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Young scientific explorer River Phoenix (right)
is dazzled by the celestial splendor he and his
new alien friend Wak encounter during a fantastic
adventure through the galaxy in Paramount
Pictures' new science fantasy "Explorers."
"The physical problems presented by doing a film with children who cannot work at night--when most of the action takes place after dark--dictated that we build interior sets which could then be employed during reasonable hours," Boyle explains. "We were also working at a time of year when weather is a potential problem, so creating sets that effectively tied in with the scenes shot in Petaluma gave us more control all around."
On Stage 15, Boyle and his crew designed a split-level, interlacing group of sets which included an exact duplication of the Northern California creek, flanked by a full-scale culvert at one end and measuring 140' long, 12' deep and 26' at its widest point. Out of this central feature grew the natural conjunctions of Darren's backyard workshed and the Müller family garage. Running the length of the stage below stood the bountiful junkyard where Ben, Wolfgang and Darren uncover the rusted shell of an old Tilt-a-Whirl ride which later becomes the body of their little ship, the Thunder Road.
Wolfgang's basement, where the three boys first begin to understand the power of their amazing discovery, was constructed across the Paramount lot on Stage 32, where the majority of Thunder Road interior shots were filmed as well.
"In 'Explorers,' as the program states, 'the adventure begins in your own backyard' and that's exactly where we started--in a small town somewhere in middle America that everyone could identify with," says Boyle.
"What happens from that point forward is more extraordinary because our three explorers go into another environment completely, which is outside the knowledge of any of us."
It was this environment that posed the largest challenge of all for Boyle and his crew, who conceived and built the monstrous alien ship which served as the backdrop for the film's climatic final third. Together, they utilized nearly every inch of space--from wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling--on Stages 8 and 16 to create those expansive interiors. The bowels of the ship were comprised of a series of integrated shapes, textures and metallic-looking surfaces, with smoke and steam seeping through every groove and pore, and more mysterious passageways than a carnival funhouse.
"We tried to avoid building the kind of spaceship that is seen is so many movies today," Boyle remarks. "We began thinking in terms of the intestines of an automobile, and even went so far as to cut up an engine, just to study the shapes of its carburetor, distributor cap, gaskets, oil filter, hoses, and so on. I wanted it to feel like an automobile engine but be somewhat more abstract, so that the audience could bring its own impressions to it as well."
Adds director Dante: "The wonderful thing about 'Explorers' is that instead of being high-tech, it's very low-tech. I told Bob that it just may be the most buttonless movie since 'Metropolis!'"