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I went on The Quest, and found Go-Kids Dreaming about Frogs…

So last week I discovered an 80s kid’s flick that I’d never heard of before (The Quest), and I decided to try and document the process of finding some new nostalgia so to speak.  It’s rare that I stumble upon kids flicks that I haven’t seen from my youth as I was a voracious movie watcher with access to huge video stores and HBO.  I obviously haven’t seen every film from 1979-1989, but even the ones I’ve missed I’m typically aware of them (for example D.A.R.Y.L. or Mac and Me.)  The Quest was completely under my radar though, and as I loved Henry Thomas in both E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Cloak & Dagger, I couldn’t wait to catch up with this obscure flick.

Unfortunately the film isn’t available on DVD, but there are a couple of copies floating around on Youtube, so this past weekend I sat down and took it in.  Before I dig into the flick, there are a couple things I’d like to mention.  First, for those interested in watching this movie who don’t want anything spoiled (I know I didn’t), then you might want to skip this review until you’ve gotten a chance to see the flick.  One of my goals with watching this flick was to come at it completely fresh with the exception of the image on the VHS cover (which led me to the film in the first place) so that I could do my best to recreate what it would have been like watching the flick for the first time as a kid.  But I do want to talk about the various plot points in the film, so you’ve been warned.

Second, I wanted to bring up the confusion over the title to this flick.  It was originally titled Frog Dreaming for its 1986 Australian theatrical release, but when it made it’s way to Britain and America it was re-titled The Go-Kids and The Quest respectively.  I haven’t done a ton of research on the reasoning behind the change, though I can infer it was because the original title is potentially a little too metaphorical for kids.  Similarly, the original one-sheet poster was a rather tame waist-up painting of Henry Thomas’ character Cody with little adornment.  This was also changed for the international releases.  I’ve already shared the American artwork, which features Cody, battle-ready complete with shotgun, underwater camera and a giant sea monster in the background.  Awesome right?  Well the British poster is similarly awesome, but it takes the imagery in an entirely different direction that I think also had a drastic effect on the re-titling of the film to The Go-Kids

This poster is a weird amalgamation of The Goonies, Conan, Star Wars, and National Lampoon’s Vacation (itself a parody of Boris Vallejo’s barbarian artwork done by Boris himself) theatrical posters complete with raised light saber, clingy girls, and skeletons.  Watching the film I did get a heavy Goonies vibe, so this is sort of a no-brainer, but I do have to say that adding the light saber was stretching it a bit (though it is a reference to a scene in the film.)  Anyway, here’s a couple of the other posters to illustrate my point…

    

As for the film itself, I will say that I loved it.  It’s right up there with other childhood adventure flicks like The Goonies, The Monster Squad, Flight of the Navigator and The Explorers, though it has very little of the pop and polish of any of those flicks.  The flick is sort of low key and a slow burn, but it has all the important ingredients that make it as cool as the other flicks mentioned.  So first things first, it didn’t disappoint.

The flick was written by Everett DeRoche and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, a name that might be familiar with 80s kids for his flick BMX Bandits, or to horror fans for his Ozsploitation flick Dead-End Drive-In.  I have seen BMX Bandits, though it’s been 25 years or so, so I need to reacquaint myself with it.

  

The first thing I noticed while watching the film was that Trenchard-Smith was layering in the foreshadowing from the opening frames.  The opening titles are flicking across the screen while the camera is underwater in a murky lake which sets an ominous and slightly creepy tone.  From here it pulls out of the water and centers on various frogs around this watering hole lake.  The frogs switch to large lizards, which eventually give way to our opening set piece with involves a slightly drunk man lazily fishing on the lake.  Something is going on, the wind is picking up, the fisherman gets a bite on his line and bubbles start rising out of the middle of the lake.  Something big is in that water…

By the end of the sequence we get a glimpse at something rising out of the water in a very Loch Ness sort of fashion, but then before it can lift up completely it’s back into the murky depths…

  

Next we’re introduced to Henry Thomas as Cody, who is for all intents and purposes the idealized version of who I wanted to be as a kid.  There will always be a part of me that wishes I was as clever as Data, as courageous as Mikey, or as flippant and “cool” as Mouth from The Goonies, but I was always a little more in the realm of Chunk (though not quite as much as a spaz.)  I always saw the better version of myself as being cool, quiet, in control and smart enough to build all sorts of gizmos and machines; a sort of young MacGuyver, but totally willing to carry weapons larger than penknives.  Cody is that kid.  Between his jean jacket, camo vest, fingerless gloves, and his penchant for welding and contraption building he has a lot of the “cool kid” bases covered.  Add to this the fact that he’s an orphan growing up in the Australian Outback with a disdain for authority and a flare for daredevil antics and you have one of the cooler 80s kid heroes ever on screen.  Sure, I might be playing him up a bit much, but again, I identified with the character heavily, so I can’t really help it.  Thomas’s Cody is the logical extension of his Elliott from E.T. and Davey from Cloak & Dagger, and The Quest is surely the third in his trilogy of kid’s adventure films.

As I mentioned, Cody is a tinkerer supreme, and the next sequence in the film involves him putting the finishing touches on a retractable attachment to his BMX bike that will allow him to ride smoothly on railroad tracks…

  

This is also a pretty cool scene as it sets up Cody’s role in the town as a bad boy daredevil.  He’s planning on riding the rails from the town to school in under three minutes, but considering it’s over three miles away, that’s kind of fast on a bike.  On his way to the tracks people from all over see him on his way and know exactly what he’s about to take on and a crowd starts to follow like a bunch of dogs following a fire engine.  This sequence also sets up his relationship with a local girl, Wendy, who obviously has a crush on him, which is one aspect of this flick that tends to differ from other similar 80s kid’s flicks.  Typically there is no romance for the main kid characters (with the exception of flicks like The Wizard or SpaceCamp), and even when there is it’s usually regulated to the more teenaged characters like The Karate Kid’s Daniel or Bran & Andi from The Goonies.

 

Anyway, after a near miss and last second bail-out, Cody proves himself by making it to the school in under three minutes.  Of course the local sheriff gets wind of the stunt and ends up giving our hero some grief.  To celebrate Cody and Wendy (with her little sister Jane in tow) decide to hike into the woods for a picnic.  Being a born adventurer Cody leads them a bit deeper into the bush than expected and they end up at Devil’s Knob and the lake known as Donkegin Hole (from the opening scene in the flick.)  Though he’s never been to this lake, Cody does know the guy from the opening of the film as a dentist from Sydney that camps out at the watering hole during the summer.  While searching for the dentist, they group split up and before they know it, the two girls find themselves stranded on a raft in the middle of the lake.  Of course the bubbles and wind start up again as well.  Cody comes to the rescue by jumping off of a five story cliff into the lake so that he can pull the girls to shore.  This is sort of a fun set piece in the flick that again displays the careless gusto of Cody…

  

Back on shore they finally discover the dentist, and well, lets just say that’s one dead dentist…

Cody soon discovers the legend of Donkegin Hole, which is thought to have a Bunyip (or large rat-like swamp creature) in it.  Starting to obsess over the whole thing, Cody takes a two-day trip alone out to the Aboriginal country to try and track down any information he can get on Donkegin and bunyips.  He’s pointed to a mystic named Charlie Pride, who he encounters one night on a foggy dock.  Pride gives Cody a test to stand up to a demon at the end of the dock, a test that will reveal whether he’s a boy or a man.  Of course he isn’t afraid, and he walks right up to the apparition and discovers that it’s nothing more than a scarecrow with a florescent light behind it.  Though it’s not really a pivotal scene, this is where the “light saber” on the poster artwork comes from.  In a fun 80s era reference Cody picks up the light and pretends it’s a light saber.  Looking back at the characters Henry Thomas portrayed in the 80s, this type of real-life kid play is a reoccurring motif.  Again, it’s also something you don’t always see in 80s kid’s flicks either.

  

This is also part of a weird thread in the film that involves a bit more mysticism.  One of the really cool aspects of this flick is how real to life it feels.  Because there isn’t a loud pop rock soundtrack and because everything plays out so slowly it feels very real.  So when Cody encounters Charlie Pride it goes into another place tonally.  Luckily though, Pride disappears and leaves Cody only with the experience of the scarecrow meet-up.  This only strengthens his resolve to solve the mystery of the Donkegin bunyip though, and when he gets back home from his research journey he devises a plan to try and snare the bunyip.  Of course this involves the construction of a homemade cannon, like any sane kid-plan would.  Cody baits a shark hook with a leg of lamb and then waits by the lake for the bunyip to surface, which it does, so he can shoot it with the cannon, which he also does.  Unfortunately it’s not enough and the bunyip re-submerges much like the previous times it’s shown up.  Plan A failed, but like any good mini-Macguyver Cody has a plan B in mind as well which involves a makeshift scuba helmet, a spear gun (mistakenly painted as a shotgun on the American poster), and a waterproof camera.  This time Cody is going to get a picture of this creature!

  

Again, it’s this devil-may-care sense of adventure that really draws me into the film, and the fact that the main character has to devise all sorts of ways to accomplish his insane feats just cements it as a cool flick.  Take the opening sequences of The Explorers movie where the boys are building the spacecraft, or when Rudy is pulling together all the needed weapons in The Monster Squad for examples of what I’m trying to get across.  It’s just pure wish-fulfillment.

Long story short, Cody, with the help of Wendy on the air pump contraption, dives into the lake hell bent on finding the Donkegin bunyip.  He never resurfaces though, which sends Wendy crying back into town alerting everyone that Cody is dead.  Or is he?

  

Later that night Cody’s guardian and the sheriff decide to try and drain the lake to find the body, while Wendy takes one last look around Cody’s workshop trying to come to terms with his passing.  What she finds though is that Cody had figured out what the bunyip actually is, and there’s a chance that he might still be alive.  She leads the town folk back up to the lake, which has been half drained by this point, and thus begins a mad rush to try and find out if Cody is still alive somewhere under the water.  It’s at this point that we get the full reveal of the bunyip creature and it’s not at all what the viewer expects!

In reality the creature is an old piece of mining equipment called a Donkey Engine.  It’s basically an huge excavation crane that has had air trapped under it causing it to life to release some of the pressure from time to time.  Cody managed to find his way into the air pocket underwater, and as the “creature” lift’s its head out of the water he finally manages to escape to freedom.

All in all this was a really interesting flick that manages to pull together so many of the things that I loved when I was a kid.  If I’d seen this back in the day I probably would have been head over heels for it.  The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me is the weird mystical subplot with Charlie Pride.  He reappears one more time at the end of the film.  Cody, after surviving the whole ordeal, makes his way alone back to Donkegin Hole to survey the area.  On a separate cliff, Pride appears, though this time he’s covered in tribal garb and made up to look like a Kurdaitcha (aboriginal boogeyman).  Pride proceeds to sweep his arms about making all sorts of junk (including the Donkey Engine) to magically crawl back into the leftover water.  The film ends with Cody realizing there is magic involved, which totally negates what the rest of the film was building up through the whole running time.  I can understand if Trenchard-Smith and DeRoche wanted to keep from stripping all of the magic from the film, but to blatantly throw this sort of mystical endcap onto the film really does it a disservice.

Here’s to hoping this flick eventually makes it onto DVD.  I’m also crossing my fingers that I can run across another hidden gem of a flick like this in the future…

I’m going on The Quest!

One of my favorite pastimes since creating this site is seeking out old magazines from the 80s looking for hidden gems from the decade that I think are worth talking about.  Be it old advertisements for forgotten food like the Frankenstein’s monster-influenced, chili-stuffed hot dogs (Frank’n Stuffs), or insane ads for Back to the Future-themed Power Wheel DeLoreans, there’s always something fun to uncover.  Recently while flipping through some old issues of Billboard magazine I stumbled upon an advertisement for a kid’s movie that I’d never heard of before.  Now I’m not the end-all be-all encyclopedia of everything 80s, but I did experience my fair share of what the decade had to offer kids, in particular film-wise.  With the exception of a handful of made-for-TV flicks here and there, I think I’ve seen most of the kid’s flicks from the decade.  Or I thought I had, until I saw this awesome advertisement for The Quest

Why did I never stumble across this VHS cover while combing though the various video rental joints of my youth and teenage years?  The flick star’s E.T. and Cloak & Dagger’s Henry Thomas as an orphan living in the Outback with relatives after his parents pass.  Emboldened by the local legends of a lake monster named Donkegin, Thomas gears up and goes on the hunt for the creature.  Right now that’s about all I know about this flick (well, that and that The Quest is the American title for this Aussie flick which was originally known as Frog Dreaming.)  I’ve found this flick in various forms on Youtube and I’m super excited to watch it asap.

I’ve never really done this on the site before, but I thought it would be fun to try and share the process I go through while looking for content to write about.  In this instance, I’ve found a badass advertisement for an unseen flick from the 80s, and I’ve tracked down a copy to watch.  I wanted to share this portion of the excitement, which is mostly the unknown and potential for finding another awesome kid’s flick from my youth.  Will the movie live up to the potential and hype of this ad, or will it be an utter let down?  Some of you have probably already seen this flick and know that answer.  But I’m about to find out, and hopefully I’ll be able to share my thoughts next week after watching The Quest.

I mean come on, it’s Elliott with a shotgun hunting the down-under equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster!  How can this not be awesome?