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The cash-in on all things Star Wars started pretty quickly after that film's release in the late '70s. Movie and TV producers everywhere were keen to get a slice of the space pie and a legion of sci-fi soon followed: Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, the resurrection of Star Trek, and countless other films flooded our screens. Surprisingly, it took almost a decade for someone to get round to spoofing Star Wars but, when it finally did happen, it was inevitable that the man to do it should be Mel Brooks. This was the guy who had spent the previous twelve years parodying just about genre Hollywood had to offer—westerns, horror, silent movies, even Hitchcock.

Spaceballs
Film
The evil Spaceballs have used up all their air, and see the peaceful planet Druidia as an easy target. Led by the president of planet Spaceball (Brooks) and Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), they come up with a plan to steal their fresh air. On Druidia, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) has run out on her wedding and ends up being kidnapped by Dark Helmet. Meanwhile, Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his half man/half dog sidekick Barf (John Candy) cruise space looking for adventure. They owe a fortune to Pizza The Hutt so an offer from Vespa's father to track her down and bring her back is just what they need. On the way they encounter the mystical Yogurt (Brooks again) who trains Lone Starr in the ways of the schwartz.

Looking back with twenty years of hindsight, Spaceballs probably marked the start of the decline in quality of Mel Brooks' films (not that he's made too many since mind you). It seemed to represent that crossover stage where he went from lampooning whole genres (those mentioned above) to targeting very specific films (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Bram Stoker's Dracula), and it's this narrowing of focus that has a lot to do with the relative failure of Spaceballs. Yes, there are references to Alien and Planet of the Apes, but other than that it's Star Wars all the way. Nearly every major Star Wars character gets a counterpart, most of which are pretty obvious comparisons, with only really Luke and Artoo not featuring. Even the Jawas make an appearance, in the form of the Bridge on the River Kwai humming Dinks.

Spaceballs is an affectionate but ultimately underachieving parody. It's far too respectful of its source to make any impact and there's nothing approaching the screaming vulgarity of The Producers or the beautiful skewering of racial bigotry in Blazing Saddles. The only time Spaceballs gets close to anything actually approaching satire is when it targets the merchandising culture that followed in the wake of Star Wars, and there a few laughs to be had here.

Spaceballs
You've also got to take a look at the calibre of the cast—they're all good actors, no doubt about it, but maybe they're just not right for this sort of material. Delivery is everything in comedy and it's really only Moranis who seems truly comfortable with a lot of the lines. Before long you might find yourself longing for the likes of Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Gene Wilder and Cloris Leachman to liven things up. But for all the talk of casting and approach, the bottom line is straightforward for Spaceballs—have funnier jokes. It's as simple as that. Predictable is about as nice a word as you could use to describe some of the gags. Downright lame would be an option if you were feeling less charitable.

Video
Spaceballs has been cleaned up a treat with a smooth and sharp anamorphic transfer that contains no blemishes or distortions to speak of. The darker space scenes are solid and grain free, while the brighter stuff, although maybe a touch on the soft side occasionally, is very pleasing to the eye. Particularly striking are the desert sequences, full of tremendous colour and clarity.

Audio
This is a relatively mild 5.1 track that doesn't utilise its potential nearly as much as it should. It's really only in the outer space scenes that anything of note happens audio wise, with a decent bit of heft applied to passing ships and some nice movement across the speakers. Elsewhere, you'll not get much change from the rears other than the odd sound effect or burst of music, but the front speakers are well supported with clear dialogue and some bold effects.

Spaceballs
Extras
Audio Commentary with Mel Brooks: The writer/director/producer/star delivers a patchy but fairly engaging track that takes a while to get going but is just about worth the effort. He tends to spend a lot of time just laughing at the film or pointing out the names of all the actors in minor roles and how great they all were. But every once in a while, he'll come out with a nugget of genuine interest, such as how he much prefers the fun of writing and acting to the hard work of directing, or how he misses his days with Gene Wilder.

Dink Audio Commentary: Dink, dink dink dink, dink. Dink dink, dink. Dink dink, dink, dink. Dink.

‘Spaceballs The Documentary’ (30 mins): This newly produced doc is a reasonably thorough examination of the making of the movie, Brooks reveals how he sent the script to George Lucas in case there was anything he didn't approve of, but the beardy one had no problems—ILM even did the special effects. Pullman was hired after Brooks saw him in a play while Moranis liked to re-do scenes by adding his own lines. Many of the crew also get to share their feelings on the movie, but it does turn a bit luvvie around this point. The film turned out to be one of the costliest of its year in terms of SFX , but became a huge hit and the doc takes us all the way its box office success and ‘classic’ status.

‘John Candy: Comic Spirit’ (10 mins): This tribute to the actor who died in 1994 includes interviews with the man himself and lots of recollections from those who knew and worked with him. Everyone speaks very fondly of him, while someone mentions how, when he died filming Wagons East, he should never have been on the Mexico shoot due to his weight and poor health.

‘In Conversation: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’ (20 mins): Brooks and his co-writer sit down for a jovial chat about the film that revisits some of the same ground that was covered in the documentary. We learn that the original title was going to be Planet Moron, but an even worse sci-fi spoof had already nicked part of that. Meehan initially spends much of his time reminding Brooks of the plot of Spaceballs, but they do eventually get round to discussing their writing process, making this a nice little companion to the main doc.

Spaceballs
‘Spaceballs: The Storyboards’ (7 mins): Split screen of storyboards and the film itself, viewable with a random selection of scenes. One time watch.

‘Spaceballs-Ups’: Instead of gaffs and bloopers, this a selection of half a dozen scenes that made it into the movie even though they contained mistakes or continuity errors. Not much fun to be had here.

‘Space Quotes’: Each of the main characters can be selected, followed by a choice of a couple of their lines from the movie, followed by the clip itself. Uninspired.

‘Spaceballs: The Photo Galleries’
Behind the Scenes
Costume Gallery
Art Gallery

‘Trailers’
Exhibitor Trailer
Teaser Trailer
Theatrical Trailer

Easter Egg: Watch the film at ludicrous speed.

Spaceballs
Overall
Spaceballs is not the classic you might think you remember it being in the '80s. This re-release is nicely packaged with a mixed bag of extras and adequate AV and is probably just about worth picking up in a sale if you're a fan. The rest of us should instead revisit the early films of Mel Brooks. In fact, I'm off now to watch Blazing Saddles to get the taste out of my mouth.


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