When Paramount Pictures’ kid-centered science fiction flick, Explorers made its theatrical debut in 1985, the movie almost immediately bombed. It was panned by multiple media outlets, with positive reviews few and far between. However as time went on and technology advanced, the creation of home video technology helped give the movie new life and appreciation among fans of the genre. It has maintained that status quite well in the decades since, too. This past May, the movie became one of the latest entries in Shout! Factory’s ongoing “Shout! Select” series, and re-issued on Blu-ray. The re-issue, complete with an expansive amount of new bonus content, is certain to help build the movie’s status even more. That appreciation will come in part thanks to the movie’s story, which will be discussed shortly. The noted bonus content that accompanies the movie’s recent re-issue does its own share to build the movie’s appreciation even more. It will be discussed a little later. The movie’s general presentation in its new re-issue also plays into its appeal and will also be examined later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the re-issue’s presentation. All things considered, they make this presentation unquestionably one of this year’s top new DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.
Shout! Factory and Paramount’s recent Blu-ray re-issue of Paramount’s Explorers is a presentation that is well-deserving of its spot in Shout! Factory’s ongoing “Shout! Select” series. It is just as deserving of a spot in any science fiction fan’s library. Its story is just one way in which this is proven. The story follows three young boys – Ben (Ethan Hawke – Training Day, Dead Poets Society, Before Midnight), Daren (Jason Pressen – Gremlins 2, Lady in White, The Stone Boy) and Wolfgang (River Phoenix – Stand By Me, My Own Private Idaho, The Mosquito Coast) – who travel into space and meet a pair of aliens who like themselves, are adolescents. They also happen to be brother and sister. The journey happens as a result of messages that the aliens sending messages to Ben in his sleep that instruct Ben on how to build the spacecraft that takes the boys to meet the aliens, Wak and Neek. Getting off topic a bit here, but audiences who watch History Channel’s Ancient Aliens will find this interesting since at least one episode has made the allegation tht aliens have been in telepathic connection with certain humans for centuries. It makes this aspect of the story, in hindsight, more interesting. Getting back on topic, Wak is played by Robert Picardo (Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek Voyager, Innerspace) while Need is played by Leslie Rickert. The story is relatively simple. There is no earth-shaking revelation, just a first contact between two species and of course the revelation as to why Ben and his friends were chosen and why Wak, his sister, and other alien beings stay hidden from humans. That revelation comes as audiences find out that Wak and Neek know what they know as a result of watching human TV shows and movies. This is really where things actually get interesting. This statement is powerful because just like humans got a certain vision of aliens from movies, it was those same movies (and TV shows) that led Wak and Neek to believe humans were a certain way. On a side note, Neek tells the boys that what they have seen of humans on TV and in movies is why they and other alien species have remained hidden from humans. That in itself is a telling statement and rings so true today. Sure, as Ben points out, those are just movies and TV shows, but looking at human society today, it would be no wonder that any beings from other worlds would continue to hide from humans. Humans really are, largely, not ready to be introduced to beings from other worlds. So as simple as the whole story is, there is still some depth to the story. The whole thing is really just a family friendly celebration of childhood innocence and wonderment about the world beyond Earth that will connect with grown-ups just as much as children even today. The story’s finale is bittersweet but still happy and fulfilling, and considering how long the original finale was going to be, the featured finale makes for a fitting end to the movie. This critic will avoid spoilers for those who have yet to watch the movie, but when those audiences watch, they will agree the ending works quite well even though Ben and company do not learn the secrets of the universe. That finale is addressed in the new bonus content featured in the movie’s new re-issue.
The bonus content featured in the new re-issue of Explorers reveals that the movie’s original end was far different and longer than that presented in the final cut. It involved the boys going to another planet and getting stranded there, according to the movie’s writer, Eric Luke in the feature, “A Science Fiction Fairy Tale: The Story of Explorers.” It is a good thing that the noted third act did not happen, considering this. That is because by Luke’s description, it would have ruined the movie. On the same note, the deleted final ending cut that is presented in the deleted scenes just makes no sense. Again, it makes the presented final cut’s ending far more fitting. On a related note, one of the movie’s executive producers reveals that as the movie progressed, it apparently went over on time. He never comes out and says it, but the figure in question seems to hint that the movie also went over on budget. Those two items combined would explain why the movie presented in the final cut was what it was. Again thankfully though, it is good that audiences got what they did even though allegedly the final cut was “unfinished.” There are other, lighter notes in “The Story of Explorers” that add their own interest, such as the revelation that Luke’s father (no puns, please) actually worked at NASA when he was a boy, which clearly led to his love of all things science fiction. It would also explain why this movie, even with its story, also really seems like a love letter to classic sci-fi cinema. There are references, after all to great classics, such as War of the Worlds, It Came From Outer Space, This Island Earth, and even Forbidden Planet throughout the movie. Additionally, Luke reveals that the use of the trash can on the Thunder Road came from something in his personal life. Audiences will be left to discover that story for themselves. It is an anecdote that makes for plenty of smiles and laughs. Additionally, he reveals that a letter that he wrote to none other than Bruce Springsteen resulted in the use of the name Thunder Road for the boys’ spaceship. On yet another note, Director Joe Dante reveals through his own comments that this movie was Hawke’s acting debut, and that prior to being offered the role of Ben, Hawke had no acting experience, yet he was so much better to Dante than any of the “fake” (Dante’s own word) other child actors out there at the time. Hawke’s own discussion on playing Ben and his reaction to the movie’s initial failure shows so much humility from himself. It is just one more of so many items in “The Story of Explorers” that makes this bonus feature so enjoyable. The new “Deleted Scenes” feature is also of note in examining the bonus content’s role in the movie.
As already noted, one of the deleted scenes featured in the movie’s new bonus “Deleted Scenes” feature is a long, drawn out finale that clearly while entertaining, was not needed. It involved Ben and company taking on the bullies from the movie’s opening scene as well as some other items. Ultimately, audiences will agree that the sequence in question simply was not needed and that the final presentation was a fitting end to the story. Another deleted scene that really proved unnecessary was the brief family meal scene with Ben, his parents, and his brother. It is through this scene that Dante reveals Ben’s brother is the same boy who is seen at the drive-in movie with his girlfriend, watching the cheesy “Starkiller” movie. Though Dante alleges that he felt the scene was needed, this critic’s own view is that the scene was really unnecessary, especially since Ben’s unnamed brother did not even really notice that the Thunder Road was not part of the movie that he and his girlfriend were watching. Also proving ultimately unnecessary was the birthday party scene and even the extended scene in which the police officers search the forest after the fair ride that became the Thunder Road went barreling past them down the road. That is a scene that while it would have worked in the final cut, being so brief, was just as easily removed. Keeping all of these scenes in mind, and Dante’s revelation that they were only some of many more scenes that did not make the final cut, the final presentation really gains even more traction and appreciation. When everything presented in the “Deleted Scenes” feature and the expansive “The Story of Explorers” feature is considered together, that whole makes the movie’s new bonus content just as engaging and entertaining as the movie itself. It makes the final cut all the more enjoyable, and is collectively just one more part of what makes this presentation so wonderful. The movie’s general presentation works with everything noted to make for even more enjoyment and appreciation for the movie.
The general presentation of Explorers presents the movie in its home release and its original theatrical release. The difference between the two cuts is subtle at best. It is a difference of roughly three minutes give or take a few seconds here and there. The two cuts are really separated only through Picardo’s improve “set” when Wak and Need first meet Ben and his friends. As Dante reveals in “The Story of Explorers,” Picardo’s performance here was fully improve. He adds that Picardo went on for a bit (as is now know, approximately three minutes or a little more), and that a good portion of that improv set had to be cut along with so many of the movie’s deleted scenes after studio execs pushed up the movie’s release date as a means to cut costs and production time. This is such a subtle difference between the two cuts, but audiences who watch the “extended” cut will have that much more to enjoy from Picardo as well as the rest of the cast. That Shout! Factory and Paramount would include both versions of the movie here so as to allow audiences to compare the two versions adds that much more appeal to the presentation. When this is considered along with the impact of the story and bonus content, the whole makes Explorers all the more enjoyable in its new presentation.
Shout! Factory and Paramount’s new Blu-ray re-issue of Explorers is a welcome addition to Shout! Factory’s “Shout! Select” series and to any true science fiction fan’s library. That is proven in part through its story. The story is simple and family friendly. One part story of excitement about space travel and the unknown from a childhood vantage point and one part love letter to classic sci-fi, the whole makes for a relatively quick (but not too quick) take of space travel and friendship. The new bonus content that accompanies the movie’s recent re-issue makes for its own appeal. That is because of the background that it provides with the story. It helps audiences realize what the story might have been and in some cases thankful it was not what it might have been. The movie’s general presentation, showing the movie in its home video presentation and its original theatrical cut, puts things into even more perspective for audiences, even though the difference between the two cuts is so subtle. Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of the movie’s re-issue. All things considered, they make the movie fully deserving of its place in Shout! Factory’s “Shout! Select” series and in any sci-fi fan’s library.
Shout! Factory and Paramount’s Blu-ray re-issue of Explorers is available now. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available at:
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