Space Camp (Harry Winer) 1986

Production Budget: ??? Trust me, it bombed.
Worldwide Gross: $10 million
Subsequent Earnings: not much

Some movies bomb because of poor planning, or perfectionist filmmakers like Michael Cimino.  And some movies bomb through terrible luck and events completely out of the filmmakers control.  One such example is Big Trouble.  It was a Tim Allen comedy that had a plot about terrorism.  And then 9/11 happened and the producers had no way to market it or release it.  The landmark example of this happening though is Space Camp.

Space Camp was supposed to a fun/kiddie/adventure romp starring the child stars of the time.  The movie was made at the actual location of the first Space Camp and the Space Shuttle Atlantis was used as a set.  There were no real problems with the filming.  Then in 1986 the Challenger exploded, killing seven astronauts.  The Production Company panicked and pushed back release for many months.  It was really awkward when the problem encountered in the movie was very similar to the problem the Challenger encountered.  The movie finally came out but only grossed around $10 million.

Is it any good?  I saw this once as a kid and I really can’t remember a thing about it.  Remarks on IMDb say that it was a lame movie.  Somehow, I don’t believe this is some lost gem.


Space Camp is about a bunch of kids that go to, well, space camp.  One of the kids befriends a robot with artificial intelligence called Jinx (might as well be called Johnny Five).  When the kid wishes he could go into space, Jinx reprograms the computers at NASA and alters events so the kid’s group launched into space.  The class teacher Andie (Kate Capshaw) is also on board to help the kids get back home.

First off, yes, the plot really is that stupid.  In the beginning it is just about these kids having a fun summer vacation at space camp.  But it is like the writers realized no one would want to see someone else have an educational, but uneventful summer so they had to conjure up some conflict.  What follows is some of the most ridiculous nonsense you can think of.  I know this is movie fantasy, but sometimes stupid can transcend your suspension of disbelief barrier and really make you remark on how retarded the plot really is.  An artificially intelligent robot launches kids into space.  That almost seems like the excuse Kevin Smith would use if he made Jay and Silent Bob in Space (They said ‘lunch’ we thought they meant ‘launch’)  You could write a book on how stupid this is.  NASA would be finished if this ever leaked to the press.  Can you imagine trying to get funding for anything else when you just flushed millions of dollars away and nearly killed six people!  Who was the jackass who loaded the space shuttle full of fuel?  Who thought an artificial intelligence that could override NASA systems and protocols a good idea?   Why do they let kids in the actual space shuttle when I can’t even get in a replica at the Smithsonian?  Why does Terry O’Quinn get top billing in the end credits despite having a minor role as the Launch Director?  WHY!?

But I digress.  If you can get through all that stupid crap, then what you are left with is a very by the numbers kids movie.  You have stereotypical kid cast including the serious kid (Lea Thompson), the mimbo (Tate Donovan), the valley girl (Kelly Preston), token black guy (Rudy Tyler), and the annoying kid (Joaquin Phoenix).  They all have a particular problem: serious girl has trouble in the flight sim, mimbo has trouble being a leader, kid has a problem with fear, token is incredibly stupid, etc.  And wouldn’t you know, they all get a chance to work through their problems with these wacky misadventures.  The story is so predictable its just kind of dull watching them go through the motions.

The actors don’t really get any opportunities to do anything.  They are all confined to their two dimensional roles.  Not even a guest appearance by Tom Skerritt’s mustache can spice things up.  The special effects might have been good back in the 80’s, but here they are looking very dated.

I like the concept of a family movie where kids are learning how science can be fun.  It certainly is a more laudable moral than most movies are going for. That doesn’t excuse this movie from having a moronic plot, zero characterization, and writing with no surprises.  It does suck that this movie failed because of something wholly unpredictable and not based on its own merits.  That being said, even if there were no problems with the release, I don’t see this movie being some endearing classic.  For what it is, it’s not even that good.  It’s not horrible, but it’s no good either.


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