Tuesday, August 09, 2016

SPACE CAMP VOL. 5: SPACE JUNK


Wikipedia defines "space junk" as a collection of defunct manmade objects floating around in outer space. Old satellite parts, rocket droppings, space station remainders, etc. Imagine the Great Pacific Garbage Patch orbiting the Andromeda Galaxy instead of the coast of the Aleutian Islands. Imagine if your West Virginian relatives stacked all of their broken appliances on Saturn's rings instead of their front porch.

But there's another type of space junk out there, that of the cinematic variety. When you watch a ton of sci-fi movies over the course of six months, you tend to build up a lot of space waste. This is not to say that all of the below films are terrible. Some of them are quite good. By "junk" I primarily mean leftovers, the films that didn't fit so neatly or thematically into the previous four Space Camp entries. Some of them I watched as far back as six months ago. One I viewed as recently as last evening. They're an accumulation of spare parts looking for a home. So I've grouped them into easy-to-digest junk food double features with off-the-cuff commentary.

My time at Space Camp has been entertaining, enlightening and frequently extraterrestrial, but it's time to come back down to Earth. To quote a certain wrinkly fellow: "M.B., phone home." This is the last time you'll see rocket ship icons in place of star ratings, I guarantee. That said, I make no promises regarding bullwhips...

BARBARELLA (1968) - Roger Vadim 🚀🚀🚀1/2
GALAXINA (1980) - William Sachs 🚀


It's shocking that it's taken me this long to get around to Barbarella, perhaps the campiest outer space movie that ever existed. The day-glo shag carpet rocket interiors. The zero gravity peepshow routines. Pills that simulate sex without need for touching. Blind birdmen named Pygar ripped from a Caravaggio painting. There's Marcel Marceau and a villain named Durand Durand. There's an orgasmatron that threatens to pleasure our heroine to death! All the midnight movie elements are there, and indeed Barbarella is a sumptuous late '60s free love kitsch feast. So many directors/actresses have tried and failed to remake this movie, from Robert Rodriguez/Rose McGowan to Nicolas Winding Refn/Christina Hendricks to Vadim himself (a tantalizing '80s version with Sherilyn Fenn). I say leave well enough alone. Barbarella is a product of its time, like the lava lamp. It should probably stay in suspended animation. Any other rendering will just be perfunctory air quotes.

As for Galaxina, be my guest. The movie wasn't much more than a sci-fi starring vehicle for Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten anyway. Other than some interesting color tinting during a Western-style showdown near the movie's end, Galaxina is a snooze and Stratten relatively stiff. Appropriate, in that she's playing an android. Sad, when you consider her character's goal is to become more human (she even fails as a "pleasure robot").

INVADERS FROM MARS (1986) - Tobe Hooper 🚀🚀
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1997) - Gary Goddard 🚀1/2


Tobe Hooper gave lovers of space camp a thing of beauty with 1985's Lifeforce. You can't expect him to win 'em all and especially not the very next year. Somehow, I missed his Invaders from Mars remake as a kid. I guess even then I was studying the local newspaper's reviews (the film landed with a resounding thud). Invaders isn't entirely unwatchable, the way any movie starring Bud Cort, Karen Black and Louise Fletcher simply can't be. But the child actor at the movie's center reaches fingernails on chalkboards levels of annoyance. His line readings are atrocious and his "fright face" barely sustained, as if he's anticipating the "Cut!" coming at the end of every scene. It almost feels like sadism on Hooper's part, as if he's perversely testing audience endurance. Given that this is the same man who directed Texas Chainsaw and Poltergeist, a little schadenfreude isn't out of the question. Other than that, a few of the rubber latex space invaders are kinda neat.

Masters of the Universe is another kiddie-friendly Cannon Films feature that bypassed me as a small fry, this one even more baffling since I owned He-Man and She-Ra action figures, the entire Castle Grayskull playset. I probably preferred the cartoon at the time, a rarity in my animation averse childhood. Either that, or I suspected Dolph Lundgren would never hold a candle to the chunk of opposable plastic I already held in my hands. I was onto something there. For though I love Dolph in Rocky IV, in Masters he is a slab of gym-sculpted dead weight. The producers obviously feared this, because instead of getting him emergency acting lessons they overcompensated by adding a dozen other characters and taking the focus off He-Man. If Masters has one big problem (other than piddling around on Planet Earth for too long), it is this...there are too many masters running around!!! Courtney Cox, Billy Barty, cops and assorted pimple-faced teens and their younger kin. What are we doing hanging out with them? For the love of Skeletor, get us back to Frank Langella and the planet of Eternia, please!!!

EXPLORERS (1985) - Joe Dante 🚀🚀1/2
SPACE CAMP (1986) - Harry Winer 🚀🚀


The most interesting aspect of this "Children Who Really Shouldn't Be In Space But Are" double feature is watching young actors who will later grow into great thesps. Between Explorers and Space Camp, you get a Hawke (Ethan) and not one but two Phoenixes (River and Joaquin, then named "Leaf"). 

Explorers begins on a promising note with a trio of young science nerds who invent a flying space bubble that allows them to float around their neighborhood, peek into girls' bedrooms (of course) and, eventually, breach outer space. For a while, it's kind of magical, as if Dante directed an hour-long Spielbergian advertisement for STEM learning. But then the trio gets tractor-beamed onto an alien ship and it's all downhill from there. The aliens derive all their Earth knowledge from old '50s television transmissions, which makes for a lot of dated Honeymooners references and tired Jimmy Durante impressions. Surprise! The aliens are children just like our trio. They watch too much TV and get in trouble with their parents. This probably sounded great on paper. In execution, not so much.

Space Camp, the namesake movie of this blog for the past six months, is a bit too earnest to be Grade A campy fun. It's basically an hour and half long ad for NASA's Space Camp program. The actors are all fine playing science camp types, from ambitious Leah Thompson to airhead savant Kelly Preston to ladies' man Tate Donovan to starstruck prodigy "Leaf." But the real keeper here is Jinx, the robot who's so devoted to young Phoenix that he'll do anything to ensure he gets his dream of being in space. This includes sabotaging NASA computers during a grounded space shuttle simulation, thereby causing the young crew to emergency launch. Apparently, it's an easy security breach for a rolling hunk of tin. Hopefully, NASA has corrected this operational oversight somewhere in the last 30 years. 

SPACEBALLS (1987) - Mel Brooks 🚀🚀🚀
GALAXY QUEST (1999) - Dean Parisot 🚀🚀🚀


The Star Wars spoof versus the Star Trek goof...which nerd franchise will win? Let's call it a draw. I loved Spaceballs as a kid, saw it in the theatre and on VHS countless times. Watched again as a somewhat discerning adult, a lot of Mel Brooks' jokes fall flat, and many of the Dark Helmet zings are unforgivable groaners. But I'll always be a sucker for dripping Pizza the Hutt, and the "comb the desert" sight gag gets me every time. 

Galaxy Quest was the more welcome re-watch of the two. I saw it in the theatre when it came out and remembered the premise being "kinda neat." My Star Trek franchise apathy and general aversion to all things Tim Allen kept me away from revisiting it for years. But after binging all the Star Trek movies in July, it seemed incumbent I give Quest another go. Being recently versed in Spock and Kirk definitely added a few extra layers to the jokes. And, man, are those Thermians worth the price of admission (especially, Enrico Colatoni). I didn't mind Tim Allen that much this time. He may be the perfect person to play William Shatner, after the actual Shat.

NUKIE (1987) - Sias Odendaal & Mike Pakleppa 🚀1/2
MAC AND ME (1988) - Stewart Raffill 🚀🚀🚀1/2


I spent a whole month watching Star Wars Rips, then another watching Alien Knock-Offs. The least I could do is give the E.T. clones two solid nights, right?

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial isn't as near and dear to my heart as other early Spielberg efforts (i.e., Raiders). Even way back then, the Little Ebert in me thought the movie was "just OK, a little too sappy, certainly no Poltergeist." So watching more or less the same narrative play out in on lesser budgets isn't exactly sacrilege. To be honest, I'd much rather watch the bizarrely entertaining McDonald's funded trainwreck Mac and Me a dozen more times than the original E.T. If not the entire movie, then at least this impromptu Micky D's dance scene.

After this and The Ice Pirates a few months ago, I'm steadily building a closet appreciation for the unsung genius of director Stewart Raffill. Who's up for a midnight screening of Mannequin Two: On the Move? No takers. OK, then how about cinema's most curious U.S. citizen naturalization ceremony?


As for Nukie, there will surely be no repeat viewings. If you've ever wondered what E.T. would be like if our glow-fingered hero crash landed in South Africa instead of Southern Cali, well, wonder no more. Nukie is your answer, and you'll wish you never asked. As much as I appreciate Steve Railsback, chimpanzees who think in voiceover, grumpy computer mainframes and alien visitors who look like worn down catcher's mitts, I'll never be able to get the endless wailing "Nukie! Nukie!" out of my head and not for reasons of fondness. Unlike Mac and Me, Nukie is more Plain Bad than Bad but Kinda Fascinating. Someone please put poor alien twins Nukie and Miko out of their misery. At the very least, spot them a bag of Reese's Pieces.

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