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Explorers – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

There are many directors which the Shout Factory (And Scream Factory) label love to celebrate and try to continue to add titles to bolster their collection of. Obviously John Carpenter has a mug at the home office. One who has seen consistent output as well is Joe Dante. A popular director of both big hits and cult films of the 1980s, one of his last remaining productions of that decade is seeing itself removed from the wishlists. His follow up to Gremlins, which featured break outs by Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix, called Explorers is getting Collector’s Edition treatment on May 25th. This 2-disc set not only comes with two different versions of the film (Home Video Cut and Theatrical Cut), but managed to produce a documentary that includes participation by not just Dante and crew, but Ethan Hawke has come back for it as well. You can order this nice set by using the paid Amazon Associates link that follows the review.

Film

The visionary dreams of three curious and adventuresome young boys become an exciting reality in Explorers, the action-fantasy from acclaimed director Joe Dante (Gremlins), who combines keen humor, warmth and fantasy with unexpected twists. In their makeshift laboratory, the boys use an amazing discovery and their ingenuity to build their own spaceship and launch themselves on a fantastic interplanetary journey.

While the script’s dialogue and visuals of tv screens in the film hit the nail on the head, this is pretty much Joe Dante’s This Island Earth. There are other influences, homages and the like about, but its the plot structure of This Island Earth that pretty much drives the film. And its a touching, nostalgic journey that surprisingly doesn’t reward or just pat on the back about it. The film has something to say about that entertainment and how it can be interpreted, influenced or held onto a little too much. Its an interesting move from a historian guy like Dante, but its thought out and interesting in the approach.

Of course the film is notable for being the launching point for both Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix. Hawke is quite fun taking the lead in the film and manages to do what you’d expect an 80s kid lead to do in these kinds of film. Phoenix, a later heartthrob, is almost humorous drowned in nerd clothing and accessories. Yet somehow, his good looks prevail over it all. The rest of the cast has some appearances by James Cromwell and Robert Picardo in fun roles.

Another cool aspect of the film is the special effects come from mastermind Rob Bottin. From the spacecraft to the alien entities and their tech, its solid work. If you’re into 80s practical effects, this is right up fun alley for you. In a way, its vibe and attitude sort of reminded me of a kid friend version of the movie Terror Vision (Oddly enough, also a Shout Factory Blu-ray release).

Explorers was a blind spot in my Joe Dante watching. And I suppose, growing up a kid in the 1980s, that watching, too. Its a pretty fun movie and I really enjoy the sorta referencing going on. The film almost plays like a Fright Night for the atomic era science fiction and horror films of the 1950s. Oh, and a good one for kids. While it doesn’t quite all work and runs a hair long, its still plenty engaging and plenty deserving of its cult classic status.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Explorers, in its blu-ray debut, doesn’t provide any details regarding the transfer of the film, but we can assume at best it was a 2K transfer. And it looks pretty terrific here. There’s a solid layer of grain and Dante’s typical soft, glow look comes across with good character. Details are pretty strong with the crisp visuals and textures easily discernible on the extraterrestrial creatures and their technology. The film carries and very “watching a print in a theater” look to it, and its not just a bit of charm, but its an excellent way to take it in.

Depth:  Depth of field is quite strong, and the cinematography really lends itself to the dimensional worth with a lot of play with foreground and background and dolly movement. A real nice pushback to display spacing is provided. Movements are cinematic, smooth and have no issue regarding motion jitter or blur.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep as they can, but with heavier grain in the image they carry a lighter tone in a film that features a lot of dark rooms, nighttime scenes and focus on shadows. No issues come from details being sucked in by the darkness on textures and lighting. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty solid and bold with a nice refined look. Greens, blues and reds have a bit stronger hold. Lights and display screens give a bit more of a glow.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are close to natural but a hair lighter, if only ever so slight. The tone is consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures fair best in close ups, but are decent in medium shots and further with reasonable expectations.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Explorers has both 5.1 mix and a 2.0 stereo mix to choose from with the film. And the 5.1 is so good, its actually almost startling how involved, impacting, loud and deep this gets. The score sounds outstanding and many of the more action elements drive in and engage quite thoroughly. Its a balanced mix with good clarity and wonderful depth. Explorers fans are going to be happily surprised with how good the sound is.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: There are some really good bumps that come from the score and the film itself provides plenty of special effects that receive a significant thump from the subwoofer, too.

Surround Sound Presentation: This is a pretty fun mix that really makes sure every speaker is active and accounted for. Much of the louder contributions and travel come from the front 3 channels, but the rear speakers provide some unique contributions as well.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras

Explorers – Collector’s Edition is a 2-Disc set and features reversible cover art. Both discs contain identical bonus features. Disc 1 is the Home Video Cut and Disc 2 houses the Theatrical Cut.

A Science Fiction Fairy Tale: The Story Of Explorers (HD, 1:04:48) – A terrific retrospective documentary that brings together Joe Dante, Ethan Hawke, Eric Luke, David Kirkpatrick, Darlene Chan as well as an author and fan in Ernest Cline to journey and walk back through the production with solid memories and details and reflection.

Deleted Scenes (SD, 33:54) – Features an option for commentary with Joe Dante. This is a sourced from a VHS workprint of the film, complete with a watermark.

Interview with Cinematographer John Hora (HD, 3:46) – He recalls shooting the film, the rush and working with Rob Bottin.

Interview with Editor Tina Hirsch (HD, 6:10) – Her interview talks about working with Dante and his style when it comes to editing. She also has some kind thoughts on some of the performances in the film.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:32)

Summary

Explorers is a rather fun kids movie from the 80s and Joe Dante feature that I’d not check out until now with this Shout Factory Blu-ray release. Said release has a rather terrific presentation, with a great image and a fantastic 5.1 track. The extras load you up plenty and there’s not much more you could reasonable ask for. A definite pick up for Dante fans who are curious and easily for those who have been loving this film for 36 years.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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