Tag Archives: Joe Dante

Explorers (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kids go into space.

Ben (Ethan Hawke) is a teen who keeps having dreams dealing with a spacecraft and eventually writes down the dimensions of it onto paper and then sends it to his super smart friend Wolfgang (River Phoenix) who uses it as a blueprint to eventually create it in real-life using various parts that they find in a junkyard. Once completed Ben, Wolfgang, and their other friend Darren (Jason Presson) decide to take it for a ride. Initially they fly it around their coastal California town, which catches the eye of the police (Dick Miller), who chases after it to no avail. Eventually though they decide to take it into outer space where they visit aliens inside a intergalactic space station.

Out of all of the sci-fi movies that came out during the 80’s this one has gotten lost in the shuffle and wasn’t too well received by the critics when it was first released though it has achieved a cult following since then. Director Joe Dante has complained that the final cut was taken out of his hands and he was never able to complete the ending that he wanted though for the most part the film never really gels, has a slow pace and only spotty moments where it becomes even halfway amusing.

One of the things that I did like was that the cast is age appropriate for their parts and the scenes done on a junior high campus have a student body that really looks to be teens instead of older college age actors trying to look younger, which happens in so many other teen films. The three leads thankfully aren’t crude or foul mouthed and aren’t obsessed with parlaying a ‘cool’, trendy image, which is also nice, but they seem just a bit too smart and able to do things that most adults can’t like welding and carpentry and  building a craft to exact specifications without any hitch or screw-up. Sure that Wolfgang kid is supposed to be smart, but even geniuses can make incorrect estimations, but this guy never does.

Watching the silly looking contraption actually get off the ground is farcical as in reality it most likely wouldn’t and the science gets completely thrown out the window. When they go out into space on their second trip they don’t even bother to equip themselves with oxygen and since there’s none in space I wasn’t able to figure out how they could breath. There’s no explanation either for how they were able to survive the extreme drop in temperature that occurs in high altitudes nor how the craft was able to get back through the earth’s atmosphere without burning up.

Spoiler Alert!

The scenes where the boys fly the craft around their town and even disrupt a sci-fi movie that is being shown at a local drive-in is when its funny and where the story should’ve stayed. Having it venture out into space and meeting other teen aliens is when it jumps-the-shark. The first hour plays like a whimsical fantasy, which is passable, but the third act becomes too campy. It also criminally under-uses Amanda Peterson, who plays Ben’s attractive love interest, who gets barely seen at all even though she should’ve gone on the trip with the other three boys, which would’ve bolstered the entertainment value and the fact that she doesn’t makes this already weak file even weaker.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The ‘Burbs (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New neighbors cause suspicion.

Ray (Tom Hanks) spends his vacation milling about his suburban home while keeping a close eye on his new neighbors that are rarely ever seen, but at night their basement emits strange noises and lights. Mark (Bruce Dern) and Art (Rick Ducommun) are two other men living in the cul-de-sac who notice the same things. Together they decide to form a strategy by finagling their way inside the rundown place and seeing what exactly is going on in there especially after another neighbor, the elderly Walter (Gale Gordon) mysteriously disappears.

Director Joe Dante has had a lot of success at doing films that mixes elements of horror with dark comedy, but this exercise fails almost immediately because there is nothing scary about it. In fact the humor and threadbare story are so innocuous that it becomes downright boring after about the first 10 minutes. The film fails to have much of a second or third act and the light doses of humor and action sprinkled about barely make up for it. The whole thing comes off like something written by an unimaginative novice that was more suited for an episode of an anthology series than a feature film.

Hanks manages to be marginally funny and Carrie Fisher makes for a good anchor as his no-nonsense wife, but Dern gets wasted as what starts out to be an over-the-top caricature of a right-wing gun-toting radical that soon gets as watered down as the rest of the script. He does manage to get in a few of his ‘Dernisms’, which was mainly due to the fact that the actors were allowed to ad-lib their own lines due to the fact that it was shot during a writer’s strike, but the part isn’t half as funny as it could’ve been. Also, in real-life a person like him wouldn’t be married to such a hot-looking younger woman and it would’ve been more impactful had the actress cast as his wife been his physical equal. I also wondered why they had so much free time to spend milling about the neighborhood. Hanks’ character was on vacation, but what was their excuse?

Spoiler Alert!

The ultimate revelation as to who the neighbors are or what they were doing is quite stale and almost like a non-event. If you are actually considering thinking of sitting through this thing just to find out that answer I would suggest that you don’t bother as it’s not in any way worth the effort. Also, there is never any explanation for what the neighbors were really doing, why they have a trunk full of human skulls, or why they would summon the police when they think their house has been broken into.  There is incriminating evidence at their residence, so why bother risking having the police come over to find it? Since they clearly didn’t have any problem killing people why didn’t they just attack the would-be intruders like they had done to their other victims?

End of Spoiler Alert!

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video