Explorers (1985)

31 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Explorers” is a family-friendly gem that is sort of let down by its final act. This film has a great setup that doesn’t leave a strong payoff—in fact it’s real silly. But that doesn’t mean I won’t recommend the film. It’s just that maybe it deserved a little more than what it had to offer. Besides, maybe the journey is the most important part of the movie.

The film is a kid’s science-fiction fantasy directed by Joe Dante (“Gremlins”) and it features three young boys as the central characters. One is a dreamer; one is a young scientist; and the other is a loner that the other two boys befriend in the beginning of the story. The dreamer, Ben (Ethan Hawke), has been having these strange dreams that involve a circuit board. Intrigued by the dream, he draws what he can remember of the circuit board on a sheet of paper to see what his genius friend, Wolfgang (River Phoenix), can make of it.

Don’t ask me how, but with the aid of Ben’s dream, Wolfgang is able to create a solid sphere that can break through a brick wall and can be controlled by Wolfgang’s computer. Loner Darren (Jason Presson) is in on the secret as the boys realize that, when enlarging the sphere, they all can fit inside this thing and use it as a force field…and also are able to fly around in it. So, they get this idea to make an aircraft out of an old Tilt-a-Whirl.

If you think this sounds like a silly idea, you’re not far off. It is a silly idea. But the strange thing about “Explorers” (and yet so wonderful about it) is that it takes this idea seriously but not too much. I love how everything develops as the kids are figuring what to do with this new discovery. It helps that the kids are fresh and likable. It’s fun to watch them as they go on.

But that’s only the first half of the movie. When the second half approaches, the boys have already flown above town in their own homemade spaceship and are reaching signals from what could be another planet. (Some of these signals come from within their own dreams.) But what happens when they actually do go into outer space, I probably shouldn’t give away. But I will say this—these boys are bright enough that we want them to find something really interesting; their find isn’t up to it. I suppose it’s fine and fun for younger kids, but for others who really get into this film from the start, it’s kind of disappointing.

I don’t want to sound too harsh, because the payoff is kind of amusing if not what one might expect. Maybe this is why I’m recommending the film. And besides, what really matters is the journey, and “Explorers” is a very fun journey. It’s a delightful, entertaining watch.

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