Space Warriors

Director: Sean McNamara
Thomas Horn, Josh Lucas, Mira Sorvino

Though I have never been a big Bible reader or advocate, I do think that the oft called Good Book does have a few good things to say. Certainly I don't champion some bits, like Exodus 21:7, which suggests that it's okay for a father to sell his daughter into slavery. But there are some statements in other parts of the Bible that I think Christians and non Christians could agree on. One of these I think is 1 Corinthians 13:11, where it states, "When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned as a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me." I think that is true for just about any adult. Knowing this, it is then interesting to think back when you were a child and ponder what material really caught your interest back then. And with this in mind, it is very interesting that some of this material of interest is shared with many, many other children. While I can't really speak about what really interests female children (I've never understood women), I certainly was able to see while growing up that many boys around my age seemed to have a common love for some topics. And these topics seem to be about BIG things. For example, one such topic (one that I have mentioned in an earlier review) that young boys really seem to love are dinosaurs. At least, they seem to love the BIG dinosaurs, like the tyrannosaurus rex or the brontosaurus, and never the dinosaurs that were as big as dogs or chickens. Another thing that young boys seem to love are monster trucks, the BIG kind that are able to drive over regular sized vehicles and crush them.

Come to think about it, there are some people who love dinosaurs in their adult years (like palaeontologists), and there are a number of adults who love monster trucks. One of these loves in adulthood I think is more respectable than the other (guess which one.) But I would like to get back to talking about stuff that really interests children, specifically one other BIG topic. And that is anything to do with outer space. Why are there so many children who dream of being one of those few who gets to leave planet Earth? Well, I think there are several reasons why, but I think that the most obvious reason is that space is BIG. Not only BIG, but we humans have barely scratched the surface of everything that is beyond our atmosphere and gravity. There is sooooo much out there ready to be explored and seen for the first time by any human. Who wouldn't like to be in the shoes of an astronaut who is the first to make such an accomplishment far from Earth? It's no wonder that so many kids think of traveling in space. But as it turns out, just about all the people that dream of space stuff never actually get around to having such a job when they are adults, putting this dream aside for other pursuits. I think the reasons why this way of childhood is put behind people as they get older are easy to deduce. The prime reason, I think, is that currently mankind is only able to do so much when it comes to exploring outer space. Only a few countries have space programs, for one thing. And none of these space programs are very big, meaning only a select few people can get involved in mankind's exploration of outer space.

The limited opportunity that's currently around for wannabe space explorers eventually sinks into the minds of kids obsessed with outer space, and once they reach adulthood, for the most part they look for other and easier opportunities. Despite this reality, I don't think that if you have a Space Warriorschild who is interested in outer space, you should discourage them from thinking about pursuing this field as they get older. While it shouldn't be the only interest that a child has, it's possible that their interest in outer space stuff could give them a lot of pleasure during their leisure time. One such aspect is with space camps, which are like summer camps but are devoted to encouraging child participants to find out what it's like to be astronauts and other space-related occupations. From what I know about these camps, they seem to be more interesting than your typical summer camps for children. So it's a little surprising that filmmakers haven't explored this topic that much. Well, it may be because the first attempt, the 1986 movie Space Camp, was a bomb in theaters. It then took 27 more years before the second attempt was made, the movie Space Warriors. However, this effort went straight to DVD, which means we'll probably have to wait a very long time before the next attempt at a space camp movie. So until that happens, we're stuck with those two movies. Since Space Camp is fairly well known (and a bad movie I didn't want to revisit), I decided to look at Space Warriors instead. The events of the movie center around a teenager named Jimmy (Horn, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close). Jimmy is obsessed with one day becoming an astronaut, and is thrilled when one day he gets an invitation to attend space camp. However, his mother Sally (Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite) and former astronaut father Andy (Dermot Mulroney, Survival Quest) do not want him to become an astronaut and forbid him to attend the camp. So Jimmy deceives his parents and attends the camp. Under former astronaut Buck Manley (Lucas, J. Edgar) Jimmy proceeds to learn all about The Right Stuff with the other campers. Just when Jimmy's group within the camp is seemingly headed for a major award, his parents find out where he's been all this time, and immediately pull him out of camp. Is Jimmy's dream to become an astronaut doomed?

One of the production outfits behind Space Warriors was Walden Media, a company known for numerous family movies ranging from Bridge To Terabithia to The Chronicles Of Narnia series. The company is overseen by Christian conservative owner Philip Anschutz, who reportedly pushes for Walden's movies to be "life affirming" and "to carry a moral message." I know that for many readers, those facts may appear to be a red flag of sorts. But I personally didn't have any immediate objections knowing those facts before watching the movie. All I asked was that this material not come across in a heavy handed manner. Space Warriors does indeed have several messages to give to young viewers and their parents, and they are in my opinion pretty good messages. The movie starts off by suggesting that it's okay to have a dream, and that dreams often need a lot of hard work to be accomplished. On the other hand, the movie shows that some avenues to achieving a dream are wrong, like with Jimmy lying to his parents so he can attend space camp. Indeed, Jimmy eventually feels bad about lying, even before he is caught by his parents. And subsequently we are shown there can be big consequences for breaking the rules. There are some other sobering messages as well here and there, like when Manley tells Jimmy and his friends at one point, "Excuses are the cornerstone for failure." But for the most part, the movie's messages are of a more positive nature, not just with dreaming. For example, the importance of teamwork and leadership skills are brought up on occasion, clearly showing that no man or woman is an island and that working together will most likely bring positive results.

It is a credit to director Sean McNamara (3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain) that none of these messages are delivered in a heavy handed manner; the lessons feel like they come out of a natural situation. McNamara also shows some strength in other aspects of the finished movie. Though the budget for Space Warriors was obviously not very big, the production values aren't that bad. McNamara obviously got to shoot in an actual space camp in Alabama, so the backdrop looks authentic. The sequences taking place in space have some good (for a low budget) effects, from the CGI to the simulation of a zero gravity environment. On the other hand, McNamara doesn't seem to have the ability to punch up the climactic sequence where Jimmy and his team are brought in to defuse a life and death situation; the whole (very long) sequence comes across as surprisingly flat and mechanical. There are also a few sequences that come across in a kind of garbled manner, like how Jimmy exactly manages to fool both of his parents and the NASA administration staff so he can attend space camp (or for that matter, how he subsequently manages to travel alone all the way to space camp.) I'm not sure if those last touches were the fault of McNamara's direction or with the screenplay (which took five screenwriters, including McNamara, to be completed.) All I can say is that there are other head-scratching moments with the movie's story. The subplot concerning a building disaster on the International Space Station, for example, happens over a course of several days. But for some reason, Jimmy and his team - and the rest of the world for that matter - are made oblivious to this pressing disaster over those few days until near the last minute when the space station astronauts are near death.

But the inadequate level of writing in Space Warriors doesn't just extend to the movie's story. Fault can also be found in the writing of the movie's characters. And with the addition of some real lacklustre performances, the combination gives the movie its real death blow. The only exception to this is with actor Josh Lucas' former astronaut character Manley. Lucas is given enough meat in the script to make his character come alive, acting mostly by the book but at the same time coming across as sympathetic and willing to bend the rules if necessary. The other adult actors don't come across as well. As Jimmy's divorced parents, Sorvino and Mulroney don't get that much screen time to make an impression. Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) as the NASA commander gets even less time. Well, maybe the wasted adult talent was inevitable, given this is a kids movie and the youths are up front and centre. But none of the youths manage to make much of an impression. I could write for some time about them with issues with stuff like fake accents and half-baked romantic subplots, but I'll just stick with the movie's main protagonist Jimmy, played by Horn. Jimmy is an especially poor movie hero. After the first half hour or so of the movie, it dawned on me that I still didn't really know much about this youth. Yes, I knew he wanted to be an astronaut, but that was about all. Why he wanted to be an astronaut and why he was willing to risk hurting his parents to achieve his goal were two of many questions I had of this character that were never answered. He's a one-note protagonist, and that may explain why Horn's performance isn't particularly good, alternating between a gee-whiz tone and a slightly patronizing one. Kid viewers may be more charitable towards the character, but they'll probably still dislike Space Warriors in part due to the fact that the title and DVD box art promise a lot of action when there really isn't. Guess the makers of this movie somehow didn't get their own message about lying.

(Posted March 25, 2022)

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See also: Kenny & Company, Local Boys, Star Kid