Last night, right before I went to sleep, I had a movie flashback – three kids, some kind of bubble, space travel and weird aliens on some kind of circuit-board style ship.

Only ten years ago I would have been stumped and would have to wait to accidentally catch a rerun to ever find out what this movie actually was. However, thanks to the wonder of the community chest that is the internet, it took all of nine seconds and a perceptive Yahoo Answers entry to get me what I needed.

Here, as a tribute to those movies, and my lost youth, are those key nostaglia-tastic movies of the 80s that don’t make it into conversation anymore, except as part of a vague unanswerable question.

This one’s for me, for my brother and sister, and for all kindred spirits caught in that otherwise forgettable age of the 80’s, here are those classics that creep in the far corners of our minds like the madwoman in the attic. Torrent Files linked in the title. Spread the love.

1. Explorers

Yup, the bubble space travel movie I watched by accident when I was, dunno, seven? Turns out that enticing story of three boys who run a computer program that creates a sphere that can be programmed to travel, holding the boys inside it, was the young work of River Phoenix, Ethan Hawke and James Cromwell (supporting, not one of the boys, he was old even then…)

IMDB tells us, Ben Crandall, an alien-obsessed kid, dreams one night of a circuit
board. Drawing out the circuit, he and his friends Wolfgang and Darren
set it up, and discover they have been given the basis for a starship.
Setting off in the ThunderRoad, as they name their ship, they find the
aliens Ben hopes they would find… but are they what they seem?

Well obviously not. But I don’t remember the outcome. Bittorrent here I come (oh come on, it’s gotta be public domain now.)


2. Flight of Dragons

Read my lips: THIS MOVIE IS BETTER THAN YOUR FAMILY. A brilliant self-reflexive tale based on Peter Dickinson’s real life book “Flight of Dragons.” Dickinson, as well as his book, appears in the movie in both a ‘real life’ world and a parallel magic world, whose conflict with reality is the basis for the movie in the first place. Fredric Jameson would have loved this film, which stars James Earl Jones as a baddie that would kick Darth Vader’s cack black Helmet right into Chewbacca’s furry face. Watch it and be educated in what makes good storytelling.

I had a chance to thank Don McLean who wrote the title track recently. He looked puzzled that I didn’t mention American Pie of Starry Starry Night.

Whole movie:

3. Flight of the Navigator

So synonymous with Christmas in my family the movie causes synaethsesia, and the mention on its name alone makes me smell presents, oranges, outlandish dolls that are also nutcrackers and general merriment. From the freakish voice that guides our boy hero into a secret hangar that houses a spaceship, floating quietly, to those melting stairs that solidify perfectly in midair, to the computer that starts off as a dull automaton, then absorbs the boy’s socio-cultural influences and starts talking like Kermit the frog on ADHD drugs. Brilliant, thoughtful, and fun!


4. The Peanut Butter Solution

Cultural effect – minimal.
Total viewing audience – 3 including me.
Story-telling ability – 3 billion. And then some.

Ok, what other Canadian made for TV movie I saw serendipitously in a fringe Cinema in the 80’s (that still exists by the way!) features an evil artist whose paintings you can step into, a disused house whose mysterious contents scare the hair off a boy, tramps that tell the boy that peanuts and dead flies wiped all over the scalp will solve his problem, hair that grows visibly, hair harvesting for magic paintbrushes….OH MY GOD THIS MOVIE IS CRAZY. The production company has wonderfully stuck to its crazy guns all these years too. When I saw this flick at the age of 7, I was so scared I quit my Youth Group and had nightmares. Awesome.

Whole movie in lieu of dead torrent:

5. The Storyteller

Ok it’s not a movie but a series. Fine, BUT – Written by peacefully resting Anthony Minghella, created somewhere between England and the US, puppets by Jim Henson and narrated by John Hurt – how was this going to be anything but “The Awesome?” Only a few episodes exist (nine in all), and each inhabit a realm between puppetry, live action, Grimm Tales and modern storytelling, it was usually to be found in the gaps between Flight of the Navigator and Explorers on the Christmas Schedule. Poetic, subtle, rich, the kind of entertainment that makes kids into better people.

6. Weird Science

One of the first Buzzwords at my boarding school was Weird Science. “Have you seen it?” Damn right I saw it. I saw the shit out of it. And again we stumble upon famous people in movies, a la Explorers. This time it’s Anthony Michael Hall (of the actually quite dull Pirates of Silicon Valley) and Kelly LeBrok playing the role of every 80’s boy’s girlfriend…

The TV series spin-off means that this entry is a little more mainstream than twisted peanut butter hair magic house crazy stories, but it’s a gem nonetheless.


7. Dark Crystal

Jim Henson reappears on the list (in a movie directed by the the brilliant Frank Oz, who somehow manages to be the director of this, Death at a Funeral AND the voice of Yoda) in a wonderful story that…well, I don’t really remember but it was GREAT.

over to IMDB:

Another planet, another time. 1000 years ago the mysterious Dark
Crystal was damaged by one of the Urskeks and an age of chaos has
began! The evil race of grotesque birdlike lizards the Skeksis, gnomish
dragons who rule their fantastic planet with an iron claw. Meanwhile
the orphan Jen, raised in solitude by a race of the peace-loving
wizards called the Mystics, embarks on a quest to find the missing
shard of the Dark Crystal which gives the Skesis their power and
restore the balance of the universe.

All I remember is being terrified of those puppets.


8. The Last Unicorn

Made by the Flight of Dragons Team of Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass (who made shedloads of awesome stuff including animated versions The Hobbit and Return of the King, though no-one seems to remember these), this is another GREAT example of 80’s creativity. I’ve included the German cover as it was infinitely more popular in Germany and the country deserves credit for that.


It is my hope that posts like these and so many others might lend a little extra life to these gems embedded in the long tail of internet culture. Keep them alive. They were made for love, not profit. Long may they live!

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