Explorers (1985) – Joe Dante

The next film in DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies, as it guides me through the interstellar reaches of space exploration with its chapter on Alien Monsters, is Joe Dante’s Explorers.

Starring River Phoenix, Ethan Hawke, Jason Presson with appearances by Amanda Peterson, and James Cromwell, and featuring Dante regulars Robert Picardo and Dick Miller, Explorers has always resonated with me. Not quite on the level of say Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but I got what these kids were about, because they were me.

Especially Hawke’s character of Ben, a bit of geek, he loves old science fiction movies, and has spend countless nights staring up into the night sky wondering what and who is out there, and what it would be like to meet them. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve done the same things, watching the starscape over my head, and just wondering, dreaming (what are their stories like, their history, their beliefs, their art?) about them.

Well, Ben has been having dreams too, about some kind of circuit board, which he passes on to his pal Wolfgang (Phoenix), who is a bit of a scientist (with Cromwell as his dad), and the pair attempt to figure it out together.

They are aided by a street-wise kid, Darren (Presson) who doesn’t have the best home life, but is very mechanically minded, and soon the trio discover that the circuit creates an enclosed bubble that, via computer input, can move on x,y, or z axis…

So they test it out, build their own ship, and travel their town, (Ben spies on a girl he likes, not to watch her changing her clothes, just to get a glimpse of her room and her life), and they bump into Dick Miller’s chopper pilot, who much like Ben, had dreams of out there as a kid too.

Soon, something grabs control of their computer, and guides them into the deepest reaches of space for a close encounter none of them are prepared for.

I remember, much like Ben, being a little disappointed, initially, with the encounter, but now, understand it more. It’s going to be the young, and the young-minded that get us out there… So maybe it’ll be the same for them.

In typical Dante fashion there are tons of nods to classic sci-fi films, and Looney Tunes cartoons, as well as a nice little tip of the hat to Dante’s own Gremlins.

Jerry Goldmsith delivers an interesting score, not my favourite to be sure, but an interesting one nonetheless. And added into a film with some enduring ILM effects, as well as some great creature work, and an idea that still lingers in my heart, this film is guaranteed a space in my heart.

There are a few more titles yet to be explored in DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies, perhaps pick one up tonight, and find something monstrous to watch.

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