Picks and Pans Review: Explorers
Steven Spielberg's name appears nowhere on this teen space-adventure flick. Perhaps he was too busy turning out Back to the Future and The Goonies. Still, the spirit of Hollywood's Mr. Magic hovers. Explorers director Joe Dante, who worked with Spielberg on last summer's Gremlins, knows a hit formula when he borrows one. Take kids, computer effects, creatures cuddly or blood-curdling, then mix and serve to a teen audience. Presto: a box-office bonanza. Maybe not this time. Dante's Gremlins, The Howling and the kiddie terror segment of Twilight Zone—The Movie displayed a devilishly original humor that cut through the goo. Dante is working along more traditional lines here. Three California teens build a spaceship and set off to unlock the secrets of the unknown. It helps that Explorers is a state-of-the-art space toy. The kids construct their craft out of junk shop parts, making a welcome, homey contrast to the film's wow visual effects by George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic outfit. It helps also that the boys—sensitive Ethan Hawke, nerdy River Phoenix and brash Jason Presson—are more natural and appealing than the gang in Goonies. Their space trip may be familiar, but they make it fun. Strangely, things go awry at just the point the real jolts should start: when the boys make alien contact. Dante and screenwriter Eric Luke have developed a surprising conceit. Expecting to meet creatures with the wisdom and grace of those in Close Encounters, the trio finds instead Robert Picardo and Leslie Rickert, two bubble-brained alien fanatics for '50s TV. The joke is funny, but the effect is a downer for the boys and, for that matter, the kid in all of us. By exchanging the wonder-of-space myth for the earthbound message that TV isn't good for kids, Explorers may prove too clever for its own good. (PG)
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