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Explorers

Explorers

By Patrick Samuel • August 7th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
EXPLORERS (MOVIE)
Paramount Pictures

Original release: July 12th, 1985
Running time: 109 minutes

Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Eric Luke
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith

Cast: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Amanda Peterson

Explorers

There’s always a kid in class who’s obsessed with science fiction and horror movies, whether they’re the black and white ones from the 1950s, the lurid Technicolor ones from the 60s and 70s, or the cheesey ones from the 80s or 90s, we always look upon the poor fellow with a tinge of pity. We turn our noses up at him because he’s not cool like us, and because he lives in a world of his own, scanning the sky at night with his telescope hoping to find signs of life “out there”. We exclude him from our cliques because it’s embarrassing when he starts to talk about his model monsters and his latest drawings.

We generally try our best to go about our lives without noticing him too much…how do I know all of this? Because I’m pretty sure I was that kid at school and not that different from Ben Crandall (Ethan Hawke) when we first meet him in Joe Dante’s 1985 cult favourite, Explorers.

Using Ben as the film’s central character, Explorers goes on to tell the story of how a group of young friends manage to travel to the stars and meet some very interesting but bizarre extra-terrestrial life-forms. After Ben dreams of circuit board he has a go at building it with his friends Wolfgang (River Phoenix) and Darren (Jason Presson). They then realise what they’ve been given are the blueprints for a starship and what follows is a lot of fun as they experiment and come up with ideas as to why they’ve been given this wonderful gift.

The starship they build, and name Thunder Road, is far from being sophisticated though. It’s a hulking piece of junk made from scrap metal they were able to find, including an old Tilt-A-Whirl car, but nevertheless the young friends manage to travel across the galaxy to meet the aliens who sent Ben the blueprints in the first place.

Explorers

Explorers is a film you simply had to see at that age if you were growing up in the 80s, along with other gems such as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Flight Of The Navigator (1986), and yes maybe even Mac And Me (1988). They’re the sort of adventures that fuelled our imaginations and there’s no denying this one came with some great ideas in it, including the way the circuit board creates an electrically generated sphere, and using a computer to steer it anywhere in three dimensions.

However, as the boys wander the ship and encounter its kooky inhabitants, something odd happens. The boys come to feel let down by their experiences with the aliens and in some ways we do too.

“Explorers was planned as a gentle fantasy about three kids who meet an alien, but Dante found his efforts to develop and polish the production stymied by Paramount, which rushed and pushed for an early summer release, leaving Dante less than a year to complete the script, get the sets constructed, and shoot and edit the picture. Moreover, Dante’s aliens proved to be unsatisfying for the young audience Paramount wanted to capture and that had been conditioned by Spielberg’s science fiction movies to expect emotional fireworks. Knowing humanity only through its television shows, Dante’s aliens offer the viewer no epiphanies, no grand emotional payoff, just the stiled and skewed perspectives of TV talk.” ¹

Still, the film does have some merit and credit has to be given for the way in which ExplorersDante tried to get us to look at ourselves and ask whether or not our film and television output is a skewered or accurate reflection of who and what we are as a civilisation.

“The main room of the aliens’ spacecraft consists of a series of mammoth screen all receiving transmissions of programs throughout history-rather like a thirty-six channel cable-television box spread out on the wall simultaneously. The aliens’ speech is entirely “mediated,” in that the majority of their utterances are simply lines drawn directly from game shows, cartoon, rock songs, and old Hollywood films. Yet the visitors from earth insist that the aliens have misinterpreted American culture, since they have merely reproduced the glut of information without understanding the codes which differentiate them as obviously separate discourses.” ²

There are some wonderful touches to it that needs mentioning as well, including the dog that chews gum, Wolfgang’s odd family and Ben writing out his last will and testament. These little details go a long way in adding depth to the characters and the young actors bring a lot of charm to the film. Though it doesn’t quite live up to the fun we had with Dante’s other works like Gremlins (1984), Innerspace (1987) and The ‘Burbs (1989), Explorers is remains a film that’s thoughtful in the way it portrayed how aliens might view us through our films and television. I’m still on the fence when it comes to deciding if this might give an accurate representation of us though.

SOURCES:
[1] Jim Collins, Uncommon Cultures: Popular Culture and Post-Modernism (2013), Routledge

[2] Stephen Prince, A New Pot of Gold: Hollywood Under the Electronic Rainbow, 1980-1989 (2002), University of California Press

Explorers

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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