It's really a shame that such a well conceived and thought movie ends like this. The first 2/3 is great, aside some minor details. During the 2/3, it is original, fresh, imaginative, creative, clever, very enjoyable and timeless. But once the aliens show up, it goes down the drain. Literally. If only the aliens were well made and likable, but they aren't. First, the aliens are green and look absolutely grotesque. Second, they are incredibly annoying, so annoying that you'd wish to squeeze their necks.
Before that, however, the movie is generally likable. It has that unique 80's atmosphere and environment, notorious even in slighest details. The special effects are great for a family-oriented sci-fi movie. It tells the interesting story of 3 friends (Ben, Wolfgang and Darren) with different interests but a dream in common. Ben is fascinated about space and often dreams he's flying in space. Wolfgang is a scientist, therefore the intellectual of the group. Darren is more reluctant and practical, he is the type of guy who prefers to "play it safe" but he still joins his friends in their adventure. The three build a homemade spacecraft with room for three and embark on their secret adventure to space.
The 3 friends are portrayed with excellency by the young actors: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix and Jason Presson. In fact, this was the acting debut for Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix.
River Phoenix is unfortunately long gone, but he always proved to be a gifted actor.
Ethan Hawke... it's a surprise to see him so young. He looked cute here, he had that floppy 80's hair, a childish face and still possessed the voice of an early adolescent. Today he looks very slim, awfully tired and very old for his age.
As for Jason Presson, he never had the fame of Ethan and River, but that's not to say he was any inferior to them, he wasn't. He also didn't have a career as big, but he starred in the drama "The Stone Boy" before this.
This movie is considered unfinished even by its director, Joe Dante. Apparently he had a deadline and was pressed by the studios to launch it as fast as possible and leave it as it was, not giving him enough time to finish it properly. The result of this is quite clear: that ending is a disaster.
Even Ethan Hawke didn't look happy with that ending. He tried to hide that with cheerful smiles, but I can tell that he looked sad in the aliens's part and that he was nowhere near as bright as he was until the aliens showed up. I can't blame him, that ending was a mess. Even the other 2 boys were probably disappointed with it, although they don't show that as much as Ethan.
James Cromwell has a small role as Wolfgang's father. It's a surprise to see him younger. He looked so different than in "Babe".
This film didn't do very well at the box office back in 1985 and that also upset Ethan, so much that he didn't recommend anyone at that age to act and didn't return to acting until 4 years later in "Dead Poets Society".
But, back to the other subject, I think they shouldn't press directors like that. They should let them do the movies the way they want and give them time. When pressed like that, final results can't be good. Look at "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", for instance. Steven Spielberg wasn't entirely satisfied with it and asked some more time to finish it, but they wouldn't listen to him. Later, he finished it the way he wanted - as a result, it improved considerably. Nobody is gonna die just because a movie takes a little longer to arrive. And not only nobody is gonna die, but that can very well compensate and be worth the wait.
Still, since Joe Dante was pressed of time, he could have done like Spielberg: finish the movie later as he wanted. That could have improved the movie a lot. Maybe there still exists some footage from the movie that wasn't included and could be restored and put in the movie and relaunch it in a special-edition DVD or something.
That ending is really the only I'd change. I wouldn't change much from the rest of it. It's only that ending that desperately cries to be remade. If I was involved in the movie's production, I wouldn't have allowed that ending, I would have told them to do it all again, from scratch.
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