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Taking another look at Explorers — director Joe Dante's 1985 family sci-fi drama — a couple of decades down the line, it's hard not to feel like Austin Powers checking off his list of deceased friends. Try as you might, you just can't forget that fresh-faced Ben (Ethan Hawke) is ultimately headed for indies, Uma, and authorhood, while bespectacled geek Wolfgang (River Phoenix) has inescapable appointments with millions of girls' bedroom walls and one very unfriendly Viper Room sidewalk. When you top that off with the film's mid-'80s special effects and its Goonies-meets-E.T. earnestness, watching Explorers becomes a very nostalgic experience. The story kicks off when space-obsessed Ben literally dreams up a complicated circuit diagram; he asks his scientific pal Wolfgang to build it, and the result is an electrically generated field that can quickly move anywhere in three-dimensional space. In other words, the makings of a tidy little spaceship. Wolfgang, Ben, and the third member of their group, tough-talking-but-lonely cynic Darren (Jason Presson), get to work outfitting their floating bubble (the result, a whimsical craft cobbled together from pieces of an old amusement park ride, washing machine doors, and a TV screen, among other random bits, is straight out of the Spielbergian playbook) and wait for something big to happen. That the boys' big adventure doesn't really kick in until about an hour into the movie is a bit anticlimactic, but that's probably because Explorers' true journey is the one Ben takes in his own heart and mind as he learns to look for happiness on the ground as well as in the stars. Unfortunately, Hawke doesn't make Ben's inner conflicts all that compelling; both the actor and the character are a bit bland. Phoenix, swathed in baby fat and a white lab coat, is much more fun as Wolfgang — his furrowed brow and intense looks are as nerdy here as they would be sigh-inducing a few years later. Dante, whose '80s sci-fi resume also includes Gremlins and Innerspace doesn't do anything for kids' adventure flicks here that other directors hadn't already done more memorably (Spielberg, for one, as well as The Goonies' Richard Donner), but Explorers has an appealing sincerity that ultimately keeps it entertaining. Paramount brings the film to DVD in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with strong Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (Dolby 2.0 Surround is also available, as are English subtitles). As for extras, the studio managed to dig two deleted scenes out of the vault; neither is particularly remarkable, but both offer a little bit more explanation for two somewhat abrupt cuts in the final film. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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