Geek Pastry

I must be in a River Phoenix mood lately ... after watching The Mosquito Coast last week, I found myself watching Explorers several days later. That has all but convinced me to start a series of posts about some of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy films from my childhood, and I thought this one was as good a place as any to start. Explorers was filmed in 1985, and starred a young River Phoenix and a young Ethan Hawke (both in their first feature film roles, according to IMDB) as two junior-high-school misfits -- one a science nerd and the other a comic-book/sci-fi geek -- who come up with a way to create a spherical force field which allows them to fly through the air, and ultimately into space. With their new friend (played by Jason Presson), just as much an outcast but for entirely different reasons, they set out on the journey of a lifetime, which goes even farther than they had ever imagined.

I think I've finally realized why I love this movie so much: it's full of childlike wonder, much like its protagonists, but it neither talks down to the teen and tween audience it was mostly made for, nor does it try to be more than it is with an overly dramatic storyline. And it's not just the kids who are the good guys of the story; there's also the character played by Dick Miller -- an air patrol officer who, upon finding out the kids' secret, doesn't expose or arrest them, but instead completely identifies with the boys and wishes he were in their shoes. I can't be sure, but I rather suspect that it was a person much like him that wrote the script for this movie. They just don't make 'em like this anymore, it seems -- when Disney or someone else makes a movie for kids nowadays, it ends up underestimating its audience's intelligence, almost to the point of being condescending.

Not only is it fun to see Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix at such young ages (though still, to this day, I can't look at River without a shadow of pain in my heart, thinking about his untimely and senseless death), but James Cromwell is a hoot as Wolfgang's father, and Robert Picardo plays no less than three roles (though in two of them you'd be hard-pressed to see his face through the heavy prosthetics). If you haven't seen Explorers yet, you owe it to your inner geek.

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