SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL #53 – Can’t We Just Get Beyond Thunderdome?




Looking at the films released on the weekend of June 12-14, 1985, we come up with MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME, Joe Dante’s EXPLORERS and Lawrence Kasdan’s epic western, SILVERADO. I know you all want to get right to Mad Max. But honestly, can’t we just get beyond Thunderdome?








explorers_xlgEXPLORERS (1985) – Bullied sci-fi geek Ben (Ethan Hawke) has prescient dreams about strange alien technology. He enlists his brilliant friend Wolfgang (River Phoenix) to help him build what he saw in his dream and they come up with a bubble that defies gravity and can even be controlled. With their new friend, the tough kid Darren Woods (Jason Presson), they use the technology to build a spaceship and take to the stars. After a few misadventures, they do indeed make it into space and rendezvous with an alien spacecraft, only to find that some things are the same on any planet.

Joe Dante’s EXPLORERS had the misfortune of coming out in a summer with plenty of blockbuster Speilberg-produced films (THE GOONIES, BACK TO THE FUTURE) and other films that were Speilbergian in their execution (D.A.R.Y.L.). The film even began life as a Speilberg production originally. It also didn’t help that a lot of people were home this weekend, watching the Live Aid concert.

But EXPLORERS ages better than others of its ilk. The characters are instantly likeable, kids with lots of problems who still possess a sense of wide-eyed wonder. They are also refreshingly not obnoxious like some of the Goonies were.

Looking at the film years later, I find myself more interested in the parts that I thought dragged when I was a kid. I enjoy the stuff where the kids are getting to know each other, where they use the technology to peek in on Ben’s crush (even though it is kind of creepy) and build the spaceship. As a kid, I loved the third act because wow, look at all that shiny stuff. But now I see the third act as the weak part of the story. It contains a moral that is very interesting but as a whole it doesn’t measure up to the rest of the film.

Reportedly, EXPLORERS was rushed out a few months ahead of schedule, which meant that the film we’ve been seeing for years isn’t really finished. Dante was told to stop editing and they would release the film as is, since that Speilbergian vibe was so big at the moment. This meant that a lot of footage and subplots were never introduced and certain scenes were re-dubbed in post so the film would make sense. Joe Dante is one of those directors who always seems to make entertaining, interesting films and yet he always gets pushed around. Who knows what could have been?  ★★★ (out of ★★★★)






mad_max_beyond_thunderdome_ver1_xlgMAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985) – In the wind-swept desert of the post-apocalyptic world, Max (Mel Gibson) has all his belongings shanghaied by another troublesome aviator (Bruce Spence again). He finds his way to Bartertown, an outlaw civilization in which everything is a bargain. In exchange for his belongings, Max agrees to kill what he is told is a potential usurper. In settling the assignment in a gladiatorial arena called Thunderdome, Max learns he has been used and is subsequently ousted from Bartertown. Eventually, he makes his way to an oasis with a tribe of children who have been awaiting their savior, a savior that looks suspiciously like Max.

This was the third film in the MAD MAX trilogy and I always found it interesting how you can see the world change with each film. In the original MAD MAX, the world is on the brink. Society seems just about ready to collapse, with the last remaining law enforcement officers trying to maintain some sense of order. THE ROAD WARRIOR (a.k.a. MAD MAX 2) shows what happens in the years following a nuclear war. All world orders have collapsed and all that is left are the roads that connect the remnants of civilization. In MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME, we see a world even further gone. Taking place many years later, judging by Max’s grey streaks, even the roads are mostly gone, replaced with heavy winds and massive sand dunes that can swallow you up. We also see the two extremes in establishing a new sense of order. The naïve but steadfast hope of the young is represented by the tribe of children while the way of the cynical outlaw can be see within the gates of Bartertown.

The third film in the series is met with derision by some. After all, it was less violent than its previous two installments and sported a supporting cast of children. However, there is plenty in BEYOND THUNDERDOME that still holds up against earlier films. The characters are still great and shows a maturing of society, though not in the ways one would desire. The whole thing has a slightly more mythic and epic feel than the earlier, grittier films. And there is plenty of creativity and thrilling action to go around.

Where the film misses the mark is in one mistake that comes to a head in the third act. It’s the casting Bruce Spence, the Gyrocaptain from ROAD WARRIOR, as another, different character, who also has a flying machine and who also proves to be a thorn in Max’s side and eventual ally. It didn’t help that the annoying kid in this film wasn’t anyone in the tribe Max discovers, but the little brat that Spence carts around with him.  ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)






SILVERADO (1985) – The first part of Lawrence Kasdan’s epic western involves a group of mismatched people meeting up for the first time and making their way for the town of Silverado. After they arrive (which isn’t as straightforward as you’d expect), they discover that the town is rife with corruption, as crooked lawmen, politicians and cattle ranchers hold the town at their mercy. Eventually, the group gets back together to settle scores and free the town of Silverado.

Much like this weekend’s EXPLORERS, Kasdan’s film was a little too late to the party. The early part of 1985 saw two western comedies, LUST IN THE DUST and RUSTLER’S RHAPSODY. Clint Eastwood’s more somber PALE RIDER was released just a few weeks before. So, audiences who hadn’t seen hardly any westerns on the big screen for a while were a bit cowboyed out at this point.

It’s too bad because SILVERADO is a much better film than PALE RIDER. The film shows the combined influence of John Ford in the epic set-up and Howard Hawks in the rootin’ tootin’ gunfights.

There is an incredible ensemble gathered for the film, including: Kevin Kline, Scott Glen, a young Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, Jeff Fahey and Amanda Wyss. It makes the mistake of overstaying its welcome a bit with a long running time. Still, SILVERADO was one of the best of the nostalgic 80s westerns and shouldn’t be forgotten.  ★★★ (out of ★★★★)




1. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1,435 screens) $10.6 million ($32.6 million – 2 weeks)
2. MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1,474 screens) $7.3 million (1st week)
3. COCOON (1,102 screens) $5.0 million ($39.7 million – 4 weeks)
4. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1,674 screens) $4.3 million ($125.3 million – 8 weeks)
5. PALE RIDER (1,688) $4.0 million ($28.5 million – 3 weeks)
6. EXPLORERS (1,750 screens) $3.6 million (1st week)
7. SILVERADO (1,168 screens) $3.5 million (1st week)
8. ST. ELMO’S FIRE (1,091 screens) $2.9 million ($19.1 million – 3 weeks)
9. THE EMERALD FOREST (1,030 screens) $2.8 million ($10.5 million – 2 weeks)
10. THE GOONIES (1,225 screens) $2.2 million ($51.8 million – 6 weeks)

source: Box Office Mojo



Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 242

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Categories: Scott W. Davis, Scott's Film Geek Journal

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