SpaceCamp (1986)
October 8, 2022 8:50 AM - Subscribe

Young attendees of Space Camp learn life lessons when something goes wrong.

Starring Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Tate Donovan, Kelly Preston, Larry B. Scott, and Leaf Phoenix.

Also starring Tom Skerritt and Terry O'Quinn.

Directed by Harry Winer, and written by Clifford Green (as W. W. Wicket) and Casey T. Mitchell.

46% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.

JustWatch listing.
posted by Stuka (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
SpaceCamp was a staple during my childhood years. I watched it after thirtysome years awhile ago. I remembered all the action. I knew all the lines. It was weird. For reasons I won't mention here, I watched SpaceCamp again last night.

IMO, SpaceCamp is less than the sum of its parts. Yes, it was from ABC's TV movie unit. But it has a first-rate cast with some pretty big names. Lea Thompson, Tate Donovan, Tom Skerritt! Terry O'Quinn!! Joaquin Phoenix!!! The score is by John Williams! The effects aren't ILM, but they're not terrible either. And the acting is excellent, especially Kate Capshaw. She really sells it. And Tate Donovan does a good job trying to look and act like a teen.

The weakest link in the movie, IMO, is the story and the writing. From the get-go, it's more like Space Academy than Space Camp. The movie does a nice job of showing the kids and their issues. But there is a big hole in the middle of the movie between those issues and when the action starts. And some of Kate Capshaw's lines are out of this world. On the other hand, some of the writing is very good. Larry B. Scott's story when they're running out of oxygen is good writing and good acting. And when Lea Thompson bursts out in tears is both a logical in the moment and heartbreaking.

I've read there were production problems. And ABC Pictures closed down not long after SpaceCamp was shot. I think somebody had grand aspirations for this movie, but something happened along the way during production.

All of the characters are endearing. All the actors are trying hard. The effects aren't Gravity, but they hold up well enough. SpaceCamp is a movie that I enjoy rewatching every few years.
posted by Stuka at 9:19 AM on October 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

I just could never get past the premise. Space campers actually get shot into space all of a sudden.

I can imagine the sequel: Model UN. When the real United Nations is, I don't know, taken out by e coli on the salad bar, a bunch of overly hormonal nerds on a high school field trip are the world's only hope to solve a global crisis. Will Jennifer find the self-confidence she needs to give an awesome speech? Will Tom and Cathy finally get up the nerve to kiss? And can they find a diplomatic solution before the world ends in nuclear holocaust?
posted by Naberius at 9:43 AM on October 8, 2022 [6 favorites]

So if anyone is uncertain, I will explain the plot that gets them into space (spoilers ahead!): one of the campers becomes good friends with a sentient and self-propelled robot that lives at NASA. This robot has a real day job - he controls the machines the astronauts use to train to do spacewalks- but he lives at NASA 24/7 without adult supervision at night, and so do space camp participants. So the robot and kid hang at night and the robot lets him do extra training spacewalks and they have bonding conversations. The robot knows his human friend dearly wishes to go to space and do a spacewalk, so he sneaks into the launch room and hacks the computer so that the fake shuttle launch that the campers will participate in on the final day of space camp becomes a real shuttle launch. The kid gets to do a spacewalk and it’s pretty awesome.

Basically I love this movie and haven’t thought about it in years and clearly it’s all in my brain still. As an adult, on reflection, it’s clearly an ad for space camp and propaganda for NASA, but that went over my head as a kid.
posted by holyrood at 10:18 AM on October 8, 2022

I just could never get past the premise. Space campers actually get shot into space all of a sudden.

I don't mean to threadsit. But this is actually something I wanted to mention but forgot about when posting. Part of SpaceCamp's charm for me is that it is more fantasy than science fiction, IMO. It is a product of those heady days before Challenger when NASA was sending astronauts into space as often as every month, wearing nothing more than what the characters are wearing in the movie.
posted by Stuka at 10:49 AM on October 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

I still enjoy this movie almost as much as I did when it came out. I was the right age and a huge space nerd, so that was a big part of my initial enjoyment. I've re-watched a few times in the last few years and for me it really holds up. The acting is great all around. The story moves along and is compelling. Characters actually struggle grow in believable ways.

I've had a lot of people tell me how impossible the plot is. Well yeah - but then I also really liked War Games, Explorers, Flight of the Navigator, and a bunch of other 80s kid movies with equally impossible plots. Are silly adventure movies ever really possible? Should they be?
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 5:06 PM on October 8, 2022

I loved this movie when I was seven or so, but I don’t remember if I ever saw it. What I did have was a paper-thin middle-grade novelization that I reread. I adored Tish, but I was too afraid of accidentally going to space to even attempt to go to Space Camp. (Due to poor communication, I also thought this might happen at Space Mountain. I was an anxious child.)
posted by Countess Elena at 5:18 PM on October 8, 2022

The Challenger Shuttle disaster was January 28 1986. Space Camp was released in June 1986. Not sure if there's enough filming time in there or maybe second thoughts. I'm surprised they actually released it when they did.

Now Space Camp itself, I went in 1983 when I was 13. I think it was the first or maybe second year that it existed. When I went back to look at the online Space Camp graduate listings... I'm not there. Inquiry resulted in "those days were back on paper, files are lost in a box somewhere maybe..."

My shuttle mission... we burned up on re-entry from a damaged tile, guess we were supposed to do a space walk and apply some duct tape or something. So the Columbia Shuttle disaster was a punch in the chest.

I didn't really enjoy the movie. Way to ridiculous for this kid who still wanted to be an astronaut.

Space Camp was lots of fun though. Probably got a little less fun by then.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:45 PM on October 8, 2022

If you want to express joy:

"Whip me, beat me, take away my charge cards!"

If you want to motivate your children to do something they aren't interested in:

"Do you want Space Camp"

If you need an all purpose robotic voice:

"Jinx and Max friends forever"

This is another movie that gets quoted far more often than it would seem it should.
posted by madajb at 11:30 PM on October 8, 2022

I remember nothing about this movie except the weird tension between the Challenger disaster (I was 12 in Florida and was disbelieved when I told the office at my Catholic school that something had happened to the shuttle because the trails in the sky were all wrong) and the fact that my family was poooor and I longed in every fiber of my being to go to Space Camp.
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:37 PM on October 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

I was too much of a space nerd to ever settle into Spacecamp. You can have fantasy but you need consistent rules. And in 1986 I knew the rules.

Andie is in a shuttle full of kids, losing comms, knowing it's not flight ready... There's your two abort indicators... flip the abort switch to land in Spain and TAL, or AOA abort once around and get yourself into Edwards with that tasty long dry lake bed. Why the everloving are you riding this thing all the way to orbit? You missed the entry window for Edwards? You know your shuttle can sideslip a heck of a long way. You're short how many hours of O2?... you have 14 hours of O2 for the spacesuits.

12 year old me was very annoyed, and was pretty sure why NASA never gave Andie the Commander's seat on a Shuttle.

47 year old me is not allowed to watch this film with the rest of the family. We still quote "Jinx and Max" to each other though ;-)
posted by ewan at 7:59 AM on October 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

I still haven't seen the movie, but I somehow got my hands on the novelization of the movie and read it a bunch of times and enjoyed it a ton.
posted by PussKillian at 12:35 PM on October 10, 2022

My one stickler moment from this movie was a scene where one of the kids (maybe Phoenix?) is doing a spacewalk and his tether gets cut causing him to fling off into space, and the way the shot is composed it's meant to look like he's plummeting toward the moon's surface, as if he's been caught by the pull of lunar gravity. I think it probably gave many viewers the false impression that the moon was a lot closer to earth than it actually is, and it always bugged me.
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:54 PM on October 11, 2022

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