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1986 theatrical poster
|Directed by||Harry Winer|
|Produced by||Patrick Bailey
Leonard Goldberg (executive)
David Salven (associate)
|Screenplay by||Clifford Green
Casey T. Mitchell
|Story by||Patrick Bailey
Larry B. Williams
Larry B. Scott
|Music by||John Williams|
|Cinematography||William A. Fraker|
|Editing by||Tim Board
John W. Wheeler
|Studio||ABC Motion Pictures|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||107 minutes|
|Budget||$18 million or $20 million|
|Box office||$9,697,739 (USA)|
SpaceCamp is a 1986 American space adventure film based on a book by Patrick Bailey and Larry B. Williams and inspired by the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. Directed by Harry Winer from a screenplay by Clifford Green (as W. W. Wicket) and Casey T. Mitchell, the film stars Kate Capshaw, Kelly Preston, Larry B. Scott, Lea Thompson, Tate Donovan and Joaquin Phoenix (credited as Leaf Phoenix).
The movie was panned by critics and is famous for being a "marketing nightmare," as it was released less than five months after the Challenger accident of January 28, 1986, that killed all seven on board (although filming was completed before the disaster occurred). The film performed poorly at the box office, grossing less than $10 million in the US. A rewrite of the book, released to coincide with the movie, mentioned the Challenger disaster.
Four teenagers and a 12-year-old boy go to space camp for three weeks during the summer to learn about the NASA space program and mimic astronaut training. They meet their instructor, Andie Bergstrom, a NASA-trained astronaut who is frustrated that she has not yet been assigned to a shuttle mission. Her bitterness is compounded by the fact that her husband, camp director Zach Bergstrom, is an astronaut who has walked on the moon.
Max befriends a robot named Jinx, which was deemed unsuitable for space work because it overheated and was overly-literal. Max and the robot declare themselves to be "friends forever", while Kevin pursues Kathryn romantically. Rudy wishes to open the first fast food franchise on the moon, and Tish reveals that despite appearing to be a Valley girl, she is a genius with a photographic memory.
Kathryn and Kevin sneak away for some romance near the launch pad, but Jinx unintentionally gives them away when Andie and Zach discover they are missing. During a confrontation, Andie explains that she believes Kathryn has what it takes to accomplish her ambition, and understanding the necessity of the harsh treatment Andie is giving her, she vows to improve her performance. Zach's conversation with Kevin is less successful.
Kevin takes out his anger on Max, and while upset Max states that "...I wish I were in outer space...". Jinx overhears and takes him literally. The group are allowed to sit on the Space Shuttle Atlantis during a routine engine test. Jinx secretly enters NASA's computer room and triggers a "thermal curtain failure", causing one of the boosters to ignite during the test. Launch Control is forced to ignite the second booster and launch the shuttle in order to avoid a crash.
The shuttle is not flight ready however; it has no long range radio, is critically low on oxygen and does not have enough air to last to the re-entry window at Edwards Air Force Base. Andie takes the shuttle to the partially constructed Space Station Daedalus to retrieve oxygen stored there. Realizing that while they have no voice communications with NASA they do have telemetry, Tish begins using a switch to send a Morse code signal to NASA, but it is not noticed by ground control.
Andie is slightly too big to reach the oxygen cylinders, so Max suits up for an EVA. During a critical moment, Max begins to panic until Kevin, knowing that Max is a fan of Star Wars, begins calling him "Luke", and tells him to "use the Force", which calms him enough that he can complete the mission. Max and Andie retrieve the containers.
In the shuttle, Rudy attempts to decipher the technical schematics to work out how to feed the oxygen into the shuttle's tanks. His lack of confidence frustrates Kathryn, who tries reading the diagram herself and gives Andie instructions that conflict with Rudy's. Andie follows Rudy's correct instructions. Kathryn's self-confidence is shaken as she realises her interference nearly caused disaster.
The second oxygen container malfunctions, injuring Andie. Unaware of this, Ground Control begins the autopilot sequence to land the shuttle - closing the bay doors and stranding Andie outside. Andie regains consciousness and urges them to leave her and take the re-entry window, as the shuttle does not have enough oxygen to make the next window. Kathryn is unable to make a decision, but Kevin finally shows himself to be the shuttle Commander and overrides the autopilot. Max rescues Andie. Having missed the Edwards re-entry window the crew come up with a plan to land at White Sands, New Mexico. Armed with this news, Tish uses morse code to signal NASA to let them land there.
At Ground Control, Jinx brings the signal to Zach's attention, and they prepare for the White Sands landing. With Andie injured, Kathryn fulfills her role as pilot, but begins fretting and doubting her abilities until Kevin cajoles and teases her into landing the shuttle.
- Andie Bergstrom (Kate Capshaw) is a camp instructor and astronaut.
- Zach Bergstrom (Tom Skerritt), the camp director and Andie's husband.
- Kathryn Fairly (Lea Thompson) is ambitious, idolizes Andie and wants to be the first woman shuttle commander - but is assigned the pilot role instead.
- Kevin Donaldson (Tate Donovan), initially arrogant and selfish, Andie assigns him the role of Commander to teach him some responsibility, much to Kathryn's dismay.
- Rudy Tyler (Larry B. Scott) loves science, but admits he is sometimes not very good at it.
- Tish Ambrosé (Kelly Preston), seemingly a typical "Valley girl" teenager, but actually highly intelligent and has an eidetic memory.
- Max Graham (Joaquin Phoenix, then credited as Leaf Phoenix), an eager 12-year-old who has been to Junior Camp several times - Andie finally allows him to stay at the main camp.
- Jinx, a sentient robot, who becomes Max's friend. It facilitates the group's launch into space, then helps rescue them by discovering Tish's telemetry Morse code. Jinx takes everything literally. Voiced by Frank Welker.
Lea Thompson mentioned in an interview that after their first day of shooting, they were 10 days behind schedule and what was supposed to be a 3-month shoot became six. She also mentioned that "We had T-shirts printed up that said, "SpaceCamp: It’s Not Just A Movie, It’s A Career." Oh, actually, instead of SpaceCamp, it actually said SpaceCramp."
SpaceCamp received mixed to negative reviews with only 40% of critics giving it positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Critic Roger Ebert gave it a one and half star rating and saying that "Our thoughts about the Space Shuttle will never be the same again, and our memories are so painful that SpaceCamp is doomed even before it begins." Variety says that "SpaceCamp never successfully integrates summer camp hijinks with outer space idealism to come up with a dramatically compelling story", while James Sanford of the Kalamazoo Gazette responds "Not exactly out of this world". Website At-A-Glance gave the film an even worse review, "It's tough to accept this movie's premise. A bunch of kids are given a tour of the Space Shuttle as NASA is testing its engines. An accident happens, and they, along with their guide, are launched into space. Once up there, can they be talked back down? Add an annoying, seemingly sentient robot into the mix. Add the standard "two dimensional character development" arc, where each member of the cast overcomes his or her single character trait/flaw by the end of the story. Add gobs of sap, gushiness, and boredom. Mix well, and you've got a first-class mess."
Actress Lea Thompson mentioned that "I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say that they became physicists or inventors, how much they loved that movie and how much it inspired them."
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p260
- "Blockbuster Lull No Problem At Box Office". Chicago Tribune. 1986-07-30. Retrieved 2010-11-02.
- Harris, Will (2012-02-21). "Random Roles: Lea Thompson". avclub.com. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
- "'Spacecamp'". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-11-02.
- "'Spacecamp'". Variety. 1985-12-31. Retrieved 2010-11-02.