Joe Dante1985 science fiction adventure film Explorers was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid! I loved that fucking thing. When I revisited it as an adult, however, I could totally see this movie had issues. I still love the movie, and it managed to retain its charm, but there’s a lot I didn’t know about the movie, and it actually had quite a troubled production. In fact, Dante doesn’t like the movie, what came out was not his vision. The studio practically tore the film up during editing and as a long time fan I would love to see the Dante cut of Explorers!
In the film, young Ben Crandall (Ethan Hawke) spends his free time watching sci-fi movies, playing video games, and reading comic books. Surprisingly, his affinity for all things fantastic pays off – when he has a vivid dream about technology, his science-savvy friend Wolfgang Muller (Phoenix River) manages to create a working spaceship. Joined by their pal Darren Woods (Jason Pressure), the boys soar into space and encounter some very strange alien life.
For those of you who are also fans of the film, or just curious. I wanted to give you a little insight into what happened to the original cut of Dante during production.
The original cut of the film that Dante and his team edited was 3 hours and 15 minutes! Sure, they knew they had to cut it down, but that was the start. The film was actually in an extended post-production editing phase when all of a sudden the studio decided to move the release date forward.
With the release date brought forward, the editing of the film has to go into rush mode and at some point the studio just told the director that he was done, even though he wasn’t, and they decided that ‘they were just going to go ahead and release what he had at the time.
The filmmaker recalled, “They ruined it by releasing it before it was finished, then didn’t support it with publicity – so it bombed and they lost a fortune.”
The shooting of the film has begun under the direction of the president of Paramount Studios Michael Eisner and production manager Jeffrey Katzenberg. Both ended up leaving the studio for Disney while Dante was shooting the film. At the time, he was asked to stop his work on Explorers by the new executives who took over so that he could rush Gremlins 2that’s a story for another day.
Dante explained that the production on Explorers was moving so fast and the target date they initially had was so ambitious that “when the kids got to the spaceship set, it wasn’t even dry yet. Their feet went into the concrete!
Under Parmaount’s new direction, Dante was trying to put together a film that would make sense of the unfinished film. The filmmaker spoke about some of the missing subplots in the film, saying, “There’s a whole subplot that’s cut out with the bullies. Our guys go back to school and there’s this magical something they got from the aliens and the kids’ clothes disappear. We shot all of that and we never got a chance to put it in the movie.
Dante ended up having to cut a party scene at the last minute where Ethan and Amanda have their first kiss. Dente recalls, “He gives her a hideous moonstone ring which he says looks great. At the end of the movie, when they’re flying, he’s looking at her hand as she looks at the ring – and of course we had to cut that.
There were other aspects of the film that were cut that would have explained some things involving a cool and wild concept of how consciousness is part of a giant being. It’s a pretty deep topic for a kids movie and it would have been cool to see it played in the movie. Speaking of this, Dante said: “Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had a philosophy [outlining] how all of consciousness is part of one giant being. It was in the movie at one point. It involved the [adult] Dick Miller character and how he has a psychic connection to children – because that’s how he felt when he was younger. It all got muddled and didn’t really work out.
No no. It’s a shame because it’s that kind of stuff that would have taken the movie to a whole new level. It’s something young fans would have come to appreciate more over time as they revisited the film. Now we only see remnants of great ideas that could have been.
Regarding the marketing of the film, Dante was very disappointed. In fact, he hated the poster that was released. He shared, “To the detriment of my career, it was ‘From the director of Gremlins.’ The poster was black on black and featured a garden fence with a light coming from behind. It just looked awful. When you put it on billboards and it looked like tar paper.
As you can imagine, Dante doesn’t revisit the film much. It wasn’t the movie he wanted to make. He explained: It’s a hard movie for me to watch because it doesn’t represent what I was trying to do. It’s just an interim period that’s been set in stone. Although I’m very happy for people to come and say they liked it – they show it to their kids and stuff and I think it’s wonderful.
He added: “It’s lovely but it’s just not what it could have been.”
While it’s good for Dante to be able to release his original cut because I’d like to see his 3 hour and 15 minute version of the film, all footage that was cut from the film is lost. Dante says it’s gone for good, and that’s too bad! He could never put on a director’s cut even if he wanted to.
Anyway, I still love and appreciate the movie for what it is. It might not be the movie Dante wanted to hit theaters, but it definitely sparked my imagination as a kid and I appreciate that nostalgic connection I have with the movie.
We talk about this movie on our secret level podcast in much more detail and share lots of additional information. We’re also talking about plenty of other movies, so check them out if you haven’t already!