There are films that stay with us for different reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that it’s good. It’s something we’ve not seen before and therefore leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. But, I think, more movies leave an impression on us when it comes to when we saw them. It could be who you were with, what was going on in your life or a vast variety of other things. The point being, we have emotional attachments to movies (or songs, books, television shows, etc.). Take, for example, me. Yes, I’m making this about me. I recently watched Big Trouble in Little China for the first time. That film, like Explorers, was made in the mid 80’s. But I really had no connection to it. Was it good? Yes. I’m a fan of Kurt Russell and John Carpenter. But it just didn’t “do it” for me like some other movies I’d seen at the time. Looking at this movie in particular, it provided a breakthrough for two talented actors: Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix. Hawke is and remains one of my favorite actors and Phoenix met his untimely demise in 1993 – no telling what roles he could have tackled. Enough of this, though – let’s get to the show.
Ben (Ethan Hawke) is your typical geek. He spends time watching old science-fiction films and reading comic books. But he has a recurring dream about a circuit board and manages to convey that to his friend, Wolfgang Müller (River Phoenix) who manages to build the part and later manages to build a spaceship. The group has a third, Darren (Jason Presson) who joins them along the way. At first, it’s fun and games. The makeshift ship (fashioned from an old Tilt-A-Whirl) transports the gang around town and raising a few eyebrows. It’s in the film’s third act that they actually make it to space and that’s when things get a bit weird…
I won’t spoil the surprise for those that haven’t seen this, but it’s certainly unexpected. Bear in mind the man behind the camera was Joe Dante who was coming off a huge success with Gremlins. This film had a huge budget, though it’s been criticized that the studio (Paramount) forced production to get the movie out in the summer. The movie was also one of the first to use the then fledgling ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) and it shows. The effects may seem dated now, but at the time they were cutting edge. Explorers might not have ever achieved the level of cult stardom that Gremlins or The Goonies did, but it remains an enjoyable watch – even for this guy approaching his 50th birthday.
Video: How does it look?
It’s been a while, a long while, since I sat down and watched this movie. Put it this way, I think I was worried about returning the cassette back to Blockbuster. That’s a while. But, thankfully, the good folks at Shout!Factory have taken this one under their wing and given us a new special edition, complete with a new transfer. I won’t draw any comparisons to the previous version, but I will say that this one looks pretty darn good. It doesn’t have that typical look of an 80’s film and the usual accolades are present with a smoother, more film-like presentation. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image manages to have decent contrast, strong black levels and naturalistic flesh tones. Shout!Factory does some good work with their titles and this one looks to be the cream of the crop. A nice effort.
Audio: How does it sound?
Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting a lot out of this new DTS HD Master Audio mix. But I was mistaken. I found that even some of the processed effects left a pretty good impression. Vocals are sharp and rich and what few surrounds are in place, do the job right. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jerry Goldsmith’s amazing score which helped propel this film in some of its slower moments. Goldsmith is among my favorite composers and his mix here has never sounded as delightful. It’s a good-sounding mix that won’t blow the roof off the place, but managed to raise an eyebrow from me – in a good way.
Supplements: What are the extras?
What a treat! We get some new supplements that weren’t present on the previous DVD, so let’s dig in.
Disc One (Blu-ray)
Home Video Version – The second disc contains the Theatrical Cut of the movie.
A Science Fiction Fairy Tale: The Story Of Explorers – The main draw here is this new hour long documentary (or extended featurette if you prefer) that has new interviews with Director Joe Dante, Screenwriter Eric Luke, and Ethan Hawke. We get the history of the film, Hawke commenting on his first role and being a “child star” as well as some of the issues with the movie, the studio and the like. It’s a great watch and fans of the movie will really enjoy.
Deleted Scenes – Nearly 30 minutes of deleted scenes are included and they feature an optional commentary with Director Joe Dante.
Interview with Cinematographer John Hora – Hora, in a pretty short segment, explains some of the shots in the film, re-constructing certain stages so that the child actors didn’t have to use their time traveling to sets, etc. It’s a good bit, but I wish it was longer.
Interview with Editor Tina Hirsch – Hirsch explains how she got her role as editor, her background and working with Dante on the project.
Disc Two (Blu-ray)
The Bottom Line
There are certain “kids” films of the 80’s that will no doubt stay with a generation of us forever. Movies like Gremlins, Flight of the Navigator, The Goonies, D.A.R.Y.L. and the like. Explorers did give us Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix. I enjoyed my trip down memory lane while watching this and if you’re a fan, this is about the most definitive version we’ll have for a while.