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Written by Eric Luke
Directed by Joe Dante
Ben is an average kid having extraordinary dreams. In these dreams he is flying in the clouds, looking down on a complex outline of circuitry. These could just be inspired by his late night viewing of classic science fiction films, but he still shares them with his nerdy friend Wolfgang. They discover this information allows them to manifest an anti-gravity field that they can manipulate the size and speed of. With help from their other friend Darren, they use an old Tilt-a-Whirl car to create a ship they can fly across the city with. A variety of complications arise putting the boys’ plans of space exploration and alien contact in jeopardy.
This is not going to be the review you are expecting.
As I have watched this films inspired by the Spielberg sense of wonder starting with E.T. I have noticed something. It came to the forefront when watching Explorers when I saw the female love interest looked familiar. A quick google search and I found her name, Amanda Peterson. You likely remember her from the teen comedy Can’t Buy Me Love where she starred alongside Patrick Dempsey. She had a few more films after that major one but settled into a few television movies, and by 1994 her filmography ends. The next time you probably heard about Amanda was in 2015 when she died.
Amanda Peterson was raped the year after Explorers came out. She was only fifteen at the time, and this story didn’t come out until after her death. Her parents felt that it needed to be told. While her assailant has never been named, we do know he was 27 years older than 15-year-old Amanda. I don’t think it’s too big of a stretch to assume this was someone in the film industry because Amanda insisted to her parents that they don’t go to the police about it. After all, she wanted to be a star and who wouldn’t want to rush past such a traumatic moment in their lives.
Amanda retired from the industry in 1994 and returned home to Colorado, where she had been born. She ended up in two failed marriages and with two children. She started self-medicating with alcohol and an astounding assortment of illegal and prescription medications. Arrests began around 2000, and she ended up in jail for three months at one point over an assault. There were even charges of child abuse around 2012. Her parents claim she was drug-free at the time of her death. The autopsy showed she had pain meds for a recent hysterectomy in her system, on top of illegally obtained morphine, opiates, and marijuana. Doctors say her respiratory system just shut down. Amanda was 43.
In Explorers, Amanda plays Lori the one-dimensional love interest of Ben. We never learn anything much about her, and she spied on by Ben using the anti-gravity technology. His interest is framed with innocence; he wants to be close to her. Darren comments that she isn’t even undressing. Amanda pops back up at the end, seemingly in on the same alien transmission as the other boys. And that is it for her character.
River Phoenix made his film debut in Explorers as the scientifically minded Wolfgang. River would go on to have a short but pretty prolific career. He was transitioning from teen fare into more adult cinema when he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 23. River’s parents joined the Children of God cult in the 1970s, during the height of cults in America. They moved to Venezuela as missionaries. River would talk about his experience in the Children of God cult in interviews and revealed that he lost his virginity at the age of 4 with other children. The Children of God encourage sexual intercourse between minors. River didn’t go into much detail, merely saying “I’ve blocked it out.” The Children of God still exist, having undergone some name changes, they are currently known as The Family International.
These 1980s films that use childlike imagination and wonder as their hook is fine, but we cannot forget they gloss over a dark reality of that time and our own. While these young actors play clean-cut, bright and happy kids, they were being forced into adulthood in the most traumatic and horrific ways. They deserved better than this. And we do them a disservice by flushing these realities from our minds when we view their work. When we watch E.T., we have to acknowledge the turmoil Drew Barrymore was already going through at that point in her life.
It’s not pleasant to make a note of the darkness of reality, but the blatant ignoring of these abuses is one of my most significant problems with modern geek culture. Our fun and enjoyment never come before human decency.