This 1986 family sci-fi movie was directed by Harry Winer. It was written by Patrick Bailey, Larry B. Williams, W. W. Wicket, and Casey T. Mitchell. The cast includes Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Larry B. Scott, Joaquin Phoenix, Tate Donovan, Tom Skerritt, and others.

NASA runs Space Camp, a summer camp where kids learn what the life of an astronaut is like. Some of the brightest kids in the nation are picked to attend because they appear to be likely canidates to become the astronauts of the future. This is the story of one summer and one group of kids attending Space Camp. They learn all the usual stuff including flying the flight simulators. Finally they are selected to have the honor of sitting in an actual Space Shuttle while the engines are tested. But something goes wrong and they are launched into space! Now they must actually use what they learned in camp to surive and return to earth safely.

What a fun movie! Must see for young space geeks in the 80s. Heck I'd watch it now if it was on tv.

The original U.S. Space Camp is an educational camp run out of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Started in 1982, the goal of the program was to educate youngsters about the US space program, as well as simulate the experience of being an astronaut. The premise is like a baseball camp, except you learn how to fly the space shuttle. After the release of the 1986 movie SpaceCamp (see above), attendance skyrocketed at the Huntsville camp, and a second camp was built at Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida (the actual home of the space shuttle program). Now 18 years old, the program has locations in California and Canada, and a number of other programs such as Space Academy and Aviation Challenge.

Spacecamp is a teen film that was first released in 1986 and directed by Harry Winer, while Patrick Bailey and Larry Williams were responsible for the script. This release of this movie was both tainted and delayed by the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The Challenger exploded about a month before this movie was supposed to come out, they pushed it back many months, and it was finally released at a time that America was not nearly as infatuated with NASA as it had once been.

I am not going to bother trying to outline this entire film here, as you have probably already seen it. If you haven't seen it, then I don't want to give away the plot now. This is one of my favorite movies. I wouldn't rank it in my top ten, or my top 100, but it does make the top 1000, and I happily paid $2 for a VHS copy of it at the video store.

In this film we follow a bunch of teenagers (along with one pre-teen and a robot) through their training at Space Camp, and later when a shuttle accident causes them to actually be launched into space. We get to see lots of NASA training equipment, and Space Shuttle simulators and such. That stuff alone makes it required viewing for any NASA buffs. This is a standard 1980s teen film, although it has a lot more in common with The Goonies than it does with The Breakfast Club.

The basic plot outline is this, we get to meet all the characters, all of them get established in some form or another. Then we get to watch a bunch of training. A romantic subplot begins between "Kathryn" and "Kevin". This subplot is then completely abandoned and then never mentioned again in the entire film. The youngest character (Max) befriends a NASA robot and tells him he wishes he was in space. The robot rigs the space shuttle to have a very specific failure, and thus all the kids are launched into space during an engine test. Hijinks ensues, and fun is had by all.


The Characters

Andie Bergstrom is played by Kate Capshaw. She is simply the adult and teacher that herds all the teenagers around and actually knows how to operate the space shuttle. She does all sorts of things in the movie, but over time you will forget she was in it. I watched this movie a half dozen times as a child, yet I was surprised to see she went up in the shuttle along with the teenagers.

Kathryn Fairly was played by an incredibly young looking Lea Thompson. I don't know what they did to her, but Lea looked about 15 years old in this movie. But she was 25 when it was filmed. Kathryn is the main female character. She is supposed to be a super focused young girl whose only dream is to command the space shuttle. She has a bit of a problem with both overconfidence and with seeking approval. I believe this is the character that most of the female viewers are supposed to identify with.

Kelly Preston was played by Tish Ambrosei. Kelly was a teenage girl of no more than average intelligence (likely below average) who happened to be gifted with eidetic memory. She could recall everything she ever read. They never really explained if the ability pertained to everything she experienced, or just to reading. Other than her special power, she was played as a bit of a ditz and was a more submissive character than Kathryn was. She was supposed to be prettier than Kathryn, and is someone that a lot of the more submissive female viewers might identify with.

Rudy Tyler was played by Larry B. Scott and was the token black character in this film. Larry was fresh off the smash hit Revenge of the Nerds, and at the time it was looking like he was going to be a big star, but things pretty much went downhill from him after this movie. He still acts today, but his starring roles in big movies were limited to the Revenge of the Nerds series and this film. Rudy has one scene where he explains how he likes science, that is pretty much his scene. Largely the character seemed to be ill defined and he just didn't seem to have any place in the movie.

Max was played by Joaquin Phoenix (who they were calling "Leaf" back then). Max was the completely out of place young genius that was obviously inserted into the movie to give the younger male viewers someone to identify with. He was about 11 years old, while everyone else was in their mid 20s, although they were only supposed to be 17 year olds. Max spends most of his time pretending he is Luke Skywalker living out a live action version of Star Wars.

Kevin Donaldson was played by Tate Donovan and was the main male character in the movie. Kevin's character was far "too cool" to be at Space Camp and he was only there because his father bought him a new Jeep in exchange for going. Kevin doesn't seem to care much about anything, nor to become very competent at anything until the very end of the movie. They do however establish early on that he is "cool". This begins with him driving his Jeep and listening to music, then continues when he grabs another person's ID badge to get into a different group. They continue it even further when he manages to lure Kathryn out of the camp for a makeout session, which only barely gets started before they are caught by the NASA people.


Trivia, continuity errors, and big gaping plot holes!

This movie was just filled with minor errors and a few massive plot holes. We won't mention the fact that most of the shuttle controls they point out and use are the wrong ones. That really isn't that big of a deal. Oh, I guess I just mentioned it, so I guess we will be pointing that out.

During their entire time in space the characters experience a very special kind of weightlessness which has absolutely no effect on human hair. In fact, the zero gravity in this movie seems to only affect human bodies and earrings (and only sometimes on the earrings).

The idea that NASA could read all the instruments, take control of things remotely, but would have no way to communicate with the shuttle is absolutely unbelievable. In the same vein, apparently they don't get a radio, or more than one thing of oxygen, but they do get functional space suits and a fully fueled Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU).

NASA apparently not only developed a 27 million dollar self aware robot, but they also use it only as a janitor, and let twelve year old boys at Space Camp keep it in their lockers. Also, said twelve year old boy is perfectly capable of repairing such a robot, and such a robot is perfectly capable of hacking NASA.

No one at NASA would even think to come up with the idea that the shuttle could be landed anywhere other than Edwards Air Force base. And as long as we are talking about shuttle maneuvers, apparently you can take off at a completely random time and still make an easy rendezvous with a space station.

My Verdict

This movie is a lot of fun for children, although the robot will probably drive the adults in the audience crazy. Be aware that this is not quite a G rated movie, they say shit five times and make three penis jokes. The penis jokes are the types that will sail over the heads of most kids anyway. If I had an infinite amount of time on earth, then I would re-edit the movie to remove the robot altogether, but I don't, so I won't.

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