Revisiting SpaceCamp


Out of all the 1980s film scores of John Williams, SpaceCamp (1986) seems to have gotten the short end of the stick. The score came at a time when Williams’ career was seeming to shift with his work conducting the Boston Pops, and a host of celebratory commissions taking up his time and energy. It was his first film score since 1984’s The River, though he had provided the theme and music for two episodes of Spielberg’s revamped Amazing Stories (1985). Intrada has now managed to acquire the original film material and has repackaged this with the original score release.


By now everyone likely knows that SpaceCamp was among a host of mid-80s sci-fi action films with prominent teens the focus of the story. Here, a group of them (including Lea Thompson and a very young Joaguin Phoenix) end up launched into space on the space shuttle and must figure out how to get back to earth. What could have been a great feel good celebration of NASA’s accomplishment’s though evaporated when the Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, shortly after launch that claimed the lives of seven astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffe. This all made the film itself a bit more risky than otherwise should have been the case.


Williams’ score for the film is filled with lots of soaring melodies and a little ornamental trill that he would also infuse his work on the later The Witches of Eastwick with as well. In fact, this score has a blend of his emotionally-shaped moments from E.T. and even some music that would find its way into his NBC News theme. The score is a sort of hybrid of the two which makes listening to it a rather interesting exercise in hearing how certain musical gestures were tried out to be reused in new guise later. The score features a strong “Main Title” and closing credits suite with the “Re-Entry” and “Home Again” being among the later stand out moments. “The Shuttle” is also a great example of some of the dissonant writing that graced the composer’s Star Wars moments of tension (or a lighter Minority Report style). The score even boasts a fairly generic “Training Montage” which truly dates itself but is still great fun to hear.


The original 48-minute soundtrack release also was plagued by a shift from vinyl to CD at the time which made it equally hard to come by and only a suite on a Cincinnati Pops release was a tantalizing view of the music. Intrada finally managed to get the rights to release the original album which they did about a decade ago. That album is included here in its entirety on disc two without any extras—a straight-up reissued, though with some remastering. It sounds great still.


Disc one provides a look at the film score placed in original narrative order. A good number of the album tracks also pop up there supplemented now with around 8 minutes of previously-unreleased material. None of that will alter one’s opinion of the score, but will be of interest to Williams’ completists. It is a bit odd that the film version of the “Main Title” is placed as an “extra”. One can compare the differences easily though as well as the album and film versions of the “White Sands” sequence. A shorter take of “Home Again” also appears. All told it runs to just over 69 minutes.


After much waiting, fans now have an essentially “complete” SpaceCamp to enjoy on its own merits. The original album release is a great example of how well Williams adapated his music to a listenable experience. It hits all the emotional and adventure highlights and presents his work in a mostly complete package. Those who are satisfied with that earlier Intrada release will likely pass on this two-disc release but this is a welcome addition to Williams’ discography of complete film scores that are now available.

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