Based on a book by Patrick Bailey and Larry B. Williams, inspired by the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and released in U.S. theaters on June 6, 1986, SpaceCamp was undoubtedly the victim of bad timing. A family friendly story about a group of teens who go to camp at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida to learn about NASA and the shuttle program, SpaceCamp was released less than six months after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, on January 28, 1986.
In his review of the film famed critic Roger Everyone wrote, “Our thoughts about the space shuttle will never be the same again, and our memories are so painful that SpaceCamp is doomed even before it begins.” Elbert was largely correct. The film didn’t perform well at the box office, grossing less than $10 million. As a teenager in the summer of 1986, I distinctly remember, most people didn’t want anything to do with NASA, and unfortunately for SpaceCamp, having their seal of approval was a huge negative. In hindsight, the timing of SpaceCamp was and is a real shame, because it’s a fun movie.
Two years removed from her breakout role in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Kate Capshaw stars as Andie Bergstrom, a smart, capable astronaut who has yet to go into space. After missing out on her latest chance she and her husband (Tom Skerritt) bring their NASA expertise to space camp–three weeks where kids learn what it takes to be an astronaut–where Andie is given a group of five kids as her crew. Kathryn, played by Lea Thompson, a year removed from Back to the Future, Larry B. Scott as Rudy, two years after both Revenge of the Nerds and The Karate Kid, Kelly Preston as Tish, two years before her breakout role in Twins. To top it off, SpaceCamp marked the film debut of 12-year-old Joaquín Phoenix (Walk the Line, The Master) (credited as Leaf), in the role of Max, and Tate Donovan as Kevin. That’s a pretty good group!
The story itself is the kind of ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasies ’80s movies and television was full off. Campers are sent on a real space mission after Max makes friends with a robot named Jinx (voiced by Frank Welker), who tricks the NASA computers into turning a routine maintenance test into an actual launch. Far-fetched, yes, but it never feels like it. Screenwriters Clifford Green and Casey T. Mitchell have done a nice job of connecting everything. Each character is well developed; we know what their about, and have a good idea what drives them. As a result, we feel invested in what happens to them. Once in space, this movie doesn’t let up on the drama. With minimal training, Andie and the kids must face obstacle after obstacle in a bid to return safely to Earth.
SpaceCamp is funny (there are so many references to Star Wars), and dramatic, with a touch of romance. Firmly steeped in the ’80s in terms of the music, the clothes, and the attitudes, the practical effects are seamless, and the space Camp itself seems like a really cool place to visit.
Understandably, the Challenger explosion doomed SpaceCamp at the box office in 1986, more than thirty years later it still works as enjoyable movie for the entire family. After years of being very hard to find, I’m thrilled that Kino Lorber Studio Classics has made SpaceCamp available on Blu-ray.
Presented line the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Kino Lorber’s 1080p presentation is a marked improvement over MGM’s long out of print DVD. Colors are vibrant, and natural looking throughout, with no bleeding or blooming present. I noticed only a couple of small scratches that didn’t affect the overall viewing experience. Overall, the image looks very good. While the level of detail isn’t quite up to the standards of a modern title, fans should be quite pleased.
The DTS-HD soundtrack offers a fair bit of dynamic range, with surprising punch during the shuttle takeoff sequence. Ambient sounds are given plenty of space, and dialogue sounds clean, clear, and concise. John Williams’ score comes through nicely, as do the various pop hits of the era. With no real issues to speak of, this track represents the film quite well.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- An Interview with Actress Lea Thompson
- An Interview with Director Harry Winer
- Original Theatrical Trailer
Movie title: SpaceCamp (1986)
Director(s): Harry Winer
Actor(s): Kate Capshaw , Lea Thompson , Kelly Preston , Joaquin Phoenix , Tate Donovan , Tom Skerritt
Genre: Family, Sci-Fi, Adventure