It seems almost impossible that Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. According to Brooks, Spaceballs is the most financially successful of all of his movies, something that comes as a great surprise after the back-to-back box-office smashes and numerous subsequent re-releases of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Be that as it may, like so many of Mel Brooks’ later film parodies, Spaceballs is often funnier in conception than it is in execution. There’s occasionally something lacking about the timing of his gags and the uncomfortable sense of creeping desperation to turn shtick into comic gold that leaves the film with a reputation of possessing some good ideas surrounded by a whole lot of flat and mirthless weight (and a reliance on one particular bit of profanity). While there is undoubtedly a clever parody idea at the core of the film, there are sometimes long waits between punch lines that work and a lingering sense of disappointment that with this cast and with Brooks in control, it wasn’t much better than it turned out to be.
Spaceballs: The 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Directed by Mel Brooks
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 96 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 English, DTS 5.1 French, Spanish, others
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish, others
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: August 6, 2012
Review Date: August 7, 2012
The kingdom of Spaceballs is running out of air to breathe, and President Skroob (Mel Brooks) appoints Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and his second-in-command Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) to steal the air from the planet of Druidia. The king there Roland (Dick Van Patten) is too preoccupied with marrying off his daughter Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) to notice the threat to his planet, but once she bolts from the wedding and finds herself captured, Roland offers space ace Lone Starr (Bill Pullman in an amalgamation of Harrison Ford’s Hans Solo and Indiana Jones) and his best buddy Barf (John Candy) a million space bucks to save her. Along the way, Lone must seek assistance from the all-knowing seer Yogurt (Mel Brooks) to develop the power of the Schwartz in order to combat the evil Dark Helmet.
Mel Brooks, along with his writing partners Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham, has stolen characters and plot points not only from George Lucas’ first three Star Wars films, but he’s thrown in references to The Wizard of Oz, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and Alien, just to mention the most obvious borrowings. All of this gives the film a grab bag feeling, a motley collection of movie references that are meant to be funny to an audience on recognition value alone rather than the humor being developed from genuinely witty writing or imaginative invention. And things get really desperate when all pretense of a movie is dropped when the some of the characters select the video cassette of Spaceballs from a shelf to see what happens next to them. Yogurt’s hawking of Spaceballs merchandise follows in the same vein though it somehow seems cleverer and more satirical than references to a video cassette (and the silliness continues after this hawking everything from Spaceballs mugs to toilet paper). But director Brooks indulges in too many groin jokes and a too-often dropping of the S-bomb to be easily forgiven. True, he’s never minded doing anything for a laugh, but after their first bit, these movie allusion ploys aren’t funny any more, and they negate the good ideas and quick quips with their chronic cheapness.
Brooks mines the most humor with his variations on the familiar characters from the Star Wars saga and by casting them with (mostly) excellent farceurs. Rick Moranis takes top honors as the criminally short Dark Helmet gasping for breath through his confining black mask. John Candy gets some good lines and effective comic business as half man/half dog Barf. Bill Pullman effortlessly pulls off the matinee idol Lone Starr though Daphne Zuniga struggles more to score humor points as the undoubtedly beautiful Princess Vespa. Joan Rivers voices the robot variation of C3PO called Dot Matrix (physically acted by mime artist Lorene Yarnell), but her comic verbiage is meager. Brooks does much better with the Jewish sage Yogurt rather than the scrambling Skroob, and that’s Dom DeLuise’s voice (but not his person) under all that melting cheese and pepperoni as Pizza the Hutt, a very funny one scene cameo.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical ratio is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. This appears from an A/B comparison with the last release of Spaceballs on Blu-ray to be the same movie transfer. Sharpness for the most part is very good with only a couple of lapses in long shots where clarity is severely compromised. Color is nicely saturated, and skin tones are often realistic though occasionally seem a bit rosy. Black levels are very impressive with the many shots of outer space easily blending into the thin letterbox bars at the top and bottom. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix can have some very effective moments, especially with the deep bass response from Dark Helmet’s vividly long spaceship as it crisscrosses the frame in the early going. John Morris’ fun music score isn’t always maximized through the entire soundfield as it should have been, and the volume seems a trifle loud on occasion, but there are only sporadic attempts to place some ambient sounds in the rear channels. They’re quite notable when they do occur. Dialogue has been excellently recorded and has been rooted to the center channel.
Apart from one new featurette, the bonus features have been carried over from the previous releases of Spaceballs on Blu-ray.
“Force Yourself! Spaceballs and the Skroobing of Sci-Fi” is a new featurette prepared in 2012 with Mel Brooks on camera talking about different aspects of the movie. He explains why he wanted to do a sci-fi parody, why no action figures of characters from the film were ever available, how important having a love story was to him, how impressed he was by the cast he assembled, and how ballsy it was to ask George Lucas to have his ILM special effects house handle the effects for the film. Rudy DeLuca also pops in to make a comment or two. This 16 ¾-minute vignette is the disc’s only 1080p featurette.
The audio commentary by Mel Brooks is a rather tedious slog actually. He loves and appreciates everyone’s contributions, and he far too often describes what we’re seeing on the screen. Occasional tidbits of production information are also in the bonus featurettes making them not such major revelations here.
All of the other bonus features are in 480i.
“Spaceballs: The Documentary” is a 30-minute compendium of production anecdotes from the director, his co-writer Thomas Meehan, the cast, and members of the crew who all have nothing but positive things to say about their experience on this picture.
“In Conversation: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan” is a 2005 featurette in which to two writing partners swap stories about what it’s like to work together on a project. They also mention fondly the third writer in the group Ronny Graham who had passed away before the making of the featurette. It runs for 20 ½ minutes.
“John Candy: Comic Spirit” is a 10-minute tribute to the talent and sad loss of comedian John Candy who died in 1994. Short scenes from other film appearances are also included in this vignette.
“Watch the Movie at Ludicrous Speed” is a throwaway feature speeding through the entire movie in about 30 seconds.
There are three stills galleries which the viewer may step through: a behind-the scenes set of color photos, a selection of costume design sketches by designer Donfeld, and character portraits of the major characters from the movie.
Two trailers may be selected for viewing. The international exhibitor teaser trailer with a Mel Brooks introduction and the theatrical trailer each run 2 ½ minutes.
Six continuity flubs and film gaffes which remain in the movie are available for selection. The menu does not possess a “play all” option, so one must tediously be returned to the main menu each time one is finished before another can be viewed.
There are several storyboard-to-film split-screen comparisons which can be viewed in a 6 ¾-minute sequence. All of the storyboards concern the desert sequences of the movie.
4/5 (not an average)
Neither the best nor the worst of the Mel Brooks film parodies, Spaceballs has a nice assortment of laughs and a few groaners plus a fine cast in this very easy-to-take film farce. The one new supplement added here is not a big enough reason to double dip (or triple dip if you also have The Mel Brooks Collection) on this new Blu-ray release, but those who don’t already have it will enjoy the crisp picture and better than average sound.