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Explorers on DVD

Now here’s a guilty pleasure! How can one not love a film in which the protagonists are students at Charles M. Jones High School and one of them has a mouse called Heinlein?

Joe Dante’s Explorers is kind of like a cross between Robert Zemeckis’ Contact and an homage to the sci fi flicks and TV shows on which the baby boomer generation grew up.

Our heroes are Wolfgang (River Phoenix), the brains, Ben (Ethan Hawke), the dreamer, and Darren (Jason Presson), the down to earth loner. After Ben is contacted by an alien race through his dreams, he enlists his friends’ help to build a spaceship (out of a Tilt a Whirl car, no less!) and go to visit what obviously must be a highly superior race bent on friendly contact.

Well, the reality is quite a bit different from the dream, or even the expectations, but we won’t spoil the fun for you.

And fun Explorers definitely is, and it’s enough to make the dreamer, or kid, in anyone stand up and applaud. Sure, it’s silly, but so what? We get a decent story, good performances (including a triple play by Dante regular and Star Trek Voyager’s Robert Picardo, as well as a nice job by Dick Miller as an older version of the kids) and Industrial Light and Magic’s mid 1980’s state of the art.

For what more could anyone, especially kids, ask?

Explorers is also upbeat and hopeful and sends a positive message to the young and young at heart. Even though it’s nearly 20 years old it still feels young and adventurous and we get the impression that thanks to its attitude it will never grow old. Perhaps it’s a kind of Peter Pan of sci-fi movies…

So if you like flicks such as Galaxy Quest, Gremlins or The Goonies, you’ll probably enjoy this tale of the good ship “Thunder Road”.

The DVD is okay. Fortunately, it’s presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, but it could really benefit from a good remastering (though we doubt that it’ll happen since the film was a relative box office stinker). So there’s plenty of grain, though the colors are good.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and it’s pretty good. We remember Explorers sounding really great on VHS Hi-Fi, but this transfer doesn’t leap out at you like the older version did. Perhaps that’s as much because we’ve grown spoiled by great digital soundtracks since the 1980’s, though.

Extras are limited to a couple of short deleted scenes that don’t really add anything.

Explorers, from Paramount Home Entertainment
106 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Robert Picardo
Written by Eric Luke, Directed by Joe Dante

Conquest of Space

Conquest of Space on DVD

Well, at least they made it in the first place, and have now released it onto DVD.

Conquest of Space is a strange brew of science fact in a science fiction setting, a wondrous adventure that isn’t nearly wondrous enough for a new millennium audience but which was probably plenty wondrous in the mid 1950’s.

This George Pal production (he’s the fellow behind such classics as The War of the Worlds, Destination Moon, and The Time Machine) gives us a wheel-shaped space station years before Stanley Kubrick did (it’s a logical design, after all) and a tale of an expedition to Mars.

Commander Samuel Merritt (Walter Brooke) leads his intrepid crew to the Red Planet in a wonderfully 1950’s (or, possibly, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Thunderbirds-ish) multi stage spaceship. Their mission is unprecedented, but they are all too human and prone to human foibles. So we get a career soldier who stows away because of his loyalty to the cause and his leader as well as an crew member who snaps under the pressure and very nearly causes the death of all hands.

On the other hand, this is an intelligent film with no creepy (or silly looking) aliens, where mankind holds its destiny in its own hands and can be both the cause and the solution to its problems.

And for the era, the special effects are darn good. The space wheel looks really neat, even though the mattes are apparent (hey, whaddya want for 1955?)

On the other hand again, sometimes they seem to forget about the laws of physics that they take pains to remember at other times.

But hell, this was a movie bent on showing the possibilities of space exploration and was undoubtedly trying to help those lobbying for just such a scenario. As such, one would have to consider it a success, though as a space film Pal’s own Destination Moon is a far better movie.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is pretty good, though spotty. There are times when you pine for a loving restoration, and sometimes when you’re prompted to demand one by writing to Paramount directly. But at least it's finally available, right?

Audio is Dolby Digital mono and is okay.

So while this is one of George Pal’s lesser efforts, it’s still well worth seeing, especially if you’re a sci fi fan – in which case you’ll undoubtedly want it in your collection.

Conquest of Space, from Paramount Home Entertainment
80 min. anamorphic widescreen ( 1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Walter Brooke, Eric Fleming, Mickey Shaughnessy, Phil Foster
Produced by George Pal
Written by James O'Hanlon, directed by Byron Haskins

Attack of the Gryphon

Attack of the Gryphon on DVD

Where's Ray Harryhausen when you need him?

Attack of the Gryphon is exactly the type of larger than life heroic fantasy made famous by the legendary effects master in such films as Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans and his Sinbad movies. And for the most part, this film succeeds in recreating that old time feel.

But, please, when you're putting the name of a mythological monster in the title, it behooves you to put some effort into the title creature - and that's the biggest failing of Attack of the Gryphon.

Here's how the package describes the movie: "After 300 years, the war between Lockland and Delphi is about to come to an end. In a desperate attempt to turn defeat into victory, the King of Lockland orders the court sorcerer to unleash its ancient protector - the Gryphon - upon the invading armies of Delphi. The wily wizard, however, has other plans, and uses the Gryphon's supernatural powers to become supreme ruler of both kingdoms. Uniting against their common foe, Lockland's Princess Amalia (Amber Benson, TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Delphi's Prince Seth set out in search of the legendary Draconian pike, the only weapon that can destroy the Gryphon and end the sorcerer's evil reign."

That's a pretty good description, too. Naturally, the Prince and Princess find time to fall in love, much to the chagrin of their advisors and handlers, but it helps solidify the bond between the two kingdoms and gives us something to watch besides mayhem. Not that there's much romance to watch.

It's okay, but the whole thing is made unwatchable by the laughably lame title creature. The gryphon looks like something pulled out of an old Nintendo video game, back when gaming graphics technology wasn't anywhere near what we have today. It almost seemed that, if the human characters fighting it would have had ray guns, specific sections of the gryphon would start to shimmer in their interlaced glory before the whole thing would eventually fly apart in several large and unbelievable pieces.

Yes, it's that bad.

It's amazing what can be done on a TV budget these days, so the production budget for this flick must have gone somewhere - and judging from the star power assembled here it didn't go to the cast.

That said, the DVD is OK over all. It's presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is good enough that the laughable gryphon comes through clearly. Okay maybe that isn't a good thing after all.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it's fine.

The only extras are some trailers for other films in this basic genre.

Attack of the Gryphon, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
90 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Jonathan LaPaglia, Larry Drake, Amber Benson, Sarah Douglas
Produced by Ken Badish,
Written by Sean Keller, Directed by Andrew Prowse

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