Awfully Good: Space Camp
Space Camp (1986)
Director: Harry Winer
Stars: Lea Thompson, Kate Capshaw, Joaquin Phoenix
Is there a plot?
Five kids attending space camp accidentally get shot in to space.
What's the damage?
SPACE CAMP might be the only 80s movie with a big budget, an all-star cast and a score by John Williams that you've never heard of. And just why would an epic sci-fi adventure like this slip through the collective radar, only to be largely ignored by the annals of film history? Probably because this movie about a potentially deadly space disaster was slated to be released just weeks after the Challenger space shuttle exploded in early 1986. Awk-ward.
This picture is still less embarrassing than I’M STILL HERE.
Instead, the film was quietly released a few months later to no fanfare and definitely no acclaim. But I don't want to make it seem like SPACE CAMP is some forgotten classic of unparalleled quality that was unfairly squashed by bad timing. It's a flawed, campy, and often laughable movie of its time, but so are many other 80s flicks that still get ironically appreciated. And those don't have a 12 year old Joaquin Phoenix and a robot sidekick.
"Don’t tell me what I can’t do!"
"You can’t bring the space shuttle back to Earth."
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Yes, SPACE CAMP stars the recently bearded actor/rapper (then going by the hippie name Leaf Phoenix) as a little kid obsessed with STAR WARS, but that's not all! You also get a teenage Lea Thompson as a straight-laced wannabe space pilot, a fully developed Kelly Preston as a spacey hippie, Tate Donovan (who was clearly already in his 30s) as an irresponsible slacker who thinks he can impersonate a Japanese person to hit on girls, and the black guy from REVENGE OF THE NERDS playing…a nerdy black guy. As for the chaperones, er, adult actors, wife o' Spielberg Kate Capshaw and Tom Skerritt play the camp "counselors" who almost murder children. And there's also an extended cameo by a young Terry O'Quinn aka John Locke, who shows up as a thankless NASA employee named Launch Director.
The face that launched a thousand McFly’s.
So in this modern day and age, how do five teens accidentally end up in space? Naturally through the best thing about SPACE CAMP—the wacky robot janitor named Jinx. Yes, there is a sentient robot working as a handyman/gopher at NASA that does whatever anybody tells it to, literally. And despite the fact that it’s dangerously smart and can interact with all the other machinery in the facility, they let it simply wander the halls unsupervised. One day Jinx overhears his friend Joaquin Phoenix crying and wishing he could go in to space like a real astronaut, so the robot sets out to make that a reality. Not by hacking in to the mainframe or messing with the controls, but by having an actual audible conversation with the other computer equipment in the lab and convincing them to help. (This leads to many hilarious exchanges in cheesy electronic voices.)
Little Known Fact: Tom Skerritt is famous for his love of “headset foreplay.”
Even if the entire crux of the plot didn’t rest on the cold steel shoulders of a sentimental droid, SPACE CAMP has enough problems with its human cast. For starters, there’s absolutely no scenario in which NASA would put five random kids on a space shuttle and fire the rockets just for fun. But even assuming everyone in the government was an idiot and loved wasting money, it truly is funny how little NASA does in this movie. With its patriotic theme and message about teamwork, this film could almost be a commercial for the agency and their youth outreach programs—that is until they nearly kill all of the children and nobody on the ground has any idea how to save them. There’s no food, no water, only one tank of oxygen and zero communication, so all of the country’s best scientists literally just sit around waiting. It’s like the exact opposite of APOLLO 13.
“We need one crew member to go on a dangerous mission outside. Just onnnnne crew member. Anybody. Anybody? Which one should we pick? Honestly, nobody stands out to me…”
For the sake of fairness, there is an adult on board when the kids get launched. (If not, the second half of this movie would turn in to child porn as all the teens have zero-G orgies while waiting for the oxygen to run out.) But Kate Capshaw’s character is almost just as worthless as the underage astronauts. Her plan to get them more oxygen fails, and it’s up to a 10 year old boy to go out in to outer space alone to rescue her. Once he does, he accidentally gets shot out in to the nothing to float forever before she barely saves him. And then as soon as they're back on the ship, Capshaw gets knocked unconscious, leaving the kids to land a space shuttle all by themselves with about two weeks worth of training. And Jinx the robot does nothing to help.
Unfortunately, due to technical issues with the DVD I wasn’t able to get video clips this week. The two below are from YouTube.
1) An original trailer for SPACE CAMP.
2) This excerpt from the launch sequence gives you a glimpse of Jinx the robot and human incompetence.
Kelly Preston sure is shapely and Kate Capshaw shows some cleav, but nothing substantial..
Play Along at Home!
Take a shot or drink every time:
- There’s sexual innuendo
- A teen curses
- Someone makes a Star wars references
- Someone says, “Yo Jinx” or “Yo max!”
- There’s bad 80s music
- There’s Capshaw cleavage
Double shot if:
- Kelly Preston's belt grows 50 feet
Thanks to Raul for suggesting this week's movie!
Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email and give him an excuse to drink.