Our review of SpaceCamp (MGM Release), published August 2nd, 2004, is also available.
In space, no one can hear you play REO Speedwagon.
And now we come to yet another '80s movie that seems to have slipped right past my radar. How many of you remember SpaceCamp? I vaguely recall this film coming to theaters back in 1986. By today's standards it has a lot of then-fresh faces: Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, wife of Steven Spielberg), Lea Thompson (Back to the Future, TV's Caroline in the City), Kelly Preston (Phenomenon, wife of John Travolta), Tom Skerritt (Picket Fences, M*A*S*H), and a very young Joaquin "Leaf" Phoenix (Gladiator). I can't recall if SpaceCamp was a hit or not, though judging by the fact that Anchor Bay is releasing it on DVD, I'm guessing the latter.
Facts of the Case
At one point in their formative years, most kids dream of becoming an astronaut. For five youngsters, that dream is about to become a reality!
NASA cadet Andie (Capshaw) has always dreamed of heading into outer space. Unfortunately, her trip has been delayed when she's passed over for a different candidate. Dejected, Andie takes off to work at a NASA Space Camp for kids with her husband (Skerritt) for the summer. Andie's group of rowdy teens includes the anally-serious Kathryn (Thompson), the carefree Kevin (Tate Donovan, Love Potion #9), the air headed Trish (Preston), the token black guy Rudy (Larry B. Scott, Revenge of the Nerds), and the smart yet young Max (Phoenix). Learning the ins and outs of space travel, the kids become experts at what it takes to make a trip through the stratosphere. On a routine tour through the shuttle, Andie and the kids are accidentally shot off into space through a misunderstanding by Jinx, a cute NASA robot that's been befriended by Max. With only their wits and knowledge to guide them, Andie and her kids have to figure out a way back to Earth before it's too late!
I had absolutely no expectations when I popped in the DVD for SpaceCamp. I knew nothing about the movie, and wasn't expecting anything fancy. I was rewarded accordingly. SpaceCamp is a very bland '80s movie that cashes in on the NASA/space program with flying colors. Apparently, the filmmakers had to run the script past NASA so they could use their training facilities in the film (NASA wanted to make sure that the reason the kids were shot into space didn't end up being the space program's fault). I'm sure that NASA will be glad to hear that they are at no fault for SpaceCamp's lifeless plot—that rests solely on the shoulders of the filmmakers.
Before I continue, I want to point out that SpaceCamp is a good movie for younger children. It's not so much a bad movie as it is a boring one. Long stretches of dialogue are cut between some space shuttle scenes that make 2001: A Space Odyssey look like Armageddon. I guess by the time 1986 had rolled around, folks were expecting laser wars and zooming space ships than slow, plodding space scenes. Even the inclusion of Jinx, an R2-D2 like droid with a cartoon voice, can't save the day.
The biggest problem facing SpaceCamp is its age. The language, the hairstyles, the songs, the effects…they all scream 1980s. Granted, this isn't always a bad thing: I couldn't imagine The Breakfast Club or Back to the Future being set in any other decade. But for SpaceCamp, it just seems out of place. There were a lot, and I mean a lot of space scenes where you could actually see the mattes around the ships, sun and earth. I guess that's the curse of DVD: every special effect imperfection shows up with ringing clarity.
As for the cast, they do their job and little else. Kelly Preston's role is to act like a bimbo. She does it very well. Tate Donovan is the comedic relief. He does that moderately well. Lea Thompson and Kate Capshaw spar because "when I look at you it's like looking into a mirror," states Capshaw. Larry B. Scott is relegated to freaking out when the shuttle starts to lose oxygen, and Phoenix's Max is cute, helpful, and has an IQ of around 180. Webster, eat your heart out.
You could do much worse than SpaceCamp. Kids may get a kick out of the space scenes, and if you think your youngin' isn't old enough to watch Darth Vader cut Obi-Wan in half, then SpaceCamp should feed their appetite for non-offensive space movies. Just don't expect too much if you're over the age of twelve.
SpaceCamp is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. Non-anamorphic?!?! Doh! You'd think that Anchor Bay would have put a little more work into this title. Sadly, what we get is a transfer that is passable, but could have been oh-so-much-better. Colors and black levels are all well saturated and clean, though detail seems to be a bit fuzzy. Dirt and grain is kept to a bare minimum, and shimmer is spotted in only a few key scenes. This is a serviceable transfer, though nothing of what I've come to expect from Anchor Bay.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English. This very disappointing soundtrack has almost no fidelity or depth. While the word "surround" is on the package, the truth is that this is basically a mono soundtrack with hardly any channel separation or directional usage. All aspects of the dialogue, effects, and music are clear of excessive distortion or hiss. No subtitles or alternate soundtracks are available on this disc.
Not surprisingly, SpaceCamp's only extra feature is a non-anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer.
Nostalgia freaks will get a kick out of watching SpaceCamp, though I'm betting they're not going to be as excited watching it as they were fifteen years ago. Maybe cynicism has penetrated these old bones to the point that I need to have things blow up when I watch a movie about outer space. If so, I weep for my future.
SpaceCamp is found guilty of being a big dribble stain on the bib of the 1980s. Anchor Bay is slapped with a major fine for making this a non-anamorphic transfer. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Theatrical Trailer
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