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July 24, 1985 - Image 6

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1985-07-24

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ARTS
Wednesday, July 24, 1985

I

The Michigan Daily

Page 6

Enchantment undercut by crass schtick

ByfpyronL. Bull
E XPLORERS is the latest in the
recent deluge of suburban
situated fantasies, following in the
footsteps of E.T., Poltergeist,
Goonies, and Back to the Future,
though it marches to an offbeat drum
roll that makes it the exception of the
bunch. Not always successful, but
when it does work, it works gloriously.
Three junior high outcast - one's
an almost dorky brain, one a scaled-
down easy rider, the other a
daydreaming, sci-fi buff - who are
brought together by a common dream
of flying over a giant electronic cir-
cuit board. The brain, Wolfgang
(Phoenix River), sketches down the
details, rewires his Apple Jr. and
presto, a force-field generator that
creates a transparent sphere, imper-
vious, gravity-defying, and variable
in size.
Ben (Ethan Hawke) hits upon the
idea of housing a cockpit within the
force field, and with a conglomeration
of trash cans, television tubes, and an
old tilt-a-whirl shell build their own
spaceship. They dub the vessel the
Thunder Road - after the
Springsteen song - and on the first
starry night take off to explore the
neighborhood from above, popping in
to watch a space opera over at the
local drive-in, and buzz a helicopter
before heading for the cosmos.
Probably a universal fantasy
among American boys of the last 411
years, and though Explorers owes a
little of its atmosphere to E.T. and
Close Encounters, it draws its main
inspiration from H.G. Wells, Boys'

the kind of backyard fantasies
children enact where any old piece of
junk, an abandoned car, a junked
radio, becomes a prop in an
imaginary epic.
Joe Dante comes from a
background of little practice with sub-
tlety, directing low budget/high camp
horror film rip-offs like Piranha and
The Howling, before making his
major film debut with the Steven
Spielberg-produced Gremlins, a flat-
witted, self-indulgent free-for-all full
of incessant in-jokes, slapstick, and
commercial greed. But this film
shows he's a sharp, mature film-
maker with a surprisingly gentle
touch. Explorers probes the manners
and whims of young boys more
thoughtfully, and with far less pon-
derous seriousness, than any recent
coming-of-age melodrama. It's in the
little touches Dante and writer Eric
Luke sneak in, the way the boys
decorate the Thunder Road with a
battery of lights - "It'll be cooler" -
and in the way they christen her by
sharing nervous sips from a bottle of
beer one of them took from home that
raises the film's spirit above simple
cuteness.
Explorers' young cast is at that
crucial age between childhood and
adolescence, and Dante and Luke
make a few delicate probes into the
hazy mist of half-conscious yearnings
and urges. The first thing Ben does
with the gang's invention when he
realizes he can use it to fly is to pop up
and peek into the second story
bedroom of the girl he has a crush on.
He doesn't want to catch her taking
off her clothes, he only wants to have
one private moment where he can sit

The pre-teen space travellers talk borrowing spaceships and problems with parents in 'Explorers.'

F'

FOOD FIT FOR KINGS AND QUEENS
Enjoy award-winning Indian cuisine in a beautifully restored
Victorian home.
Dine in the fresh air and sunshine of our garden or in the surround-
ings of authentic Indian Folk Art in one of our dining rooms.
Come in and sample the new additions to our menu and savor the
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Choose from our wide selection of beer, wine, and cocktails, or
try one of our non-alcoholic house drinks prepared from fresh
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All spices are ground fresh daily and each dish is prepared in pure
vegetable oil.

and watch her as she sits and chatters
with her girlfriend on the phone, just a
few feet away.
The young cast plays an important
and impressive part of making the
magic click, transcending their sket-
chy stereotypes, and fleshing their
roles out with nicely unexaggerated,
natural performances. Young
Hawked may not be quite as nerdy as
the average 14-year-old science fic-
tion fan would be, but he throws him-
self into the part with enough infec-
tious exhuberance to make it click.
With his oversized glasses and ill fit-
ting corduroy jacket, Phoenix is the
perfect pint-sized professor type and
Jason Presson, as Darren, the street-
wise loner of the bunch, is probably
the best, with a nicely understated
mix of vulnerability and mock
toughness.
Explorers is first and foremost an
adventure story, and Dante propels it
forward at a good brisk clip, though
he never pushes it at full throttle.
There are little delicate touches, short
throwaway scenes that freeze the
action for a second so you can savor it,
like when the guys first lift off, and
hover over their backyard, looking
down at the dogs barking up at them,
that are quietly exhilerating.
There's also a nicely hinted at sub-
plot, that never intrudes on the story,
about a middle-aged man - Dick
Miller - who's been picking up the
same dreams as the boys, but was
born 40 years too early to join them,
which gives the film a dash of bitter-
sweetness to balance the excitement a
little bit, with out ever resorting to
cheap mawkish sentimentality a la
Spielberg.
See 'EXPLORERS,' Page It

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An angry alien father chides his children for taking the family spaceship
.some things never change).- - . . . ...

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