Wonder and Drama: ‘SpaceCamp’ and ‘Presumed Innocent’

Producer Mike Matessino talks the latest John Williams expanded reissues just released: the 1986 space adventure film SpaceCamp and the 1990 courtroom drama Presumed Innocent

Hosted by Maurizio Caschetto and Tim Burden

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For the joy of fans and admirers of the Maestro around the world, the first two John Williams expanded archival releases of 2022 have been recently announced. They are respectively SpaceCamp (from Intrada) and Presumed Innocent (from Varèse Sarabande), two sought-after titles that have been long out of print and that now are finally available in expanded and remastered form courtesy of Soundtrack Producer Mike Matessino, giving a new chance to listeners to appreciate and rediscover two very unique and distinctive film works in John Williams’ catalogue.

The crew of “SpaceCamp” © 1986 ABC Motion Pictures

SpaceCamp is a 1986 film telling the story of a group of young kids attending a summer NASA “space camp” program at Cape Canaveral and their adventure after they are accidentally launched into space by a malfunctioning computer during their training on the shuttle. The group must work together to return home safely with the help of ground control team, facing the greatest adventure of their lifetime. Directed by Harry Winer and starring Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Larry B. Scott, Tate Donovan and a very young Joaquin Phoenix, SpaceCamp is a lovely and perhaps naive memento of the mid-1980s movie era were it was common to have young kids and teenagers at the center of stories dealing with technology, computers and robots (War Games, The Last Starfighter, D.A.R.Y.L., Weird Science, Short Circuit, Flight of the Navigator, to name a few), often infused with a Spielberg-esque sense of wonder so ubiquitous at that time.

An adventure at zero gravity in “SpaceCamp” © 1986 ABC Motion Pictures

It’s in this specific vein that John Williams wrote music for the film, which came his way thanks to his friendship with director of 20th Century Fox music department Lionel Newman. The composer responded to the film with great enthusiasm (as also seen in the liner notes he penned for the original soundtrack album), which is very much prominently displayed through the jubilant, optimistic symphonic style typical of several of his works from the same era like the scores for the Steven Spielberg-produced television show Amazing Stories and the music for the NBC News, but also ceremonial pieces like the fanfares for the 1984 Olympic Games (“Olympic Fanfare and Theme”) and the rededication fo the Statue of Liberty in New York City (“Liberty Fanfare”). This uplifting, wholesome musical vernacular becomes the spine of the score for SpaceCamp, which accompanies the film perfectly with major-key melodies in Lydian mode, with lots of flourishes and bright orchestrations, but also with a great deal of sophistication.

John Williams conducting (ca. mid-1980s)

Intrada’s newly expanded edition presents a 2-CD set featuring the complete film score presentation remastered from the original 3-track film mixes by engineer Armin Steiner on disc 1, featuring also previously unreleased material; disc 2 offers instead a fresh new remaster of the 1986 RCA original soundtrack program featuring album-specific remixes by Len Engel and preserving the composer’s preferred listening presentation. The release was assembled, mastered and produced by Mike Matessino, who also wrote detailed liner notes chronicling the film’s history and providing an illuminating context for appreciating even more the work of John Williams for this project, which remains one of his most jubilant and delightful lesser-known gems of his vast film output.

Harrison Ford in Presumed Innocent © Warner Bros. 1990

The second John Williams expanded release of 2022 is the Deluxe Edition of Presumed Innocent, another project that is perhaps not as widely known to the fans of John Williams as some of his more popular others. Adapted from a novel by Scott Turow, produced by Hollywood legend Sydney Pollack and superbly directed by paranoia thriller veteran Alan J. Pakula (All The President’s Men, The Parallax View), the 1990 film stars Harrison Ford as prosecutor Rusty Sabich and the vortex of drama and regret he founds himself trapped in when he’s accused of the homicide of his colleague Carolyn Polhemus, with whom he had an extra-conjugal affair. Shot impeccably by The Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis, Presumed Innocent keeps the audience engaged thanks to Pakula’s expert direction, the refined work of a great acting ensemble (which in addition to Ford features Bonnie Bedelia, Raul Julia, Brian Dennehy and Greta Scacchi) and a subtle yet haunting musical score by John Williams.

Bonnie Bedelia and Harrison Ford in Presumed Innocent © Warner Bros. 1990

Although he worked on several adult dramas during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s (Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting, Images, The Eiger Sanction, Black Sunday), after the success of Star Wars, Williams became associated in large part with films about childhood, fantasy and adventure mostly because of his association with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who redefined the template of Hollywood’s entertainment machine. In the late 1980s, after the completion of the Star Wars trilogy and with Steven Spielberg going on a different, more mature career path with films like The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun, the composer started to pursue projects that would offer him the chance to explore different stylistic routes, working on such films as The Witches of Eastwick (1987), The Accidental Tourist (1988) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). And despite Presumed Innocent was a high-profile studio picture with a big movie star, it was still sort of unexpected to see John Williams’ name attached to a legal thriller featuring explicit sex scenes and an overall uncompromisingly dark atmosphere. This fresh change of pace gave Williams the chance to compose one of his most somber yet elegantly brooding scores, enhancing the unfolding drama and its unexpected twists with a stark accompaniment featuring lots of solo piano, French Horn, harp and a subtle bed of eerie electronic textures, enveloping the characters’ obsessions and their sense of guilt and regret, as perfectly demonstrated by the haunting main theme. The film is judiciously spotted, reserving music only for the moments in which the psychology of the character is addressed, following the lesson and the methodology of the great Bernard Herrmann.

Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, Harrison Ford and Bradley Whitford in Presumed Innocent © Warner Bros. 1990

Varèse Sarabande’s newly expanded Deluxe Edition presents the complete film score, fully reassembled and remastered by Mike Matessino, with a handful of bonus tracks featuring the original “album suites” assembled by the composer for the original soundtrack album program released in 1990 by the same label; included are insightful liner notes expertly written by film music authority Jeff Bond. It’s another great opportunity to have this score available again to a larger audience and a chance to discover a more subtle yet powerfully dramatic side of John Williams’ musical persona.

John Williams at his composing desk (ca. early 1990s)

In this conversation, Matessino returns to The Legacy of John Williams podcast to discuss this two releases and how both SpaceCamp and Presumed Innocent fit into the chronology of John Williams’ career, talking about how the composer became a household name during the 1980s and how he challenged himself in new and diverse projects.

Special Thanks to Douglass Fake & Roger Feigelson (Intrada), Cary Mansfield (Varèse Sarabande) and to Mike Matessino.

SpaceCamp 2-CD Expanded Edition
Music Composed and Conducted by John Williams
Available on Intrada

Presumed Innocent – The Deluxe Edition
Music Composed and Conducted by John Williams
Available on Varèse Sarabande
Limited Edition of 2,500 Copies