Spacecamp

You're all dead because you didn't work together as a team.
★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1986
Director: 
Harry Winer
Starring: 
Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Joaquin Phoenix, Ton Skerritt
The Setup: 
Bunch of kids at an astronaut training camp get accidentally shot into space.
Discussion: 

This movie has a bit of a special place for me, as this is the first movie I REALIZED was awful, even then, and started laughing at. It is also a bit of a pleasant memory, as my parents, not exactly known for their critical distance on American pop culture, also started laughing at it, and we all had a good time together. Before we returned home and I was locked in the closet again (kidding, Mom!). So I always knew I would once again face it and get it up on this site, and that glorious day has finally come. Feel the glory. Thanks.

We open with an accounting of our all-star cast: Kate Capshaw, who became Mrs. Steven Speilberg after annoying me forever with her constant screaming in that second Indiana Jones movie. Lea Thompson, here at the height of her winsome teen charm! Kelly Preston! Leaf Phoenix! Tate Donovan! And of course, the leathery reliability of TOM SKERRITT. And then the surprise of seeing that this movie has a score by no less than John Williams! That's probably a relic of this movie's intended place as a much more prestigious picture, which was torpedoed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, under circumstances remarkably similar to those depicted here, forcing this movie to be shelved until it could be apologetically tossed out there without fanfare a few months later.

One other thing that is BLOWING MY MIND right this very second is that this movie is directed by the same Harry Winer who directed astonishingly awful found-footage documentary The Legend of Bigfoot!

We open with a young girl on a farm looking up at the sky, not caring about shooting stars, but more interested in catching a glimpse of an orbiting spacecraft. I think she grows up to be Capshaw as Andie, although it could and should be be Thompson as Kathryn, a much more central character. We now join our characters at day one of spacecamp, where Andie and Skerritt, married couple, teach. Andie has just, once again, been passed over to be part of a team to go into space. They meet their new crop of kids, which includes Thompson as Kathryn, Donovan as Kevin, Leaf Phoenix as Max, who is like eight or something, as well as Preston as the bimbo who will have the one good idea and the black kid who will save the ship precisely once. Kathryn is the one who is super into being an astronaut, Kevin is so over it and just wants to be cool, and Max is a gee-whiz kid who is fascinated with all things space and so impressed by Star Wars he says things like "What are you, an Imperial Guard or something?" when bothered. He later tells someone "Buzz off, laser brain." Hopefully you'll find all this stuff amusing! If not, cyanide tablets are available over the Internet.

Also around is robot Jinx, who speaks with this horrid mechanic "computer" voice that has been fed through a vocoder, and is soon saying "friends foreeeeeverrrrr" to Max. During the day, we see that Andie is all up in Kathryn's grill about not stabilizing the simulator or some shit, which will later cause Andie to admit that she's being so hard on her because Kathryn's so GOOD! But first Kathryn and Kevin sneak out to... fucking TALK?! Is THAT what spacecamp kids are up to? They have a deep, meaningful conversation about how "maybe we could do things right up there--not like we messed them up down here," leading Kevin to respond "I mean, what's the point? We're all going to get nuked anyway." If you are not prepared to entertain such starkly unvarnished political commentary, please, do NOT watch Spacecamp. Anyway, they get in trouble for sneaking out, which causes Kevin to get pissed at Max, which causes Max to run and cry to his little robot, saying "I wish I was in space!" Yes, THAT is the whole reason they end up in orbit.

So the next day the kids are goofing off in the simulator again, causing Andie to scold "You're all dead because you didn't work together as a team!" Meanwhile Jinx and the NASA computer are having bad, cringeworthy computer-voice conversations, as they figure out how to launch Max into space. Jinx once again says "Max... friends foreeeeevvvverrrr..." Then we once again see Max and suddenly it hit me with the force of a thunderbolt: Max is JOAQUIN PHOENIX! I guess he left that earthy-crunchy Leaf shit behind long ago, and... this was a total shock to me.

So now I have written in my notes "THE STEPFATHER IS IN THE CONTROL ROOM," because Terry O'Quinn is indeed hovering in the periphery. I also have written "Kathryn is wayyyyy too excited about all things space," because Thompson is making wide-eyed awed faces at everything that happens. Then they all get to go sit in the space shuttle for a second before it launches (NICE contrivance, fellas!) and poof, Jinx sends them into space fo reals. Here's where things go from bad to HOLY FUCKING SHIT.

SPOILERS > > >
First they're running out of oxygen. So Andie has to go over to the handy-dandy space station that just happens to be floating by, but she's too big to reach in and get the tanks (though she's obviously not even trying) when suddenly Max shows up, and look, HE is small enough to make it in the crevices and bring the tanks out. Kids are people too! Then Max accidentally goes floating out to the moon, and Andie goes and saves him. This is one of those situations where her hand is ON him, but she's just not closing her fingers, while at the same time she's saying things like "Can't... REACH!" Then they both get back, but one of the tanks shoots off, crushing Andie against the wall, and shooting steams of bloody brain matter amid shattered skull fragments out into the weightlessness of space. Ha, we WISH. No, she just gets some internal injuries or whatnot and falls unconscious long enough for the kids to have a moment where they learn to work as a team and make a decision that saves them, after which she promptly wakes up, no worse for wear. But first SHE'S floating out into space, and the shuttle doors are closing, and NASA is about to bring the ship back on autopilot. And Max can't bring her back, although he holds the tether to her in her hand. Well Max, maybe you could get her back if you merely PULLED her in, rather than just sitting staring at her like an idiot. Jesus, kids are goddamned fucktards.

Anyway, they abort the autopilot to save Andie (all for one!), although this means they've missed their window and will float away into space. No big loss. In here the bimbo has had her one idea, which is to send messages to NASA in morse code, and the black kid has made his one decision, which saves the ship (wrong valve and they'll explode!). Meanwhile Kathryn, formerly such a brainy little number, has collapsed under the pressures of command, forcing poor Thompson to make all sorts of anguished catatonic faces. Now Kevin grows some responsibility and steps to to leadership, saving the day by taking over from useless Kathryn. So you see, kids, women really CAN'T hold positions of command, because they'll become too emotional, and need a rational man to step in to save them! So many lessons to be learned! But the point is that they have NOT all died, because they're working together as a TEAM!

So now they've identified another landing strip, which NASA never thought of, and are heading there. Then Kathryn gets to redeem herself by executing just the right roll and such so that they don't burn up on re-entry, although I have to say there's a lot of drama generated while you're sitting there like "Bitch, what's your PROBLEM? Pull the lever UP." They make it, and NASA cheers, including one cutaway shot of a woman having an emotional breakdown in the command center. We have some stock footage of the shuttle landing and--roll credits! Wait, that's IT? No tearful reunions? No shots of the surviving team in front of a brilliant sunrise as everyone wonders at their heroism? No kids marveling over the lessons learned and how THIS was the triumphant moment of their lives, and it'll all be Wal-Marts and TGIFridays from here? No Kathryn making a wry comment about how Kevin's not that bad and shot of them hugging, implying that they will marry and raise a bunch of super-duper kids who understand the value of teamwork? Nope, none of that, they make it back, the movie essentially says "Sorry for wasting your time!" and cuts out without a word.
< < < SPOILERS END

Now, you might be reading all this and saying to yourself "WHY have I wasted my time reading all this?" You might also be saying "That doesn't sound any worse than any other movie," but what sets this movie apart is the HIGH drama with which it all happens. This shit is OVERWROUGHT. Not only is it one calamity after another, but each moment is amped-up to eleven with lots of wide-eyed amazement or emotional catharsis, to the point where you're just pointing and laughing. So you have Max shouting "What's HAPPENING!!!" as it's quite clear what's happening: Andie is floating out into space. Open your fucking eyes, dipshit. And poor Thompson's successive emotional breakdowns ("I'll look stricken! And now... MORE STRICKEN!") Not to mention that this is all happening because some dumb robot is "friends foreeeveerrr" with Max, and the kids are in the real space shuttle for... WHAT reason? And that all the life lessons are right there on the surface, so much that the film might as well come with an on-screen study guide: Now we learn the value of teamwork. Now we learn that women are too emotional for command.

So apparently this was going to be a much larger release, but just before it was set for release, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, owing to much the same circumstance that sends the kids into space in the movie. Not to mention that Capshaw looks very much like Christa McAuliffe, famed victim of the explosion. So they had to pull the movie and toss it out without fanfare later in the year, which probably accounts for the clear lack of interest in wrapping any of this up, and the general shoddy nature of the whole affair.

Anyway, this is good for numerous laughs, especially if you have a bunch of friends who were 80s kids over, and you all drink irresponsibly. Other than that, best forgotten.

Should you watch it: 

Only if you have a bunch of friends who might find this all really funny.

Comments

Hehe, when my friends and I watched this movie for our podcast, we had to rewind and skip through it trying to find him. Turns out he looked a LOT different when he had hair!