Joe Dante holds something of a rarefied place in film fandom since he's one of the dreamers who was able to break into the industry and put his own fantasies on the screen. He started out by writing reviews of genre films for fan magazines (which were later reprinted in Video Watchdog) and eventually got a job cutting trailers for Roger Corman's New World Pictures, which led to directing gigs like Hollywood Boulevard and Piranha. It was after he went out on his own to make The Howling that he was tapped by Steven Spielberg to direct one of the better segments of Twilight Zone: The Movie (the gonzo reimagining of "It's a Good Life") as well as Gremlins, which was such a major hit that it allowed him to develop a more personal project. That turned out to be 1985's Explorers, a feature-length wish-fulfillment fantasy for sci-fi geeks everywhere.
Best known today for marking the screen debuts of Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix, Explorers is mostly seen through the eyes of Hawke's pop-culture obsessive (obviously patterned after Dante), who gravitates to science fiction epics like War of the Worlds and This Island Earth, much like I was drawn to this film and watched it repeatedly when I was an impressionable young lad. Phoenix is much more down-to-earth, the rational proponent of science fact who is able to translate an image from Hawke's recurring flying dreams (which feature some Tron-like landscapes) into an actual circuit capable of creating a force field that he can control with his 128K Apple computer (an obvious hand-me-down from his computer-scientist father). To complete the trio they enlist gearhead Jason Presson, the product of a broken home who helps build and christen their spacecraft, the Thunder Road, which quite appropriately has a television screen as its main window. This is because when our three young explorers finally make it into space, they find that television has most emphatically preceded them.