Sunday, April 28, 2013

Movie #190: Explorers

Explorers is a 80s movie in the vein of Goonies, Adventures in Babysitting and suchlike - kids going off on adventures to fantastic places. This one stars Ethan Hawke, the late River Phoenix, and Jason Presson as the titular explorers, Dick Miller as the cop who almost catches them (because it's a Joe Dante movie and Miller has to show up somewhere), and Robert Picardo as the waaaaaaAAAaaaacky alien.

We start off with Ben (Hawke) dreaming of a vast, 80s-era CGI circuitboard. He draws it, and takes it to his genius, nerdy friend Wolfgang (Phoenix) to build, and along the way picks up tough kid Darren (Presson) when Darren saves Ben from a bully. They discover the circuitboard allows their computer to create a completely indestructible, immune-to-inertia sphere. They quickly the get the idea to build a ship, put it in the sphere, and go flying around. That works OK (one destroyed concession stand later), but then they start getting signals from...somewhere else...and pull the plug. Ben is the only one advocating for continued exploration, while Wolfgang and Darren more reasonably say, "screw that, we want to live."

But then the next night they all share the circuitboard dream, and catch the exploration bug. They go up again (using the newly-dreamed board to make a device that creates air, which was a problem on the first trip), and the aliens hijack control, and take them to their immense ship. And then they (eventually) meet the aliens, who turn out to be kids like them, who just want to know why it is that all these TV shows they keep picking up involve humans meeting outer-space travelers and shooting them.

It's a good movie, and my dad really loved it. It's 80s as hell, though. It struck me that the treatment of bullying in these movies tends to be "eh, boys will be boys." I mean, Ben gets punched in the face. Repeatedly. On school ground. Wolfgang (in a deleted scene) gets confronted by half-a-dozen dudes that threaten him. It really goes to show that thinking of the time that not only do the boys not think to do anything about it, but it never gets resolved. The bullying scenes are only there to give Darren a reason to join the group.

Also, Ben's crush, Lori (Amanda Peterson), is treated in a kind of creepy way. I mean, yes, she's lovely and blond and all, and he worships her from afar...but then he uses the sphere to peep in her window. Darren says "she's not going to start undressing this early," and Ben, while he doesn't immediately latch onto that idea, doesn't refute it, either. Yes, these are 12-year-old boys, and having once been a 12-year-old boy, I can't say that it's entirely unrealistic, but "realism" is not my main concern in movies like this. Lori does show the sliiiiightest glimmer of agency at the end, because she witnesses the explorers crash into the river...but she just watches. She doesn't help them, or confront them, or ask to be part of their trip. And indeed, every male in the movie, even the alien, responds to Lori as nothing but a sex object ("I'd like to get my cups on her!").

The only other women in the movie are moms (Ben's and Wolfgang's, and Wolfgang's family, including Dana Ivey and a very young James Cromwell, are probably the best-realized thing in any of the boy's lives), a know-it-all girl named Tricia who sits behind Ben in class, and Neek, the female alien who crushes on Wolfgang (and has very few lines that don't relate to crushing on him). Gremlins is coming up, and it'll be interesting to see if women are presented any better (I rather doubt it). I think if Explorers were made today, one of the explorers would be - definitely should be - a girl.

Anyway, so, it's a good movie, it's nicely non-offensive in terms of violence and language, which means my kids can watch it, but it's also pretty non-inclusive in terms of POC and women, which is kind of a shame, but pretty typical of the era.

My Grade: B
Rewatch Value: Medium

Next up: The Big Sleep