Movies That Molded a Geek: SpaceCamp

spacecamp I know already that I’m going to get crap for this.  SpaceCamp wasn’t exactly a hit when it was first released (1986 was a pretty grim time for a movie about space shuttles), and it’s never really gotten the nostalgic following of movies like The Goonies.   Still, this was a movie that had me glued to the TV every time it was shown (weekend afternoons, typically).  

Making up the Blue Team at NASA’s Space Camp (relocated to Kennedy Space Center for the movie) are a ragtag group of teens, one preteen, and an astronaut instructor anxious to get off-world.  Max, the youngest member of the group, befriends an unpredictable robot named Jinx, who helpfully strands the group on a shuttle, headed into space – without adequate training, supplies or even enough oxygen. 

As an adult,  I now notice that while the teens have different reasons for being at Space Camp, they’re all presumably competent enough to handle the work, and none of them are the stereotypical nerd (I’m ignoring the token precocious child, an anomaly even in the movie).  One character is an absolute airhead… with a photographic memory and awesome SAT scores.  Another character loves science, even if he’s not great at it.

SpaceCamp comes across almost as a regular high school, not a place for the uber-nerdy.  While this may have been done solely to cast actors that would have a broad appeal, it sends a subtle message – that it’s acceptable to love science – that was undoubtedly absorbed by my tiny, impressionable mind.

Despite the inaccuracies of the movie, I’m still entertained by it.  It’s a Who’s Who of 80′s stars – Lea Thompson, Kate Capshaw, and Tom Skerritt, among others.  It also features Joaquin Phoenix – then known as Leaf Phoenix – in his first big-screen role.

For a film that’s barely remembered by most, it can feel surprisingly “big” – the score is by John Williams, and the weightless scenes in space are pretty convincing, considering it was filmed nearly 25 years ago.

Mostly, though, the movie is charming because it has heart.  It starts off with a young girl’s love of space, and by the end, we all love it too (terrifying as it may be at times).  I can’t think how many times I wondered what it would be like to leave the atmosphere, after watching the lift-off scene from this movie.

This movie may be a little fluffy and outdated, but it’s fun.  It’s an especially good choice for groups with all ages – there’s nothing really inappropriate, but it’s not overly cloying or weighed down with heavy-handed lessons.

At the very least, you should watch it so that you get that one joke on that one episode of Family Guy.

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