Explorers (1985)

by MJ Wayland

Explorers from Gremlins director Joe Dante is most notable for featuring both River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke in their debut feature-length roles as wannabe space explorers who build their own spaceship. Joined by their new friend Darren (Jason Presson, who unlike his co-stars went on to appear in Gremlins 2 as Alex the Yoghurt Jerk) the trio depart on a journey to another galaxy they’ll never forget.

Since its release the film has become a cherished cult masterpiece amongst Dante fans despite the director himself not being completely satisfied with the finished product. Trouble with the studio forced Dante to stop shooting early and release a cut of the film no matter what, but there is still plenty to enjoy about this rather offbeat entry in Dante’s filmography.

The three child actors build a convincing chemistry and fill their roles of dreamer (Hawke) whizz kid (Phoenix) and social misfit (Presson) with authority. Dick Miller (who appears in all of Dante’s projects but most famously as Murray Futterman in Gremlins) plays a significant role in the proceedings and, as with all of Dante’s pictures, his B-Movie roots are gleefully evident.

Dante learnt his filmmaking skills with the accepted master of all B-Movies, Roger Corman and there are few directors as accomplished as Dante at funnelling the dark, B-Movie undercurrent into mainstream films. This flick features futuristic dreams, sentient machines, alien life forms and the immortal line “Burn in hell, alien maggots. You shall not possess our women, slime-bred vermin!”. There really is very little more you could ask for when it comes to lazy Saturday afternoon fare.

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