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Explorers

Very Spielbergian, owing to it's lineage - that of director Joe Dante, who emerged from schlock horror with Piranha and The Howling to come under Spielberg's wing with Gremlins, Innerspace and TV's Amazing Stories.

All the elements are there; the small town kids, their dreams of grandeur and the fulfilment of their wildest wishes. The town itself looks as if it's been lifted from the blueprints for Kingston Falls.

Embodied by a ridiculously young Ethan Hawke, the dreams become reality as Ben and his friend Wolfgang (Phoenix) start dreaming about a giant schematic diagram they think is a circuit board.

Trying to remember their dreams to sketch the results and navigate the kids world of school, parents and bullies, a picture gradually emerges that super nerd Wolfgang can input into his father's pilfered computer.

To their astonishment, the programming produces a force field that's completely inertia free and airtight.

When they befriend local hood Darren (as G rated as a hood can be, his bad behaviour restricted to sarcasm, stealing a beer off his father and carrying a Walkman) after he rescues Ben from a fight with the school jerk, the three hatch a plan to build their own little craft out of junk courtesy of Darren's favourite junkyard haunt and pilot it with the computer schematics.

It's a great concept for a movie and captures a dream-like, otherworldly element good science fiction is all about - the tiny craft made of a theme park ride pod, bubble windows, a TV screen and garbage can is an iconic image.

It's just a shame more wasn't done with it. After the boys' initial flight over their town one night, they notice the craft occasionally whirls away out of their control, and become convinced that an intelligent power in the universe has been calling them, hence the dreams, and that the force field is their way to visit it.

So on their next flight they launch into space and find themselves in an alien ship with two creatures that look like shopping centre characters that give balloons to kids, part elephant, part slug.

A protracted and quite honestly stupid sequence ensues as the two creatures reveal that they know all about humanity and Earth from TV, and that they're just kids themselves, having stolen their father's ship to make contact with the boys, before the giant slug/elephant father shows up and the boys have to go.

Badly written throughout, the movie runs out of steam halfway through and could have been much better, but time hasn't been kind to either the G rated script or the special effects, which comprise the cheap superimposing of the cut out craft against a cotton ball cloud background.

It's a early to mid 80's Spielberg camp cameo spot all the way through, though, from Dick Miller (who crops up in a completely redundant sub plot of a helicopter pilot who discovers what the boys are doing) to Robert Picardo, and is well acted considering the tender ages of the leads.

Sightly prophetic is the line by the kid who plays Darren. Speaking about River Phoenix's character, he says 'If I had a name like Wolfgang, I'd kill myself'. Phoenix was dead 8 years later.

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