Fresh of the success of Gremlins, director Joe Dante decided to switch gears a bit. He made a family adventure film about a group of kids who meets an alien and go on an incredible adventure. Most folks expected something along the lines of the immensely popular E.T. but Dante never does anything by the book. Was this flick going to end up more like a prototype for Super 8?
Ben (Ethan Hawke) is a bit of a dreamer and outcast at school. He spends most of his free time watching old sci-fi films (like War of the Worlds and This Island Earth) on TV and thinking about being an astronaut. One night he has an amazing dream about a bizarre circuit board. He is able to draw most of the image and give it to his best friend Wolfgang (River Phoenix). With a name like that you know Wolfgang is a budding scientist and by combining his Commodore 64 with the drawing they two create a strange kind of spherical force field.
The two boys meet up with Darren (Jason Presson) a local tough kid, who helps them out with some bullies. The three pool resources, Ben’s dreams, Wolfgang’s scientific knowledge and Darren’s access to a local junkyard to create a vehicle capable of space travel. It’s good thing too, because Ben is becoming more and more convinced that the dreams are coming from an extraterrestrial intelligence and are an invitation to make first contact. But just what kind of alien will our young Explorers encounter?
- Solid performance by all three child leads.
- Has a real spirit of adventure and wonder
- Jerry Goldsmith’s musical score is a perfect fit for the film
- Some may find the 80’s optimism and wonder to be cliché
- The alien encounter is going to ruin the movie for some people
- The final message of the movie isn’t going to work for everyone
In a way this movie was ahead of its time. It starts off as a conventional kids adventure flick like E.T. or Goonies, but the final 30 minutes take into a movie that could have come from the 90s or 00s. Expectations are subverted and you’re provided with a surprise that will annoy some and make others snicker. But Dante has always had a bit of a dark sense of humor (Gremlins is one dark little movie if you think about it). For me, the first two thirds are excellent and the finale is rough but entertaining. Maybe with another pass or two of the script the anti-Spielberg-ian feel could have been a bit cleaner.
Scores (out of 5)