Explorers (Collector’s Edition) – Blu-ray Review
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Film Title: Explorers (1985)
Release Date: 2021
Runtimes: 106 min. (home video), 109 min. (theatrical)
Region Coding: Region A
Distributor: Shout Select (Shout Factory!)
Audio Format: DTS-HD MA 5.1 & 2.0
Aspect Ratio(s): 1.85:1
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray Collector’s Edition
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Blu-ray Release Date: 5/25/21
Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, James Cromwell, Amanda Peterson, Dick Miller
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Movie | Video | Audio | Bonus | Closing | Screenshots
Full Blu-ray Tech Specs at bottom
“Explorers” was a 1985 film directed by Joe Dante. Dante is best known for directing such films as “Piranha“ (1978), “The Howling“ (1981), “Gremlins“ (1984), “The ‘Burbs“ (1989), “Gremlins 2: The New Batch“ (1990), “Matinee“ (1993), and “Small Soldiers“ (1998). The screenplay to Explorers was written by Eric Luke. Over the following years, Eric Luke would become known for writing and even directing other science fiction like the two TV movies “Not Quite Human II“ (1989) and “Still Not Quite Human“ (1992) — both for Disney.
The story here revolves around a young teenage boy named “Ben” (Ethan Hawk), who is fascinated like most kids growing up in the 1980s with the idea of going to space. Ben has been having these strange dreams about something he feels like he’s supposed to try to make and/or do, and thankfully he has a very smart friend who is a bit of a young scientist by the name of “Wolfgang” (River Phoenix). Wolfgang, as you might expect from his first name comes from a German family, and his father “Mr. Mueller” (James Cromwell) seems to be where he learned most from. Wolfgang is also obsessed with the idea of space travel, the Space Shuttle program at the time, and notably “Space Camp” — having countless stickers in his room just like Ben. To say that Ben and Wolfgang are a tad bit unpopular at “Charles M. Jones Junior High School” would be a bit of an understatement.
Thankfully, Ben knows a much cooler kid named “Darren” (Jason Presson) who happens to be his friend and decides to hang out with him. Ben decides to introduce Darren to his other friend Wolfgang one day and the three start to really seem to have some bond pulling them together. There are also those dreams that Ben has been having and the strange almost circuit board-like looking things he’s seen and showed to Wolfgang. These three kids are about to have a bit of an out-of-this-world adventure. Let’s just say that they manage to build their own spaceship that actually can fly and even go further than the limitations of this planet. “Explorers” was a fun film that took an idea that most of us dreamed of and/or played around pretending to do so as children and it took it one step further.
Also, as a bit of fun movie trivia for you, the name of the school the boys attend is a reference to the famous animator and director Chuck Jones. In fact, the filmmaker (director) here Joe Dante has always been an obvious fan of the early Looney Tunes cartoons as well as Jones’ other animated works. That’s why you’ll see some of them featured here in the film as well as some of his favorite science fiction films like “This Island Earth” (1955), playing on the TVs. Lastly, look for (a Joe Dante film regular) the late actor Dick Miller here in the film as a helicopter pilot. And pay attention as well as appreciate some of the visual effects that were done by the folks at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) for the film.
Movie Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
“Explorers” on Blu-ray Disc in this Collector’s Edition is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, for both versions of the film that are included. Each disc, in this 2-disc set, contains a different version of the film. The movie itself was shot on 35mm film using Panavision cameras and spherical lenses.
Next, let me get technical here, for a bit, in regards to the Blu-ray release itself. This is a 2-disc Collector’s Edition set and Disc 1 is using a BD-50 (50 gigabytes) disc, 40.75 gigabytes total, and 28.8 gigabytes itself for the home video cut of the movie. Disc 2 is using a BD-50 (50 gigabytes) disc, 39.10 gigabytes total, and 27.1 gigabytes for the Theatrical Cut of the movie itself. Now, I’m going to be realistic here and say what some of you might already be thinking about or asking yourself. Why does a shorter version of the film (home video at 104 minutes) get a larger file size than the longer version of the film (the theatrical cut at 109 minutes)? I started to find out what I believe to be the partial answer to that question, but I couldn’t find the complete reasoning behind it.
So, as I mentioned there’s an unusual file size difference here for the two different versions of the film, and you’re about to see and hear a bit about that. First, I want to show a few side-by-side visual comparison shots of identical scenes from each version to hopefully be able to give you an idea of what will be further discussed below.
Home Video VS. Theatrical Cut Comparison
SOURCES: Home Video Cut (left), Theatrical Cut (right)
Now, for my first example, look closely at the first shot from the theatrical cut (on the right). Okay, once you’re looking at that shot, look right at Ethan Hawke’s character on the left side of the shot. Notice there’s a blue-colored line going down his body? That’s just one of the visible differences between these two versions in what would seem to be as a result of different film sources, seen via the HD presentations here in the two separate and visually different encodes. You also might have noticed something in that first shot comparison that I’ll get to later.
Next, for my second example, let’s look at the shot above with Ethan Hawke’s character lying on his rooftop looking up at the stars. Once again, I want you to pick the theatrical cut on the right as the version to look at for this. Notice on the right side of the shot itself there’s some visible dirt that translates over as a black dot on the rooftop beside the actor, in a facial close-up? Another instance of there being a bit more rough visual appearance on the theatrical cut. Also, you’ll notice this a lot more it seems in darker scenes, there’s the obvious bit of visible compression here that is translating over into some block noise as well as leaving some artifacts in comparison to the home video version over on the left. The home video version of this film is using roughly only 1 gigabyte more in terms of size but I swear I see some differences and the compression problems on the theatrical version.
Finally, for my third example, look a the shot up there of Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix’s characters in a close-up. That’s where you’ll also notice that there’s a more seemingly intact film grain structure left with the home video version, as odd as this is, versus the theatrical cut. Most of that film grain seems to have turned into compression like you were watching this on a streaming service. And, what’s the craziest part about my last statement is that I had actually watched this recently on a streaming service (HBO Max), before doing this review and closely analyzing the two different versions on Blu-ray. I also found that they used the theatrical version for streaming, on a related note, to end this section of the video quality discussion. Now, I’m going to focus a bit on each version
The home video cut (version) comes with a little bit less dirt and debris on the film print in its scan, after watching both versions, I can say this for sure. Screenshots will even show it, I’m sure. It’s just visually a more pleasant HD presentation and with a slightly higher rating than the Theatrical Cut, in my opinion. I’ll get to that a bit later though. There’s a more impressive amount of film grain here on the home video cut and it seems to have a bit to do with the larger file size it is using.
The theatrical cut comes with a bit more than usual occasional dirt and debris that has been still left on the scan of the film print and a pretty decent amount of film grain. Some of the darker scenes look a tad bit less impressive than the others, around 24 minutes in. It doesn’t last too long though and I didn’t find it to be long enough to be bothersome but it was noticeable, and I found it to be worth mentioning.
The colors are pretty vibrant and flesh tones appear to be accurate. There’s a pretty solid black level here. I found there to be a tiny bit of visible compression issues such as artifacts or block noise in this Theatrical Cut of the movie. Sure, there’s that strange file size difference for the longer theatrical cut getting a smaller file than the shorter home video cut, and that seems to have played a little bit of a part in why maybe some compression issues are on this version. The theatrical cut is certainly rougher around the edges at times and that just adds to the theatrical feel, in my opinion. Plus, this is the first time that this film has been available on the Blu-ray format physically in HD. So? There’s room for improvement perhaps with maybe a new scan of this movie someday and some restoration or such but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Just be happy we are getting it finally and that it’s both versions and in a pretty impressive and solid video presentation.
“Explorers” in its debut to Blu-ray via this Collector’s Edition from Shout Select looks good enough for me and is sure to leave the fans pleased. The home video cut, obviously in my opinion, is the more impressive visual presentation and it earns itself a pretty impressive 4.25 rating for video quality, and the Theatrical Cut earns itself a solid 4 rating for video quality. Since I found one version, considered to be a bonus, to be different quality and such I’ve decided to rate based on the first disc. So, it earns an overall 4.25 for video quality for this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray.
Video Quality Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
Audio on the Blu-ray Disc Collector’s Edition release of “Explorers” comes in the choice of either DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo, both with DTS cores for those unable to decode the lossless formats. The movie originally received a 6-track (channel) mix for the 70mm blow-up, and a Dolby (likely 4 channel surround) sound mix during its theatrical run. This is not the first time that the film has been presented in these configurations on home video. In fact, the 2004 Paramount DVD included both Dolby 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. This time around though we get lossless audio formats (codecs).
Things start up with both the original music composed by Jerry Goldsmith and some sound effects being represented in an impressive manner for the lossless 5.1 surround mix. There’s a very nice amount of use of the rear channels here for the music and sound effects and the amount of LFE is nice as well, with the subwoofer getting to let you feel some action very early on.
The sound effects can get pretty impressive with some scenes having what I would consider being close to demo material for a film of this age. One of the first really intense scenes that makes very nice use of the 5.1 surround sound configuration happens around 23 minutes in. In that aforementioned scene, you’ll hear a sound effect start to bounce all around the room and jumping (panning) across the channels such as from left to right rear (channels). Meanwhile, you hear a dog barking as a result of this in the left rear channel. It’s somewhat intense but really little this like this that is very cool about the 5.1 lossless surround sound, and that’s just early on in this movie, long before any of the real action scenes happen.
The dialogue here is delivered entirely from the center channel speaker here in the 5.1 surround mix without any problems. There are some nice rear channel pans and front-to-rear channel pan techniques used here to really liven up the Dolby source material. The movie really had a magical feel to it and that comes from the beautiful original music that Jerry Goldsmith composed. Fans of this movie will be happy to finally get to hear it in the lossless audio format.
Lastly, regarding the choice of mix, if you’re wanting to keep things simple go for the 2.0 Stereo and you’ll get a more retro home video experience (regarding which version you’re watching), and if you want things to feel more home theater go for the 5.1 and get the big sound of Goldsmith’s music and the sound effects filling your room. You really cannot go wrong with either mix, as they both prove to be solid and at times impressive, earning an impressive 4.5 rating for audio quality.
Audio Quality Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Disc 1 contains the Home Video cut of the film (1 hour, 46 minutes, 30 seconds). Disc 2 contains the Theatrical Cut of the film (1 hour, 49 minutes, 14 seconds).
Bonus materials, on this release, are presented in both HD and SD video quality with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. The bonus materials that are on both of the Blu-ray Discs are identical and include the following:
- NEW “A Science Fiction Fairy Tale – The Story of Explorers” (1 hour, 4 minutes, 48 seconds – HD) features interviews with Joe Dante (director), David Kirkpatrick (senior executive in charge of production), Eric Luke (screenwriter), Darlene Chan (junior executive in charge of production), Ernest Cline (superfan/author, “Ready Player One”), Ethan Hawke (“Ben”). This proves to be one of the most informative and entertaining retrospectives that I have seen in a very long time. Fans will absolutely enjoy this and learn a lot from it. That said, congratulations sincerely go out to Brian Ward (of Shout! Factory) on a job very well done at both directing and producing this feature.
- Deleted Scenes (33 minutes, 54 seconds – SD)
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary (33 minutes, 54 seconds – SD) features a new audio commentary by the director Joe Dante, explaining the scenes and inevitably why they didn’t make it into the film. Dante admits he never thought he would see these scenes again, let alone be able to do this commentary for them.
- NEW “Interview with Cinematographer John Hora” (3 minutes, 46 seconds – HD)
- NEW “Interview with Editor Tina Hirsch” (6 minutes, 10 seconds – HD)
- Theatrical Trailer (1 minute, 32 seconds – HD)
Overall here for bonus materials really are a lot of fun, with the new hour-long retrospective documentary, and the two new interview featurettes, as well as the deleted scenes that run over 30 minutes in length. Plus, you get both the home video version and the original Theatrical Cut of the film presented on two separate discs, which I find to be a bonus. This is the type of collector’s edition for a cult-classic science fiction film that you dream of getting. Fans of this film are going to be extremely happy with this Blu-ray set and the impressive set of extras that are included.
Bonus Materials Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
“Explorers” from 1985 was a fun film, despite not doing well at the box office, and it was a film that ended up finding its real place on home video where people were able to watch it on VHS and not be perhaps so judgmental as the critics were. It’s great to see that the director Joe Dante is still proud to have been a part of this film, as well as the star Ethan Hawke, and this Collector’s Edition release will help you learn to realize that with its retrospective documentary that runs over an hour in length.
To even further look back at Explorers, this movie is about to be remade according to IMDb. I’m not usually a fan of remakes but it would be interesting to see a film like this done with today’s filmmaking technology. This has always been a childhood favorite of mine and despite not being a success theatrically ended up becoming a cult classic. The visual effects ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) did for the time were impressive and it only makes you imagine how a movie like this would look if made today, given how much technology has advanced since 1984 (when they made the film). And yes, this was released in 1985, but it was made back in 1984. That sometimes happens.
Given that over 35 years have passed since this was made, and that director Joe Dante and the original screenwriter both still have passion regarding the film, I’d say they will hopefully be involved in or supportive of the eventual remake discussed above. This 1985 movie was just fun and it still proves to be (to me as an adult) and is suitable for the whole family.
In terms of the video quality, you’ll get a more visually pleasing presentation from the shorter home video cut of the film. But, that doesn’t mean that there’s anything unforgivable or unwatchable about the visual presentation found on the longer theatrical cut. It’s a solid and at times pretty impressive video presentation here (mainly for the home video cut) to just have been a scan and not any type of new scan or restoration or remastering effort. I’m happy with how it turned out in terms of HD and I think the fans will feel that same way. I know, I got a bit overly technical in my analysis of the video quality further above, but I’m just OCD like that.
The lossless sound presentations here on both versions of the film are just impressive, especially in the 5.1 surround configuration, and it will manage to pull you in (so-to-speak) and have you feeling a bit more involved with the movie perhaps than you did before on DVD. The 2.0 Stereo configuration is nice to see there for the purists who want to give it a listen or those who might be on a soundbar and don’t want to have to have it attempt to downconvert the 5.1 surround.
All and all, this is one fun movie (as I said) and it’s great to see it finally make its way onto the Blu-ray format with a Collector’s Edition worthy of the title via Shout Select, as spine number #116 in the series. I can’t help but say that this release is recommended for all ages.
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
4.25 (out of 5) for video quality
4.5 (out of 5) for audio quality
4.25 (out of 5) for bonus materials
Recommended for All Ages
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