What were the makers of Explorers thinking? Few movies have such lofty aspirations and yet such disastrous outcomes as this one. Explorers feels sort of like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial or Super 8 except without the compelling stories of those films.
I wanted to love this movie as a kid. It had everything I wanted to see: kids having strange visions, building a spacecraft, going on a fantastic voyage through space, and meeting aliens. Sadly, all of these things are ultimately wasted on a movie that completely falls apart in the end.
Oddly enough, even though this film is mostly forgettable, it has one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. The late Jerry Goldsmith poured a lot of talent into this film’s score. It’s too bad the film’s writer didn’t do the same.
Explorers’ Incredible Soundtrack
Just listen to this track:
This comes at the film’s highlight: when three kids put a spaceship together from a pile of junk. It’s an epic musical composition, and it adds a lot of weight to what otherwise could have come across as a silly montage.
Not all of the soundtrack is like this. A lot of it is dreamlike and, at times, even a little generic. But every track has at least some hint of greatness in it. The main theme comes a third of the way through the film, and it makes it seem like things are really looking up. We’ve finally got the pieces all in place and the music is promising something special. But the rest of the movie fails to capitalize on any of this.
There are a few other nice tracks, but none of them are as good as the first one. “First Flight” comes the closest:
What I Like About Explorers Besides Its Soundtrack
The casting is superb. Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Robert Picardo, and James Cromwell are the most recognizable names, but pretty much everyone in the movie puts in a solid performance. It’s too bad the script doesn’t give them a whole lot to do, but they do the best they can with what they’re given. I have to admit, it was a clever touch to have Picardo, who would go on to play the holographic doctor in Star Trek: Voyager, play the star of a hilariously awful sci-fi movie the kids watch and then later do the voice of the alien the kids encounter.
I like the ideas this movie brings up:
- A bunch of children all dreaming the same dream
- A group of unlikely friends gaining recruits and using their unique talents toward a common goal
- Alien technology that’s beyond our comprehension
- Adults who are conflicted about wanting to help or hinder the kids’ work
This is all great material. It just doesn’t have a good payoff.
I love what this movie is trying to be. It’s attempting to both send up and pay homage to classic B-movie sci-fi. This Island Earth, War of the Worlds (1953), The Day the Earth Stood Still, and many other silly yet sublime movies get referenced in this film. They even have a great moment where the kids fly their spaceship through a drive-in theater while an alien invasion movie is showing on the screen.
The creature effects, while grotesque to look at, are actually quite impressive. I don’t feel like I’m looking at costumes when I see the aliens. They look disgustingly real. Rob Bottin, most famous for his work on The Thing (1982) and RoboCop, is in fine form here. I’ve never seen anything quite like these aliens, even if I wish they would shut their mouths for a moment.
The Film’s Shortcomings
Explorers fails to give us something at the start to hook our attention and make us want to see what happens next. The whole movie just feels like a strange combination of ideas and events with no overall goal or theme. This movie brings up school bullies, but it doesn’t have a satisfying purpose or comeuppance for them. The hero wants to get a pretty girl’s attention, but the two don’t have any scenes together to establish their relationship.
Nothing is at stake in this movie. Does the girl of the hero’s dreams have a boyfriend or parents keeping the two apart? No, she’s a blank slate waiting for him to make a move. What if the kids don’t make it to outer space? It doesn’t really matter. Are they running out of time to get to space? Sort of. A cop does track them down, but it’s unclear if he truly wants to stop them.
Do the aliens pose a threat or want to help humanity? No. They are the biggest disappointment in the film. They’re just kids who stole their dad’s “car” and were doing all of this as a prank. Why bother sending Earth children elaborate visions and bringing them light years away from their planet if the aliens are just going to sit around telling lame jokes and being mind-numbingly boring? I know, this is supposed to parody old sci-fi films that took aliens way too seriously. But all this movie does is go in the opposite direction and not take things seriously enough. Even the kids who are sitting around watching the aliens do their comedy routine can’t help but voice their dissatisfaction with the whole thing. This is why the aliens brought them here? If this is all we can expect from “intelligent” extra-terrestrial life, count me out.
Thanks for the Music
My problem with this film is that it could have been amazing. When I was a kid I assumed I just didn’t get it and that’s why I was so bored and disappointed by what was going on. But as an adult I now see that the problem isn’t with me but with the film. Explorers is an epically bad movie because it failed to make good on its epic promises.
Listen to the film’s main theme in isolation. It’s one of Jerry Goldsmith’s greatest contributions to movie music, right up there with his themes to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, and Rudy. The context for that track will only leave you frustrated because the film doesn’t live up to the music.
Explorers is one film that shouldn’t be discovered. But at least it gave us one of the best pieces of music of all time.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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