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Space Warriors
Space Warriors is something like a remake of the 1986 film Space Camp, but is plagued by poor production values, bad acting, and a lousy plot.

Let’s all go to Space Camp!


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Space Camp was created in 1982 in a period of intense optimism and enthusiasm about the space shuttle program, which many people saw as the gateway to opening space to everybody, possibly even kids. At one time the United States had three Space Camps: in California, Florida, and the first one, in Huntsville. Now only the Huntsville one remains, but it’s hard to remember just how exciting that early eighties period was for spaceflight—the disappointment and jadedness would come later, in fact, relatively soon. That initial burst of enthusiasm led to the movie Space Camp which premiered in June 1986. This was really bad timing considering that the Space Shuttle Challenger had been destroyed with the loss of the entire crew only a few months earlier, and also considering that the movie’s plot revolved around a bunch of kids who get shot into space during a launch accident. The studio decided to go ahead and distribute the movie rather than shelve it entirely after much of the money had been spent.

It took over 26 years, but somebody finally remade Space Camp, this time not so much as a movie as some kind of recruiting tool for the real Space Camp. The new movie is awful.

Although many space enthusiasts who remember it seem to hate that movie with a passion, if you accept that the film was made for kids (note the PG rating and the fact that the most salacious thing that happens is that two teenagers almost kiss, at a time when many movies about teenagers were much more explicit), it actually was fairly decent. Space Camp had pretty good production values, a story that hit the right notes at the right times, and a talented cast. It even had a score by John Williams, although not one of his better ones. Tom Skerritt played a retired astronaut, once again proving that even when he phoned in his performance he at least put a little effort into it. Kate Capshaw—also known for her famous husband Steven Spielberg—convincingly played an astronaut who is supposed to remind us of Sally Ride. Lea Thompson and Kelly Preston, who both had some high-profile and steamy movies in the mid-1980s (heck, Thompson is still pretty hot in her fifties), were two of the teenage campers. The very young Joaquin Phoenix played an annoying young brat camper long before he would be nominated three times for an Oscar, and also became an annoying adult brat actor.

The story practically wrote itself: plucky kids are placed in a life-threatening situation and each of them discovers their own particular talents while learning to work as a team. It’s not exactly deep, or believable (an artificially intelligent but incredibly stupid robot moves the plot into gear), but it is in the tradition of a long line of movies for kids, and it is wholesome without being overly schmaltzy. That said, Space Camp did feature an odd subplot where Lea Thompson’s character, who wants to be the first female space shuttle commander, freezes at a crucial moment. She thus learns to accept that she might not be cut out for the job of commander and lets her cute boyfriend take command instead. This smells like a marketing decision, as if some studio executive said that boys would never accept a movie where a girl was in charge, but girls would be okay with a movie where the boy was in charge, and so the wannabe female shuttle commander learns her place. Notably, in real life, it was not until 1999 when a shuttle mission was commanded by a woman.

It took over 26 years, but somebody finally remade Space Camp, this time not so much as a movie as some kind of recruiting tool for the real Space Camp, still chugging along even now when many of their first campers are in their forties.

It’s called Space Warriors and unlike its predecessor, it was not a theatrical release. Instead, it debuts this month on DVD, and rather bizarrely, shows on the Hallmark Channel. The odd title refers to the kids’ team at Space Camp, the Warriors (other teams are named Titans and Redstones). They have no association with the military, nor do they carry weapons or battle to the death in some post-apocalyptic future North American wasteland.

Space Warriors has some notable actors in the adult roles, such as a very tired-looking Danny Glover and (Oscar winner) Mira Sorvino, but none of them rises above the dismal material. This is the Hallmark Channel, not even the Lifetime Channel, after all.

To simulate weightlessness the actors simply move around very slowly and bob in and out of frame. The result is almost a parody, as if this was a Saturday Night Live sketch about astronauts.

The kids’ roles are filled by a bunch of unknowns even by child actor standards. One girl apparently had some walk-on roles in Disney TV shows, and another one, named—I am not making this up—Booboo, was one of the muscular shirtless werewolf hotties in one of the execrable Twilight movies. The kid actors are also, well, really bad. The premise is that a group of smart kids have been recruited from around the world to go to Space Camp, apparently to compete for a flight to the International Space Station (a plot point that is mentioned in dialogue early on and then completely forgotten). There is a Russian hacker, a Chinese rocket geek, a girl robotics expert, a girl UAV pilot, a NASCAR engine whiz, and Jimmy Hawkins, whose talent seems to be writing essays. (As somebody whose own talent is writing essays, I guess I should have identified with him, but I really just hoped that whiny Jimmy would stop trying to communicate at all.)

Compared to Space Camp, where most of the actors were 24-year-olds playing 16-year-olds, in Space Warriors most of the actors are 14-year-olds playing 15-year-olds. This was not a good choice. They attempt, very badly, to mimic Chinese, Russian, and southern accents. A couple of the kids seem to think that chewing (gum, tobacco?) is something that they ought to do in just about every scene they’re in, as if it’s a distinctive character trait and not something that is very distracting.

For approximately the first half of the movie the theme seems to be the kids coming together and learning how to be a team: “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’” and all that. That storyline never really gels because most of the kids get hardly any lines, or any real identities. While this is happening there are occasional scenes of the International Space Station as it gets struck by debris, and three astronauts are stranded onboard awaiting rescue. Here the filmmaking is laughably bad. With one exception, the astronauts don’t get any lines to speak. To simulate weightlessness the actors simply move around very slowly and bob in and out of frame. Clearly they did not even use wires to try and fake it. The result is almost a parody, as if this was a Saturday Night Live sketch about astronauts.

Of course, somehow the kids come up with a plan to save the astronauts and…

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Space Warriors makes sleeping in tents and getting eaten by mosquitoes look more appealing.

I’m sorry. I fell asleep for a moment and my head hit the keyboard. The story… well, it’s more accurate to say that the story wasn’t so much written as it was typed. The dialogue is wooden or stupid, or woodenly stupid. Every time Danny Glover is on screen you expect to hear a stage hand yell, “Somebody call him a doctor!” The weird visual shifts, often cuts from high-definition NASA footage to low-definition stock video footage to laughably bad computer generated imagery, are more than a little jarring. There’s no attention to detail or continuity: at one point a couple of the kids head off to a pizza party and in the next scene with the pizza they are wearing entirely different clothes. But everything else is jarring or sloppy or just uninteresting. Space Warriors is aimed at kids, but it’s hard to believe that even kids would enjoy such a movie, or want to go to Space Camp after watching it.

I never went to the real Space Camp. (Dunno why.) But I did like Space Camp the movie. Space Warriors, however, makes sleeping in tents and getting eaten by mosquitoes look more appealing.


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