Nitehawk’s projectionist Joe Muto writes about one of his favorite films, Explorers, that just so happens to be playing at brunch this weekend in 35mm. (Get Tickets)
This is the second time that I’ll have the pleasure of manually projecting an original print of a favorite childhood film of mine. A film that, 25 years ago, i never would have dreamt I’d be writing about, never mind projecting for an audience. Fans of the genre should come out this weekend for Explorers. And if you’ve never seen it….well… just as the aliens says at the end of the film, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.”
Whenever I think about my absolute favorite films of all time, I’m reminded of something crucial. If the year 1985 was taken out of the equation, I’d be left with a giant hole in my soul. In fact, something like 80% of what I love, what I know, what I understand about myself, would be lost. It’s inconceivable. But 1985 man! With Back To The Future, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, and Return To Oz, it’s remarkable how much of my childhood loves stem from this particular year in history.
Explorers is one of those forgotten movies, trumped by the numerous other giant fantasy/adventures that came out at the time. And it’s no wonder really. The film doesn’t pack a particular punch, it has a strange sort of tone to it, and its humor is often dry and off-kilter. But it has other things going on. This was also a landmark for ‘Industrial Light and Magic’, who brought a very sensible, yet striking vision to space travel. And everything fantastical that happens in the first half of the film has a scientific basis or explanation behind it. This is rare for a children’s sci-fi/fantasy adventure. This was also at the height of the home computer revolution, where having a computer in your basement was a big deal. In fact, the entire action of the story is brought to life because of the characters’ experiments with data from a home computer. It’s got a young Ethan Hawke as the main guy and a his computer nerd friend, brilliantly played by a 15 year-old River Phoenix. (Phoenix steals the show for me, as usual). Fans of Roger Corman will recognize a very uptight and tenacious Dick Miller, who spends most of his screen time chasing after the boys and their creation.
Explorers is one of my absolute favorites. It’s perfect for me. It’s got the typical suburban neighborhood setting. Three boys, the scientist, the dreamer, and the rebellious sceptic, each different from each other, yet all social outcasts. Coming together to realize, build and create something that was literally out of a dream that one of them had. And that’s the most thrilling part about it for me. The ongoing theme of dreams, and I mean actual ‘asleep in your bed, mind in REM state’ dreaming, and how it relates to your reality. The coolest concept the film goes into is the ‘shared’ dream sequence, where all three characters at one point realize they’re sharing the same dream, at the same time. And they talk with each other while it’s happening. The next morning they call each other to confirm that it indeed happened for all of them. The building of the spacecraft in the backyard is such a tangible, fantastic sequence for anyone who dreamt, as a kid, of building something with your friends. Something that could fly. And then there’s the eccentric, ironic 3rd act of the film, when they actually make it to space. Aliens singing the theme to ‘Mr. Ed’, cracking jokes, and rubbing our own TV culture in our faces. Like it or not, this was director Joe Dante’s sort of ‘Don’t take everything so seriously’ message.
Finally, there’s the triumphant score by Jerry Goldsmith; probably my favorite American film composer of the time! If you really listen to that score, you can hear very clear traces of his scores for Star Trek, Gremlins and even Total Recall. This was a time before Hans Zimmer was blasting our heads in with Batman music and at the time John Williams was busy with the Spielberg blockbusters; but the music of Explorers is far more personal. It’s often mystical, it’s silly at times, but most importantly, it’s triumphant. It’s a celebration of what was achieved by these three young characters. To realize your dreams and that sometimes your dreams are closer to home then you might think.