Remember the good old days? Way back when a talented individual would have an original idea, and make a movie out of it? Those halcyon days of discovery and entertainment might just have disappeared a little further back into the mists of time, as Paramount has revealed their intention to remake the 1985 Joe Dante classic, Explorers, with a script written by Geoff Moore and Dave Posamentier (Better Living Through Chemistry).
It seems to have become more and more ‘on trend’ to mine back-catalogues for titles deemed ripe for a robust ‘re-imagining’. Having endured second shots at films such as Red Dawn, Conan The Barbarian, About Last Night, Carrie and RoboCop in recent years, we still have Annie and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to look forward to. Not to mention The Crow, Point Break, and even Flatliners, at some point in the future. Now, we can add to that list the tiny, family friendly science-fiction fantasy gem that launched the careers of Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix. The difference is, there’s actually a case to argue for this one.
The movie details the exploits of three friends – Ben (Hawke), Wolfgang (Phoenix) and Darren (Jason Presson) – as they try to make sense of Ben’s recurring dream, in which he flies around expansive circuit boards. Wolfgang – a genius – is able to create a working circuit board based on Ben’s descriptions, which leads to the generation of a flying electrical sphere. Wolfgang hones the design until they are able to control the sphere and, with the help of their friend Darren, they build a spacecraft out of an old toy car, and embark on a voyage of discovery to another galaxy.
It’s a great movie plot and actually a great film. The young Hawke and Phoenix both turn in impressive star-making performances, and it’s filled with drama, humour, ILM special effects and a great big serving of rock ‘n’ roll. So where is the case for a remake? Apart from the obvious advancements in technology and special effects (although the ’80s cinematography of the original is now part of its charm), there is actually a different film to be made – if Paramount’s low-budget Insurge label are prepared to take the risk.
In 1985, director Joe Dante was riding the wave of good fortune generated by his hit film, Gremlins. Dante took on Eric Luke’s script for Explorers, but felt the third act was under-developed. The studio, needing a success, rushed the project into production regardless, leaving Dante and Luke to essentially make the last third of the film up as they went along. Dante’s editing process was interrupted and, as the studio was changing hands during production, they released the film before it was really finished – leading to Joe Dante’s repeatedly stated feeling that Explorers, as it stands, is not the film he had intended to make.
Surprisingly, all of these factors – which one would assume would be detrimental to the film – actually lend it its character. On release, the film sank without a trace due, in part, to it clashing with Live Aid. However, it has achieved near-cult status, with continued life on home video, DVD and most recently, Netflix. The abrupt change of gears as the original film heads into its zany third act could easily have created an unparalleled mess of a movie but, instead, elevates the story to a wonderful level of carefree creativity that is perfect for a family film. While its director, Joe Dante, regrets being unable to make the film as he intended it, we benefit from having a film that is quirky, unexpected and joyous.
Beloved though it is, Dante’s regrets do legitimately leave the door open for a new version of the story. Indeed, among the raft of tedious re-hashings of old ideas, this one might just be worth having – provided the filmmakers leave the rushed, raucous original version of Explorers alone, and discover for themselves an all-new third act.