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Spaceballs
Director: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan & Ronny Graham
Stars: Mel Brooks (President Skroob / Yogurt), John Candy (Barf), Rick Moranis (Dark Helmet), Bill Pullman (Lone Starr), Daphne Zuniga (Princess Vespa), Dick Van Patten (King Roland), George Wyner (Colonel Sandurz), Michael Winslow (Radar Technician), Joan Rivers (voice of Dot Matrix), Lorene Yarnell (Dot Matrix), John Hurt (Himself), Sal Viscuso (Radio Operator), Ronny Graham (Minister), Jim J. Bullock (Prince Valium)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1987
Country: U.S.
Spaceballs Blu-Ray
Spaceballs For most of his career, actor/director Mel Brooks has focused on lampooning the most precious genres of the classical Hollywood era. No cow was too sacred to be spared the farcical humor of Brooks’ pen, whether it be the western in Blazing Saddles (1974), classical horror in Young Frankenstein (1974), the pre-sound era in Silent Movie (1976), the Hitchcock oeuvre in High Anxiety (1977), and the historical epic in History of the World Part I (1981). Of course, with comedy of this sort, the results are generally mixed, with moments of near-brilliant parody interspersed with lame gags and desperate bathroom humor. It didn’t help either that Brook’s 1974 one-two punch of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein is rightfully considered the high point of his career that he has been trying (and generally failing) to live up to ever since.

According to Brooks, Spaceballs, which was the first film he had directed in six years, was intended as a parody of the science fiction genre, which he called “an untouched virgin field I needed to soil.” And, while there are humorously crass nods to a handful of modern sci-fi classics, including Planet of the Apes (1968), the Star Trek series, and Alien (1979) by way of the classic Chuck Jones cartoon “One Froggy Evening,” Spaceballs is primarily a parody of George Lucas’ Star Wars juggernaut, or, as Nat X called it in Chasing Amy (1997), “the holy trilogy.”

Over the years, Spaceballs has become one of Brooks’ most popular films, but it was not particularly well regarded when it first came out, partially because the timing of its release was off. Return of the Jedi (1983) had come out a mere four years earlier, so a sense of nostalgia--the bedrock of Brooks’ earlier movie parodies--for the Star Wars series had not yet developed. Brooks’ other films had set their sights on genres that were strong in the popular imaginary, but were old-fashioned and currently out of vogue. Spaceballs, on the other hand, tackles a more current genre, which makes its humor trickier to navigate because it can’t mine the almost-forgotten quirks and odd, outdated details of older cinematic traditions. The result is a movie that is frequently very funny, but sometimes at the expense of jokes that are simply too obvious, although if anything it plays better now than it did in 1987 since we have better distance from Lucas’ space opera (the original three movies, anyway).

After the requisite opening crawl that establishes the characters and the situation, Brooks gives us one of the film’s most inspired moments: a ridiculously long spaceship cruising past the screen that keeps going and going and going and going (Brooks has said that he would have liked for that to have taken up the entire 90 minutes, which would have been an interesting Warholian experiment in audience tolerance). Inside are the film’s villains, who come from a planet known for no particular reason (other than it sounds funny) as Planet Spaceball. The Spaceballs are led by the corrupt President Skroob (Mel Brooks) and the well-named Dark Helmet, who looks like a shorter version of Darth Vader with an exceedingly large head covering that houses the immediately amusing, bespectacled face of Rick Moranis.

The Spaceballs are headed to Planet Druidia because they want to rob it of its precious air, and to that end they kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), the king’s spoiled daughter who, along with her golden droid-maid Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers and played by Lorene Yarnell), has just fled her own wedding (which you would do too if you were about the marry Prince Valium). In desperation, King Roland (Dick Van Patten) enlists the help of Lone Starr (Billy Pullman), a Han Solo-esque rogue who flies around the galaxy in a Winnebago (another of the film’s more inspired visual gags) with a half-man-half-dog sidekick named Barf (John Candy). Basically, Brooks and his coscreenwriters Thomas Meehan (best known for his work on Broadway musicals, which include Annie, The Producers, and Hairspray) and Ronny Graham (a former M*A*S*H scribe who also cowrote 1983’s To Be or Not to Be, which starred Brooks) are intent on hitting all of the high points in the Star Wars universe; hence, we get the appearance of Yogurt (Brooks again), a pint-sized Yoda-esque guru who instructs Lone Starr in the ways of the Schwartz, as well as a light-saber duel between Lone Starr and Dark Helmet that provides one of the film’s funniest and most unexpected meta-moments when their battle goes beyond the edges of the movie itself and kills an unwitting camera operator.

Although some of the stabs at making fun of all things Star Wars don’t quite work, Brooks does hit on a great thematic joke in mocking the incessant marketing associated with big event films. Yogurt makes this most explicit with his personal Spaceballs store, which includes everything from dolls to flamethrowers, but the jokes work best when they’re scattered throughout the film with only minimal attention directed to them, so your eye is drawn to Spaceballs the towel or Spaceballs the shaving cream. It’s a joke that was right on target in the late 1980s, when ancillary markets had essentially become more important than the movies they were ostensibly advertising with their products, and it works even better today because, much like that opening spaceship, it’s a trend that just keeps going and going and going.

Spaceballs Two-Disc Blu-Ray Set
This two-disc set includes the film on both Blu-Ray and DVD (a flipper with widescreen on one side and open matte on the other).
Aspect Ratio1.85:1
Audio
  • English Dolby Digital DTS-HD 5.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French DTS 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • German DTS 5.1 surround
  • Italian DTS 5.1 surround
  • Castilian Spanish DTS 5.1 surround
  • Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Hungarian
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director Mel Brooks
  • Spaceballs: The Documentary” retrospective featurette
  • “In Conversation: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan” featurette
  • “John Candy: Comic Spirit” featurette
  • Film Flubs
  • Film-to-storyboard comparison
  • Stills galleries
  • Exhibitor trailer and original theatrical trailer
  • Watch the Film at Ludicrous Speed option
  • DistributorMGM / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    SRP$29.95
    Release DateJune 16, 2009

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    As presented in 1080p high-definition on a dual-layer 50GB disc, this is certainly the best Spaceballs has ever looked on home video. The image is relatively sharp with good detail and clarity, and while the image is clean, it doesn’t look like it has been overprocessed (i.e., you can still see film grain). The scenes in outer space give us strong, solid blacks with no noise, and flesh tones (human flesh tones, anyway) look natural throughout. The DTS-HD 5.1 surround is quite aggressive and effective, with excellent surround effects during the various space battles to draw you into the action. This also has to be one of the most soundtrack-option-heavy Blu-Rays I have reviewed at this point, considering that it includes 5.1-surround options in Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, and Hungarian. I guess Brooks’ sense of humor is truly global.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    Most of the supplements on this Blu-Ray disc will be familiar to those who bought the 2005 “Collector’s Edition” DVD. Writer/director/star Mel Brooks provides an expectedly brash and sometimes amusing, but not terribly informative audio commentary (at one point he mentions that the initial cut of the film was 2 hours and 20 minutes, which makes one wonder how there could be no deleted scenes to include). “Spaceballs: The Documentary” is a half-hour retrospective featurette that features behind-the-scenes video footage of the production and interviews with Brooks, actors Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga, Dick Van Patten, George Wyner, JM J. Bullock, Joan Rivers, and Rudy De Luca, special effects supervisor Peter Donen, cinematographer Nick McLean, and make-up supervisor Ben Nyer Jr. Since he passed away in 1994, John Candy could not be included in the interviews, but he does appear in the 10-minute featurette “John Candy: Comic Spirit,” which traces his life and career and features interviews with his Spaceballs collaborators. “In Conversation: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan” is 20-minute conversation between the two screenwriters in which they reminisce about the film’s origins and its production. “Film Flubs” is an amusing bit that shows us half a dozen mistakes in the film, which range from visible dolly tracks to continuity issues, and the “Film-to-Storyboard Comparison” allows us to watch the desert sequence side-by-side with the original storyboards. The disc is rounded out with three stills galleries (“Behind the Movie,” “The Costumes,” and “The Art”) and two trailers, one that was put together for exhibitors and one for theater audiences. Oh, and you also have the option to watch the entire film at “Ludicrous Speed,” which takes about 30 seconds.

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © MGM / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment


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