Explorers is so lightweight that you'd better hope nobody coughs when you see it, or it might get blown away. It's well made, sort of sweet, definitely harmless, fairly entertaining, and lacking in anything approximating substance. The Goonies, by contrast, was a large, indigestible lump. I preferred Explorers, but neither film seems of any great importance to me. You could easily skip Explorers and not have to worry about having missed much of anything.

Telling almost anything beyond the barest essentials of the beginning of the film would be (and, in the case of many reviewers, has been) criminal, for the film has so little plot. For those who don't like to see a film without knowing a little bit about it, the most I can fairly tell you is that Explorers is about three boys who, inspired by odd dreams, build a spaceship.

Joe Dante reveals an unexpected taste for children's trifles, for that is what Explorers really is. Who would have thought that the director of Piranha, The Howling, and Gremlins would come up with a film which almost no parent could possibly object to? Of course, there is the little problem that, by and large, once children are old enough to choose films for themselves, the last thing they want to see is a film their parents don't object to. Where, then, will Explorers find its audience? Certainly not among adults, or at least not more than one time each.

Dante spent too much time watching E.T. The first half of the Explorers is filled with shots cribbed from Spielberg's film: slow pans over children's toys, light mists in moonlit woods, scrounging junk to patch together a high-tech device, and so on. When the orchestra, led by a bevy of violins, kicks in, the sense of deja vu is intense. A few characteristic Dante touches, like the Charles M. Jones Jr. High (that's Chuck Jones, master director of Bugs Bunny cartoons), liven things up momentarily, but they are few and far between. If The Goonies seemed an overreaction to the fuss about Indiana Jones, Explorers is an almost alarming retreat in the face of the criticism of Gremlins. It's the only alarming thing about the film.

For his leads, Dante, doubtless with producer Spielberg's help, has dipped into the same old pool and come up with three more attractive, white, male Yuppie puppies. All are adequate, none are extraordinary, and, in the already overburdened child actor market, I doubt if they will resurface. Dick Miller, long time Roger Corman alumnus and a constant fixture in Dante's films, plays a rather irrelevant part, and that is about all the cast that matters.

Which leads us to an interesting point. Anyone else out there think that Steven Spielberg is a sexist? Boys are always at the center of his films, never girls. The girls in The Goonies are something of spoilsports and don't have as many interesting things to do as the boys. The protagonist of Back to the Future is male. So was the protagonist of Gremlins. The little sidekick in Indiana Jones was male, and the only woman was a screeching caricature. The kids in Explorers are all boys, the only girl serving more or less as an icon. Only her irresistibility kept Drew Barrymore from fading into the background in E.T. The women in Jaws had minor roles. Only in Poltergeist did Spielberg give us important female characters. The female parts in Raiders and Close Encounters weren't too bad, but they were definitely supporting roles.

I doubt if Spielberg is doing this consciously, but the fact remains that, with George Lucas drowsing in somnolence (and let's all remember the many great roles he gave to women in the Star Wars films: Princess Leia and . . . and . . . wasn't there a woman in one of the rebel warrooms in The Empire Strikes Back?), Spielberg is undeniably the most powerful filmmaker working. He can, and does, literally make what he wants to make, how he wants to make it. And it doesn't seem to occur to him to give good roles to women. Some of the most popular films of the last few years, and likely some of the most popular films of the next few years, are being made with little or no on-screen female presence. Talk about lack of role models.

But, getting back to Explorers, Spielberg and Dante have dolled up the production in their usual style, with first rate effects from Industrial Light and Magic and the usual professional jobs from all the other departments. Explorers is just a well-dressed trifle, and might have been a better film at half the cost, if a little more vitality could have been injected into it.

At worst, Explorers won't harm anyone, and can serve as a reasonable entertainment for a couple hours. Boys of 11-14 may find it a bit more appealing, since the story is told from their point of view. Anyone else is likely to forget Explorers very quickly. With the number of good, memorable films around, Explorers is one to catch up with when you aren't in the mood for too much excitement.

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