Fresh off the enormous success of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Henry Thomas, the fresh-faced star of that film must have been offered a million different roles, in a million different movies. His first three films after that Steven Spielberg blockbuster were Misunderstood, a prestigious drama co-starring Gene Hackman and Rip Torn; Cloak & Dagger, a criminally underrated spy thriller with Dabney Coleman; and this low budget atrocity. One has to wonder why a kid still riding high from a massive success would choose to make a low budget Australian film from a director no one in America had ever heard of and who is still best known for Ozploitation films like BMX Bandits and Dead-End Drive-In.
Well, actually one doesn't have to wonder because on this new Kino Lorber Studio Classics release of The Quest (aka Frog Dreams, aka The Go-Kids) there is an interview with Henry Thomas and he explains. Basically, though he was being offered a lot of films, most of them were for minor roles as there just weren't a lot of films being made with young boys as the lead. Here, he'd be the star, and it was an adventure film that bore at least a slight resemblance to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and other major blockbuster being put out by Spielberg and his cohorts. I'm sure a free trip to Australia didn't hurt either.
Thomas plays Cody, an American boy whose parents died in Australia making him a ward of the state. Now you may be asking at this point why they didn't send him back to America to live with relatives or friends or at least in the system on his own soil. A perfectly good question, but one the film doesn't bother to answer. He seems perfectly happy living in this small town in Australia. Especially since his foster father, Gaza (Tony Barry), lets him do pretty much anything he wants. He's a whiz kid who loves tinkering in a shop.
His introduction in the film finds him trying to ride his modified bicycle on the train tracks from the station to the school in under three minutes. The whole town is out to cheer him on except for the local sheriff who chases him down afterward to complain he's living life too dangerously. The scene is meant to be an exciting action sequence that starts us off with a bang and lets us know immediately that this is not an ordinary kid. All it manages to do is let you know how poor the production values are and how lame the direction is going to be from there on out.
He takes his friends Wendy (Rachel Friend) and Jane (Tamsin West) on a hike deep into Devil's Knob Forest where they stumble upon a small lake. While playing around, the lake starts to bubble tremendously and some kind of monster looking thing pops its head out. As they run away, they discover the corpse of an old man.
The authorities decide the man died of natural causes and figure the monster is nothing but the kid's imagination, so they hang a "do not enter" sign up and call it a day. Our boy Cody ain't gonna take that lying down and decides to investigate the matter himself. He believes the monster may have something to do with the Aboriginal myth of frog dreaming and learns they call the monster Donkegin.
After questioning a few local Aborigine people, he learns a man named Charlie Pride (Dempsey Knight) knows all the secrets. After a long river voyage (seriously, Gaza is terrible at his job as a foster dad. he never once goes looking for the boy), he finds this Charlie Pride, and the film's most interestingly shot sequence. Most of the film seems to have been shot in a point and click style. Very little consideration seems to have been given to things like camera angles and lighting, but this one sequence is beautiful (even if this transfer fills it with digital noise). It is filmed on a long water walkway at night with colorful lamps and a bright spotlight backlighting everything. It is creepy and beautiful at the same time. Then when the scene is over, it is morning and we're back to the drab shots.
Cody invents the most unsafe-looking diving suit I've ever seen and decides to take a dive into the lake. I won't spoil what happens next except to say the reveal of what the monster actually is would make even Scooby-Doo blush at its stupidity. I literally groaned at least three times before the credits rolled.
This is a bad film in every conceivable way. Had I seen this when it came out in 1986, as a ten-year-old I would have known it was stupid. I still would have watched it multiple times because I liked adventure stories starring kids no matter how dumb they were, but I would have known it was a bad movie.
I've not even gotten to the movie's treatment of the Aborigine people or its terrible attempt at something resembling a romance. The Aborigine (always referred to as "blacks" in the film) are mostly just used for background and Charlie Pride, the only native to get a real speaking part, is nothing but the magical negro trope.
Though Cody pays little attention to the girls all around him, except when they suit his needs, nearly every girl his age pines over him. There is a sequence in which Wendy invites him to a dance, but then gets grounded by her parents and cannot attend. She sneaks out, plants a note at his house, and runs back home. But the note gets blown away before Cody can see it. He goes to the dance anyway and has a good time with another girl. This girl gloats to Wendy the next day, but then nothing comes of it. We never see the other girl again. There is never any confrontation about why Wendy didn't come or anything. The film just moves on. That's the film in a nutshell. Things happen then it moves onto something else. With very little rhyme or reason.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics (and I had to double-check it was them that put this out for this is really the type of film typical of Arrow Video) presents The Quest with a 1080p transfer. Extras include an audio commentary with director Brian Trenchard-Smith and editor Brian Kavenaugh. There's also an interview between the director and Henry Thomas, a looking-back featurette and shooting locations revisited bit which is mostly various views of the lake (which is actually an old quarry) set to some bland music.
Looking at various modern reviews of this film, it seems that there were a lot of kids who saw it back in the day and have quite a bit of nostalgic affection for it. I can't imagine why.