Tag Archives: Joaquin Phoenix

SpaceCamp “The Launch” (1986)

John Williams has done so many film scores over the years that it’s no surprise some have fallen through the cracks. One example is his score for the 1986 film SpaceCamp, which in my opinion is one of his more underrated scores mostly because very few seem to know it exists.

For those who don’t know, SpaceCamp is a space adventure film that follows a group of misfit kids at (you guessed it) Space Camp. The adventure revolves around an incident that leads to the kids and their instructor being trapped in the Space Shuttle when it’s suddenly forced to launch (I’m oversimplifying but that is in essence what happens). The shuttle launch scene is one of the big moments of the film, and I wanted to talk about the way John Williams scores this moment (cue starts around 1:17 and stops around 2:25).

The first thing to note is that there is no music whatsoever before the cue in question starts. The only major background sound comes from the rumble of the booster. As the second booster is ignited to initiate launch, the background noise “crescendos” as the launch system activates, with the music beginning the moment the shuttle lifts off the pad.

Listen carefully to the music as the shuttle lifts off, because I think what Williams is doing here is brilliant. This is a layered situation, and the music reflects it perfectly. On the one hand, now that the shuttle has launched, it’s important for the launch to go perfectly so it can reach orbit. But on the other hand, the shuttle has launched with a bunch of kids on board and there’s a general feeling of “oh my God what did we just do?” Williams reflects both sentiments in this single cue: it starts with what I can only describe as a “moody” trumpet fanfare (well, fanfare is admittedly a stretch but I can’t think of a better word) as liftoff commences. It’s the type of music you’d expect to hear when a space shuttle launches, because it’s admittedly an awe-inspiring sight. But the normally triumphant music is almost immediately dampened by a minor-sounding intrusion (after the line “My God, we have liftoff”) that reminds us that, while beautiful, this launch shouldn’t be happening.

This is one of my favorite musical moments in the entire film, and I love how Williams funnels several conflicting emotions into a single cue. I’ll conclude with a bit of bonus trivia: Max (the littlest kid in the shuttle) is played by Joaquin Phoenix (credited here as Leaf Phoenix) in only his 2nd film appearance.

Let me know what you think about SpaceCamp (and the launch scene and its music) in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film Soundtracks A-W

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My thoughts on: Gladiator (2000)

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Set in the year 180 AD, the film follows the saga of General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) as he is betrayed by Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) after the latter murders his father, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (when he revealed to Commodus that he was going to restore the Republic). Maximus is sent to be executed when he discovers what Commodus has done but he manages to escape and races back home, only to discover that his wife and son have been brutally murdered, his home burned to the ground.


Maximus is subsequently captured by slavers and becomes a gladiator in a backwater town of the Empire. Meanwhile, Commodus has returned to Rome and proceeds to enjoy life as an Emperor, giving the people an unending stream of “bread and circuses” so that no one notices that he’s really a terrible ruler.

Phoenix’s performance as the slowly-going-mad Emperor is really spine-chilling at times. He comes off as slightly buffoonish in the beginning, but once he really begins to go mad (I’m thinking of the scene where he threatens to kill his nephew unless his sister does whatever he wants), he’s quite terrifying.


Of course Maximus inevitably makes his way to Rome as a gladiator, to fight in the great Colosseum. He vainly attempts to hide his identity (fearing that he’ll be killed on the spot if recognized), but the Emperor demands to know who he is, leading to one of the greatest movie lines of all time:

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the TRUE emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

And vengeance he gets, though not without paying the ultimate price in return.

The score for this brilliant film was composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer. Some have noted that the music in many battle scenes bears a distinct resemblance to the music from “Mars: The Bringer of War” composed by Gustav Holst (so much so in fact that at one point the Holst Foundation sued Zimmer on the grounds that he had plagiarized Holst’s work). Also, Commodus’s triumphal entry into Rome contains music that seems to evoke two of Richard Wagner’s operas “The Rhine Gold” and “Twilight of the Gods.”

It’s been a while since I watched this movie, but it is indeed a modern classic that everyone should see at least once in their lives.

*poster is the property of DreamWorks Pictures

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