An adventure for the hero in all of us.
If you walked the aisles of your home video store in the late 80s looking for a movie to rent, you probably came across this one and possibly rented it from the cover box alone, as I think very few people saw the movie trailer. On that VHS box was 14-year-old Henry Thomas wading in a lake with a rifle and some type of homemade diving equipment. Behind him, something was ominously rising from the water and the ad copy told us “Henry Thomas, the star of E.T. invites you on a journey beyond your imagination.”
I had no memory of this being theatrically released at all-and I was working at the movies at the time. It’s not surprising the film was very briefly released in July and made it to home video November 12.
Henry Thomas played Cody Walpole, sort of a 14-year-old daredevil Tom Swift (for those old enough to get that reference) orphan ex-pat living in Australia with his uncle Gaza (Tony Barry.) While on a hike with girlfriend Wendy and her sister Jane, they come across an unmapped eerie quarry pond complete with its own dead body. The pond seems to contain something unknown, which Cody is convinced has to do with ‘frog dreamings’ and the legendary Donkegin, both related to local Indigenous belief. Consulting an Aboriginal man named Charlie Pride(!) and using his garage engineering skills that rival the A-Team and MacGyver, he outfits himself with all sorts of homemade equipment to prove to all the existence of the Donkegin, risking his life in the process. I love it when a plan comes together.
Likely 14 during filming and still looking younger than his age, Thomas was in a short string of films in the 80s after shooting to stardom in 1982’s E.T. that include Cloak & Dagger, as well as the lesser-known Misunderstood and Murder One. The film seems like a throwback to smaller, juvenile adventure films of the 70s-but it’s hard not to compare it to then-contemporary films like The Goonies and Stand By Me, which was in theaters that same summer. However, I find it reminiscent of made for TV Disney movies like Mystery in Dracula’s Castle and The Strange Monster Of Strawberry Cove-a far cry from the more explosion-rich ‘adventure’ films that were popular by the time this was released. The Quest harks back to an age when there was still mystery in the world, adventures to be had, and you couldn’t pull up information on your phone with a Google search.
Released as The Quest in the U.S., the film’s original title was Frog Dreaming and it was released under various names around the world, including The Go-Kids in the UK, The Spirit Chaser in Germany, Fighting Spirits in Finland, and The Mystery of the Dark Lake in Italy.
Written by Everett DeRoche, known for a lot of Aussie TV; and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, who brought you Aussie films The Man from Hong Kong, Turkey Shoot, Dead End Drive-In and The Siege of Firebase Gloria. Russell Hagg is also tagged as an uncredited director on IMDB-that raised my eyebrow and it turns out Trenchard-Smith took over the production mid-shoot when the film’s investors let Hagg go. I’ll be interested to hear the upcoming film commentary on this. The film surprisingly features a serviceable score by the Aussie composer Brian May (Mad Max, Road Games, The Road Warrior, Cloak & Dagger.)
The film was shot in and around Yarra Ranges National Park near Melbourne. The town of Woods Point as well as Moorooduc Quarry in Mount Eliza are heavily featured-and when you look through pictures on Google Maps, roads, buildings, and locales are quite recognizable from the film. Some buildings of Wood Point look as if they’ve been stuck in time for the last 70 years.
Being a product of the 80s, the film contains now outdated cultural references and depictions (am I really doing this?) including the presence of firearms, a homemade cannon, kids smoking, and some surprisingly frank, albeit brief, sexual references. Cody also engages in actions that would cause today’s helicopter parents to fly off the handle, and probably get them arrested. While I don’t interpret the kids’ passing references to ‘blackfellas’ as overt racism, some may take offense. However, like many films, the now well-known ‘magical Negro‘ trope shows up to move along the narrative as the white characters explore supposed Aboriginal myth.
An upcoming Bluray release from KL Studio Classics is scheduled featuring a new HD master made from a 4K restoration. This will be a welcome improvement from even the HD transfer currently available on Amazon Video. The disc will feature audio commentary with director Brian Trenchard-Smith, editor Brian Kavanagh, costume designer Aphrodite Kondos, and three ‘making of’ featurettes.
Coming to Bluray and DVD in region 1 on August 11, 2020.
Socially Distant Cinema is a column that will regularly point you to content from the 70s/80s currently available on various platforms that may bring you some entertainment during these periods of physical distancing...and beyond.