Aug 8, 2014

[Movies] Spaceballs (1987)

I recently scored a pretty good Amazon deal for various Mel Brooks movies on Blu-Ray. And as much as I'm quite the Mel Brooks fan, I have to admit that one of the gems of this particular collection is the inclusion of Spaceballs, which is probably one of the first Brooks movies that I remember watching as a kid.

Cue odd memories of me as a kid saying, "What? You jumped over my helmet?" - I blame Mel Brooks for a lot of what makes my sense of humor so quirky and unconventional. My appreciation for Mel Brooks movies is at the level that kind of weirds out my partner and I'm just glad that he still loves me. Plus he still quotes lines from History of the World: Part I.

But Spaceballs stands out since it combines two things that I love a lot - Mel Brooks humor and science fiction movies. And the way that this particular parody pans out, it's just totally amazing. It's no wonder why this movie has become such a cult classic the years, which sort of echoes its own message about the power of merchandising.

Synopsis: Spaceballs is a 1987 comedy science fiction parody movie co-written and directed by Mel Brooks together with co-writers Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham. The movie received mixed reviews during its theatrical release, but found more of a following in the home video market.

Planet Spaceball is out of clean air and its president, President Skroob (Mel Brooks), hatches  scheme to kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) of the planet Druidia in order to force King Roland (Dick Van Patten) to give him all of their air. To this end he dispatches Darth Helmet (Rick Moranis) and the ridiculously large vessel Spaceball One to perform the kidnapping just as she is due to marry the narcoleptic Prince Valium (Jim J. Bullock). But Vespa has no intentions of marrying the prince and she actually escapes her own wedding with her Droid of Honor, Dot Matrix (Joan Rivers) in tow.

King Roland thus contacts the mercenary Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his half-man, half-dog sidekick Barf (John Candy) to retrieve Vespa before Darth Helmet can capture her instead. Given his own massive debt to the mob boss Pizza the Hutt (Dom DeLuise), he readily takes the job and sets off in the Eagle 5, which is a spaceship that looks a lot like a Winnebago. The rest of the movie consists of Lone Starr trying to locate the Princess and keep ahead of the forces of Spaceball. And of course there's still the threat to Druidia as a whole given Spaceball's need for fresh air.

Now this is a parody in the truest sense of the terms. Thus you'll find that the story of this movie does make a decent attempt to follow the original flow of the first Star Wars movie. Lone Starr is a combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, but he still meets all the requirements of our key hero. They still go through a lot of the same adventures as in Star Wars like getting stranded on a desert planet and of course facing off with the giant Spaceball One. The movie even had its own version of the Force called the Schwartz, because it's a Jewish thing, duh.

The humor of the movie ranges from horribly base puns to some pretty far-fetched 4th wall breaking moments. But it's not strictly stupid humor mind you - being able to travel at ludicrous speed still requires a decent vocabulary after all. But the combination of sight gags, physical comedy and witty one-liners all make for a perfect storm of good comedy. The movie is clever without becoming too smart. And more than anything, it's a heck of a lot of fun.

The movie has too many bits that I enjoyed a lot that trying to go into listing all of them would eat up the rest of this review page. Everyone has their favorites of course, but picking a favorite one is right along the lines of picking a favorite Monty Python sketch - it's a comedic Sophie's Choice!

When you really stop to think about things though, it seems always insane how this movie worked, even as a parody. How did we get from the menacing Darth Vader to the ridiculous Darth Helmet? Why is the parody version of that villain a version of him with an over-sized helmet with a guy with poor eyesight and breathing issues? There is no logic to many of the connections between this movie and the ones it tries to parody, but in the end it just works.

And wait, I almost forgot that it parodies more than just Star Wars! Yes, this strange little movie goes on to make fun of other science fiction staples like Star Trek, Alien and Planet of the Apes to name a few. So there are a lot of fun gems throughout the movie for the old school science fiction fan.

To be fair, Spaceballs humor is a little hit or miss depending on your appreciation for the Mel Brooks brand of humor and your knowledge and appreciation of science fiction. It has all the trappings of a sad B-movie, but if you give it a chance you may still find something to laugh about. And so I'll give it a somewhat biased 5 out of 5 for people who fit that profile and maybe a 3.5 for your average movie-goer. 

Mark this day, people. This is the first time I've given a dual rating! LOL

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