First saw this when I was seven. Mostly memorable for being the only (?) movie I ever watched with aunt Nora. Otherwise I remember it being a pretty cool, very weird space movie which no other kids would discuss with me when I got back home to Texas because no one else had seen it.
Little did I know I was witnessing the feature film debuts by two new stars, Ethan Hawke (left) and River Phoenix (with the glasses).
Also this kid, Jason Presson, who was just as good but never got as far as his costars in the movie world (despite a cameo in Gremlins 2).
And Ethan’s love interest Amanda Peterson, who got her own romantic comedy starring role two years later before disappearing from the screen. She was barely in this movie, the token female character. Ethan kisses her at the end in the above cloud-flying dream-sequence, to show that he has grown up a little bit from his adventures, and to show that despite all this fooling around in basements with his boy friends, he sure ain’t gay. River still might be.
There’s a schoolyard villain, 17-yr-old Bobby Fite, but the coolest character is of course Dick Miller (above) as a helicopter pilot who sees the kids’ spaceship and single-mindedly tracks them down. A villain, perhaps, a stuffy adult authority figure come to put an end to their fun, but when he arrives at the clearing and sees them taking off in the ship, his reaction is unexpectedly sweet… he just smiles and stays behind the trees.
Computer effects by ILM, makeup by Rob Bottin (fresh off The Thing), music by Jerry Goldsmith, with James Cromwell as River’s absentminded father… a respectable crew. Not at all a bad movie, but I have a hard time summoning up much excitement for it… just a cute little journey with a refreshingly unexpected conclusion.
Nerdy German kid River is friends with picked-on dreamer Ethan. They love drive-ins, sci-fi and horror movies (hello, Joe Dante). Both begin to have a shared dream (the circuit board above), so River builds the board to the dream’s specs and has himself a computer-controlled floating forcefield. After teaming up with bully-baiting Jason, a tough loner kid from an unhappy home, they build a ship (called the Thunder Road, using a seat from a tilt-a-whirl) and test it out, surrounding it with the force field and buzzing their town, using alien technology to peep through Amanda’s window. After another dream which reveals the circuitry for a magical oxygen-generation board (?), they head out to infinity and beyond. Some wacky shenanigans with a giant spider aboard the alien craft that captures them, then they meet the aliens, a boy and a girl. Kids first lines: “I’ve waited all my life to say this… we come in peace.” A stunner from the aliens: “ehhh, what’s up doc?” Cartoony sound effects everywhere, kids don’t seem to know what’s going on, layers of TV shows and static all over the screen. Finally the alien craft is captured by a much much huger alien craft piloted by the parents of the TV-addict earth-meddling kid aliens who first met our heroes, and River’s gang returns to earth vaguely disillusioned. But we end on the kissing cloud dream, so it’s alright.
Bad science: “It was airtight – I couldn’t feel myself speed up or slow down.”
“They’re heeeere” reference to Poltergeist, which Goldsmith and ILM also worked on.