After watching Explorers, I thought of a news reporter interviewing 10-year-olds after they walk out of the theater. “How was it?” they’d ask. The kids would give responses like “Awesome” or “Best movie ever.” Explorers is one of those movies that I can see being good as a child, but viewing this for the first time in my mid-30s was a different story. I will be comparing it to many other ‘80s movies because scenes reminded me of many other ones.
The movie starts off with a display of the day’s technology—flying through Tron on a quest to destroy the Death Star. I’m just making shit up. It had a class ‘80s soundtrack that was appropriate. We’re introduced early to Ben (Ethan Hawke who I thought looked like Brad Renfro a little bit) and Wolfgang (River Phoenix). This was both of their screen debuts and if this movie taught us anything it was that River’s death was a tragedy. From his opening scene, you could tell that he was a natural in front of the camera. I enjoyed the early nod to “This Island Earth,” the movie viewed in “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.”
The plot starts with typical middle school bullshit. In a scene where Ben is being beat up by Steve Jackson and company (one gang member was played by Bradley Gregg who would later play River Phoenix’s brother Eyeball Chambers in “Stand By Me”), we are introduced to Darren, the third main kid. This scene alone reminded me of “Monster Squad “where E.J. comes to Horrace’s rescue. E.J. then proceeds to “hang out” with the group despite being rather different from everyone else in it. I got a similar vibe here. Darren starts hanging out with Ben and Wolfgang as they start building their spaceship. Darren came from a bad home life which I really wanted to see at some point. Wolfgang’s family was nuts. I’m not sure how many kids they had. I wanted to see more of his family. There was a kid in a highchair eating through a Halloween mask and a mouse that pushed levers to speak. I like cheese. Classic. Though brief, these were considered my highlights of the film.
So through experimentation, they create some type of electromagnetic bubble that floats around. They make a bigger bubble and learn that you can fly around in it. Let’s build a spaceship and fly around. We have the technology. Why are they doing this? To explore? I know it’s the title and all, but I wanted more of a motive. Darren had a bad home life, Wolfgang’s family was nuts, Ben was beaten up and awkward around his crush (played by the late Amanda Peterson). Maybe they needed to get away. Maybe they wanted to get away. I wanted more. I wanted something more realistic. I know it’s a fantasy movie, but another comparison was with the movie “Radio Flyer.” In “Radio Flyer,” young Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello build a working airplane out of a wagon. They do this in order to have Joseph’s character escape from their abusive alcoholic stepfather. Motive. I wanted a reason to this movie.
They go to a junkyard to get material for their spaceship, and there’s a dog (reminded me obviously of “Stand By Me”). Instead of “Chopper, sick balls” we see them give the dog chewing gum. Gum seemed to be a reoccurring thing throughout the film. Never caught the logic behind that. So, the spaceship is finished and they call it the Thunder Road after the Springsteen song which never appears in the movie, but probably should have. They fly around and mess with people at a drive-in movie. I swear that one time the actors in the movie were reacting to what was going on in reality. Maybe it was just a coincidence with timing. It didn’t make sense. The homemade spaceship crashes into the concession stand and then apparently is flying again. Those kids must’ve really built a damn good spaceship.
After the movie theater fiasco, the spaceship is spotted by a helicopter (one of its occupants played by Dick Miller who played Mr. Futterman in “Gremlins,” another film directed by Joe Dante). Off topic, but I met Dick Miller and Joe Dante years ago at a convention. I have a signed “Gremlins” poster with the two of them and Zach Galligan. Anyhoo, this is kind of a rushed subplot. Someone’s on to the kids and their ship, someone from space is apparently calling for them. They have visions in which they draw diagrams to upgrade their ship. Blah blah blah. According to Wikipedia, the film was incredibly rushed for time restraints. This is clearly obvious with the final product.
Fast forward to the worst part of it all. The ship somehow makes it up to space and they are brought aboard another ship. The three kids get separated, they’re going down slides (reminded me of “Goonies”), there are giant paparazzi robot spiders, creatures grabbing the kids in inappropriate places, it’s creepy, it’s kooky and it’s stupid. How can it get any worse? This is when we are introduced to Wak and Neek, two aliens that pretty much speak in multiple TV voices. It’s supposed to be funny, and I’m sure to kids it is. Wak, the male alien, reminded me of Max from “Flight of the Navigator.” And Neek, the female, was hitting on River Phoenix. A little disturbing. I actually have in my notes that Wak reminded me of JarJar Binks meets Bumblebee meets Johnny 5 meets Max from “Flight of the Navigator.” Long story short, a horrible attempt at comedy and again, no real motive as to why any of this is happening.
The kids and aliens talk. We learn that the aliens are afraid to come down to Earth because of how aliens are treated in Earth movies. They actually could’ve done something with this, I thought. Maybe taken a more serious approach. Darren has them listen to some Earth music. I swear he calls it 80s music. Wouldn’t it have just been called “music?” I grew up in the 80s, but I don’t recall it being called 80s music in the 80s. Maybe I misheard him. Anyhoo, we find out that the aliens are kids and their dad shows up and is pissed at them. Here’s a point that I thought could’ve been more effective had we seen Darren’s home life. He’s the one that points out that the aliens are kids and that the big creature is their father. A comparison to his own life perhaps? Maybe had we seen it?!
A long story short, the boys leave the ship and crash in a pond down on Earth. The ship sinks. Ben’s crush spies on them and later gives Ben a note, and then all four of them fly back up to space using some dream amulet the aliens gave them before they left. I don’t know; I was pretty much just waiting for it to be over by this point.
A good movie for kids, not so much for adults. It’s attempted fun with a lack of purpose. River Phoenix is greatly missed. Unfunny aliens. Maybe if they had had more time during production and didn’t rush things, we could’ve had something more concrete and worthwhile. I for one, simply didn’t care for this movie at all. I believe I’m going with a D+ on this one. Sowwy.