joe Dante should run and hide if anyone mentions Explorers.

Explorers flies onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The DVD contains the "home video version" of the film which runs about 3 minutes shorter than the original theatrical cut. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. If this transfer weren't anamorphic, then I'd swear that it had been taken off of a laserdisc release. The image has a very soft look and is never very sharp. The image also shows some grain. Artifacting problems are evident, as is edge-enhancement. The colors are good for the most part, but some scenes look slightly washed-out. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue with no hissing. The surround sound effects are discrete and thus, easy to miss, and there is very little in the way of bass.

The only extras on the DVD are two "Additional Scenes" (which apparently appeared in the theatrical cut). They are both letterboxed at 1.85:1 and run about 4 minutes total. The scenes look very good and are very clear and sharp.

3 out of 10 Jackasses

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