Feb 05th: “Space Camp” (1986)
Celebrating 28 days of underrated 80s cinematic treasures.
Most of us have one of those dreams as a child. A dream not entirely based on reality, but it’s real enough for us to inspire other things. For this movie, Spacecamp didn’t inspire me to be an astronaut, but instead, reminded me that there was more out there than what was immediate. It gave me the initiative to look out for groups, clubs and societies that catered for other things. It was more likely that this would inspire me to be a writer, or to join a local theatre group. There wasn’t a space camp in my village, and to me, this was a fantasy which existed only in America.
I wonder how many people in the U.S. wanted to go there after seeing the movie. Famously, Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen sent their kids to NASA’s Space Camp many times over. What a difference geography makes when it comes to inspirations, and that is possibly why this movie didn’t take as well as it should have. This was not something that was available, for everybody, anywhere in the world. But did that matter?
The creative mind will find other ways, through other things. If you can’t go to NASA Space Camp, then find a way of bringing the experience, to you.
It’s pretty understandable why a film like Space Camp can be given harsh reviews by adults. The film deals with a very implausible situation, and one that required much creativity in order for it to follow-through to its inevitable conclusion.
The idea that students of NASA’s Space Camp youth program could actually end up inside a Space vessel that is readily equipped with a fully fuelled rocket, that just so happens to be at quarter capacity with twelve hours of oxygen, all checked and fully functional. That NASA just leaves these things lying around, flight ready is absolutely absurd… to an adult critic anyway. The one saving grace was that the shuttle was only equipped with short-range radio, which meant that ground control could not contact the crew. That provided the tension, and forced our Space Campers to work together without any external help.
So let’s rewind and do a roll call: The pack of youths who arrive for NASA’s Space Camp aren’t exactly kids. Only Max — played by an 11 year old Joaquin (Leaf) Phoenix in his debut role — is youthful enough for what seems to be a programme for kid actors. The 80s teen movies were in a habit of casting adults to play in youth films. Kevin who was played by Tate Donovan was 22, and Tish played by Kelly Preston was 23 when they started filming. Catherine, played by Lea Thompson, and Rudy, played by Larry Scott were both already 24. All the students are incredibly bright, and as expected, they all differ to suit the roles that they set out to play once their shuttle is, accidentally launched into space.
Tom Skeritt and Kate Capshaw (Andie) complete the cast as ground control and Major Tom, respectively. Kate is launched up with the kids too, and naturally, it’s down to her to bring the best out of her adolescent crew to get them back home in one piece. It’s a likeable premise, if you let it simply happen, and as Andie said when they achieved orbit, “It’s not important how we got here, what’s more important is how we get home.”
This film is a fantasy. Let that be said. We can be totally aware that reality of the situation is for us to count on, but the idea is there, and it’s a fun idea at that. If there was a plausible way of telling this story, it would never occur nor would it matter to the critical mind of a child. What this film did however was allow the child audience a chance to dream. This was a film that actually found a way to launch children into space, with a little help from Jinx the robot who after befriending the dreamer Max, he is the catalyst that makes the whole misadventure somewhat possible.
If you think about it, the reality that is portrayed in this movie is much better than what children learn in preschool and the early years of education. Their vision of space exploration is simple and greatly inaccurate. Rockets are depicted as a bright red thing with round windows from top to bottom.
You can see the astronaut (boys and girls usually) looking out from each window. The rocket is launched and has inexhaustible fuel fireball streaming out of one end that can allow it to land on planets as a whole unit. Astronauts are smiling characters that high five aliens on the moon and on Mars (because that’s all there really is, right?).
Nobody attacked the movie Explorers for its lack of plausibility, nor did they question Flash Gordon not wearing helmets or being affected by a change of gravity.
The principle idea of what space exploration is, does appear at the heart of this movie, despite the act one oversight, and for children who aren’t likely to get hung up on such details, this is a film drenched with inspiration and possibilities. Privately, this film gets a lot of personal praise from those who watched it as children and were influenced to go down the path of physics, quantum physics and Cosmology. Not everybody can be an astronaut. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot dream.
Believability wasn’t the only thing that was to blame for this film’s demise at the box office. The film was release only five months after the Challenger Shuttle accident, (35 years as of the 28th January 2021) and that sad event in NASA history could very well have impacted the film’s appeal and performance.
But what can you do?
No matter the case, the film Space Camp enthralled an entire generation of kids who loved everything there is to know about space, and more. As I said at the top of this essay…
“The creative mind will find other ways, through other things. If you can’t go to NASA Space Camp, then find a way of bringing the experience, to you.”
Written by: Stephen Radford