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SpaceCamp
  • Composed by John Williams
  • Intrada Special Collection Volume 140 / 2010 / 48:32

John Williams was at the peak of his popularity in 1986, but had left a year-long hole in his schedule to allow for writing music for a project which meant a lot to him – Steven Spielberg’s Peter Pan musical.  Of course, that ended up not happening for a long time (and when it did, in a very different form), so he was able to take on an additional project.  This album’s liner notes point out that he was, at that point, the composer of seven of the all-time top ten box office successes – he was also known throughout the USA due to his Boston Pops work – one would think he would be able to pick the year’s crème de la crème, to find a film whose critical success was matched by its box office receipts.  Well, I guess the ill-fated SpaceCamp‘s critical success was indeed matched by its box office receipts – it had very little of either.

The film’s timing was very bad – the story of a group of children who inadvertently end up in space on a space shuttle, with their schoolteacher, was in post-production at the time of the Challenger disaster (in which seven astronauts – including a schoolteacher – died).  The public had no appetite for the film.  Williams was evidently very endeared by it – his presumably sincere liner notes at the time spoke of his honour to be associated with the film.  His music is certainly endearing – the kind of warm Americana he was writing in various ceremonial commissions during that period, patriotic and warm and very attractive.

John Williams reflects on his statement 20 years earlier that "I feel particularly proud of my association with SpaceCamp and its creators."

The score’s highlight is its fabulous main theme.  You won’t find it on any Williams compilations but it certainly wouldn’t be out of place alongside his far more famous works.  Particularly warm and rich, it gets a rapturous arrangement for the end titles (its appearance midway through the album – which retains the original Williams-produced LP sequence – seems a bit odd, but it works well enough) which is highly reminiscent of some of those ceremonial pieces, particularly the Liberty Fanfare.

“Training Montage” is at the other end of the scale and, being the album’s second track, may lead the uninitiated to fear the worst for the album.  Over the years, Williams’s mastery of the orchestra has been met with a (mercifully far less well-explored) equal-and-opposite reaction when it comes to his synth writing and this attempt at an 80s pop instrumental is enough to make this particular listener hide behind the furniture in acute embarrassment.  For sanity’s sake, it’s a good job that it’s a one-off.

A secondary theme, heard most fully in “Viewing Daedelus”, has a shimmering, astral quality and is also very appealing.  There’s some action music here too, which introduces some darker moments into the score (albeit fairly briefly) in the highly enjoyable seven-minute “White Sands”.  The album’s all-out heroic conclusion is hard not to enjoy, with a particularly triumphant version of the main theme appearing for the finale pieces, “Re-Entry” and  “Home Again”.

Years ago, a friend of mine described the score as sounding a little like someone pretending to be John Williams rather than a work of the great man himself.  I know what he meant, but I can’t agree – it’s actually hard to resist the innocence and emotional simplicity of it all.  The main theme is fantastic, there’s plenty of other good material too, and it’s great that it’s been released on CD again almost two decades after a very limited Japanese release came and went in no time.  The album sounds notably better than that one (which had curiously pinched sound) and features excellent liner notes from Mike Matessino.  It’s John Williams, it’s outer space – I don’t think I need to say any more.  ****

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  1. Karl Morton IV (Reply) on Friday 22 October, 2010 at 02:52

    Nice review, man. 🙂

    I got completely confused by the allegations of mastering errors that flew around the message boards. Did you get a “fixed” copy or were you even aware there was a problem or does one need a particularly clean-eared dog to detect the issue or what? Just wondering.