MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Mel Brooks
Writers: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan, Ronny Graham
Producers: Brooksfilms, MGM
Blu-ray Features Rating:
Review by: Bill Jones
Intelligent old-school parody with a healthy dose of toilet humor doesn’t get much better than that of Mel Brooks – whether it be the western, history or science-fiction. And after a six-year hiatus from film in the 1980s, Brooks parodied the biggest science-fiction film of them all, Star Wars, with his unforgettable Spaceballs.
Darth Vader becomes the comically stereotypical “short man” with Rick Moranis assuming the role of Dark Helmet. Luke Skywalker becomes space cowboy Lone Star (Bill Pullman), and the Wookie sidekick becomes a dog-man named Barf (John Candy), short for Barfolomew. Princess Leia becomes Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), the spoiled brat daughter of King Roland (Dick Van Patten), with the robot Dot Matrix (Joan Rivers) following her around to protect her virginity. Writer and director Mel Brooks assumes the roles of both President Skroob (The Emperor) and Yogurt (Yoda).
Dark Helment: I’m you’re father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.
Lone Star: What does that make us?
Dark Helmet: Absolutely nothing, which is what you are about to become.
In Brooks’ comedic version of Star Wars, his villains may be klutzes of enormous proportions, but their plans are more involved than simple annihilation. Dark Helmet kidnaps Vespa with plans to receive ransom from her father. Instead, Roland hires Lone Star to put his Space Winnebago into action and save the princess. And in a last-ditch effort, Dark Helmet looks to relieve Vespa’s home planet Druidia of its air, which will be transferred to Planet Spaceball after its natural resources have been taken for granted.
Spaceballs’ parody is always a bit obvious, but always right on the mark of its sci-fi targets. More importantly, Brooks has an intelligent approach to humor that employs every sort of visual pun, gets edgy with plays on notions of race, and breaks the fourth-wall without shame, addressing the audience and the film industry in one fell swoop. Bad guys comb the desert, literally, with combs, the black guys “ain’t found shit,” and characters fast-forward through a pre-release of the VHS to find out what happens next.
Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the real money from the movie is made. Spaceballs the T-shirt. Spaceballs the coloring book. Spaceball the lunch box. Spaceballs the breakfast cereal. Spaceballs the flamethrower…the kids love this one.
Spaceballs delivers incredibly well-calculated comedy with the performances to match. But let’s face it, almost any actors could pull off a script as well-written as this, as Brooks delivers classic line after classic line in his dialogue, adding up to the archetypal parody of the biggest sci-fi franchise of all time. Only comedy written like this can appeal to both hardcore fans of the genre and those with no previous Star Wars interest, and remain relevant more than 20 years later. Brooks proves he is the master of the genre, adding to his impressive catalog, earning a place alongside the greats in the realm of classic comedy.
While the 1080p transfer of Spaceballs betters its previous incarnations by leaps and bounds, it is nowhere near the caliber of the top-of-the-line Blu-ray releases in terms of visuals. It doesn’t kill the film, as comedy is more about the dialogue and the idea of the visual gags rather than quality of special effects, but as Spaceballs happens to be a parody of science-fiction, special effects do play a large role. Rather than making those effects shine, the 1080p video brings the inconsistencies to light, as well as the fact that as many of the settings and costumes as there are that shine in the high-definition format, there are plenty that look like a drab mess with muddied browns.
Again, it doesn’t kill the deal, and for the faults of the video the viewers are treated to a great audio track – DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Every line of dialogue is perfectly clear, with a nice deep bass track highlighting the massive ship movements in space and mixed well with the special effects and music. The surround sound isn’t utilized to its fullest, but gets the job done for a comedy.
The features are also robust, but mostly collect the same items included on the “Special Edition DVD” version of the film. They range from short jokes, such as watching the film in “Ludicrous Speed,” to the requisite audio commentary from Brooks (still the laserdisc version), to a documentary on the film. Viewers are also presented with a second commentary, a conversation between Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan about the writing process, a John Candy retrospective, storyboard-to-film comparisons, film flubs, and three still galleries, as well as trailers. Blu-ray adopters also get a double-sided DVD with both the widescreen and standard version of the film, apparently a “just in case” if one is left without a Blu-ray player.
Ultimately, Spaceballs fans get what they pay for in the Blu-ray edition, a great science-fiction parody at better, albeit not fantastic, visual and audio quality, and a healthy selection of features from the original DVD and laserdisc releases. While the movie is still solid and the features will please new buyers, it would have been nice to see a little more done to make the upgrade worthwhile to old fans.
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