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Zero gravity meets zero fear in this cosmic comedy-adventure about a summer camp where regular kidscheck in and real astronauts check out! Starring Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Larry B. Scott, Leaf Phoenix and Tate Donovan, SpaceCamp is a wild and wonderful thrill-ride packed with 'special effects'spectacular moments (Film Journal) and a gripping climax (Time Out) that's out of this world! For five typical teens, NASA's space camp promises to be a fun wayto blow off the summer. But when a space shuttle exercise misfires, they find themselves launched into orbit, facing the adventure of a lifetime. Now, the only way back to Earth is to take command ofthe ship and control of their destinies, before timeand oxygenrun out!
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As a movie, it's solid. the teen characters are fun and distinct without being cartoonish or flat. They each have their own thoughts and perspectives and, while none of them are given much chance to be particularly deep or nuanced, they come off as real people at all times. Perhaps more important than that, they're very likable characters who are extremely easy to root for. Leading the teen cast are Lea Thompson and Kelly Preston, both excellent, and a very young Joaquin Phoenix (back when he was still going by his birth name, Leaf); Larry B. Scott and Tate Donovan round out the main set of teens. Every one of them is fun to watch and really brings their character to life with a ton of charm. Seeing a great group of characters who are all intelligent and *proud of it* is such a rare thing in cinema, especially from the Eighties. The characters are never once in the movie mocked for their intelligence, played as nerds, misfits or losers. That alone gives me a tremendous love for the movie. The adult cast, led by Kate Capshaw and Tom Skerritt, is solid. Capshaw is very broad as Andie, often coming off too heavy, but Skerritt is, as always, perfect. His delivery of "my God...we have liftoff" is honestly one of my favorite line readings in all of cinema because he just *nails* every bit of the numerous divergent emotions his character feels in that moment and makes it all seem as effortless as breathing.
The movie moves at a solid pace, introducing its characters, letting them mingle briefly, throwing in some minor conflicts (later resolved, of course), then moving swiftly to the crisis that kicks off the major drama of the movie. The plot mechanics that make the crisis happen are absolutely contrived as heck and require significant suspension of disbelief (for the record, Thermal Curtain Failure, is an actual potential danger of solid rocket boosters exactly as described in the film), but if you can get past that part there's a great fun movie that happens afterwards. The weightless effects in the movie are solid and believable enough, and there was significant NASA participation in the making of the film, so the Production Design is top-notch. You believe 100% they are inside a space shuttle. The film is 100% CGI-free as far as I can tell (and in 1986, CGI was pretty obvious), so there are some optical artifacts like matte boxes, but you don't watch a Sci-Fi movie from the Eighties without an understanding that not all of the effects will work 100%. In this case, the ambitiousness of the film and many of the shots makes up for any unavoidable flaws in the visuals. The launch sequence is perfectly directed, seamlessly combining NASA footage with the actors, and is truly thrilling even after a hundred viewings.
I honestly never though this movie would get any sort of HD treatment - it never got more than a non-anamorphic letterboxed release on DVD. This was one of my favorite movies as a child, and deserved a lot more love than it ever got. It had the extraordinary misfortune of being made just before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and being released just four months afterwards. A movie that features an accident involving a Shuttle could not possibly have done well so soon after America and the world saw one destroyed on live TV.
So just for it existing, I was willing to throw down a few dollars to get this disc. I am happy with it, but it's definitely not a reference-quality release and honestly could have been significantly better with a bit more effort. The video transfer is solid, but unexceptional, with a bit more digital noise reduction than I'd like (ideally: zero), but not so much that it's distracting. It's an Eighties film, so it has a soft quality to the picture no matter what. The sound mix is the really disappointing area of the film, being just 2.0. This is especially disappointing during the otherwise-perfect launch sequence. The extras are also practically non-existent: two interviews, one with Lea Thompson and one with the director, Harry Winer. I have not had a chance to watch those yet, so I can't speak to their length or when they're from. I really would have hoped for at least a commentary track and 5.1 surround.
4.5 stars for the movie - great delivery of a contrived set of events, with good writing otherwise, excellent characters, solid acting, good dialogue and fantastic production design.
3.5 stars for the actual release, which is workmanlike in the video and sub-standard elsewhere.