The heat of summer is upon us, and if you’re not at summer camp right now then the next best thing is a summer camp movie. Sure, some of these movies end in fun and romance, others end with an axe-wielding psycho, but either way you get to swim in the lake and cover yourself in bug spray.
For fun, let’s look at a two summer camp comedy series that set the standard for all others.
First up is the 1979 film “Meatballs,” a film that is cute, raunchy, funny and emotional while trying to avoid an R-rating (they failed). Directed by Ivan Reitman, the story follows revolves around the strange and rebellious camp counselor Tripper, played by Bill Murray, as he tries to guide the losers of Camp Northstar. Everything you know about a summer camp comedy was started in “Meatballs.”
Times have definitely changed. “Meatballs” may have been goofy and offensive, but that didn’t stop the studios from making three more. “Meatballs Part II” came out in 1984, and features a bunch of great ’80s actors — notably Paul Reubens in a part other than his famous Pee Wee Herman. “Meatballs III: Summer Job” came out in 1986 and stars Patrick Dempsey, also known as McDreamy from “Grey’s Anatomy.” In 1992 “Meatballs 4″ was released, starring Corey Feldman of “The Goonies” fame.
Jump ahead to 2001.
“Wet Hot American Summer” took all the themes, gags, hopes, dreams and raunchiness of 80’s films like “Meatballs” and updated them with an amazing cast, excellent writing and true dedication to filmmaking. If you’ve never seen “Wet Hot” then drop everything and watch it now.
Seriously, a film with early acting appearances by Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black alongside great performances by David Hyde Pierce, Janine Garofalo and Molly Shannon is a must see. Christopher Meloni, famous for “Law and Order: SVU” pulls off an awesome transformation.
Compared to the 80s films, “Wet Hot” is notable for some strong female leads, humor that mocks on the sexual exploitation of the original material, and LGBTQ characters. In other words, while it may look a bit dated at 15 years old, it was a forward-thinking film for its time.
Fourteen years later, Netflix re-booted the movie as a streaming series. The movie shows the events of the last day at camp, so (of course) the show was “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” — and it included most of the original cast. There are also some new faces, notably Jon Hamm from “Mad Men.”
For filmmakers who want to study how to make movies, the best part is that recently a behind-the-scenes documentary was released about the making of the 2001 film. Do you think putting a bunch of friends in a summer camp for a month would be fun? Oh yes! Is it a great time to make a light-hearted summer film? Of course! Is it much more difficult than you would ever imagine? Absolutely.