- Jul 6, 2003
Spaceballs: Collector’s Edition
Running Time: 115 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital & DTS 5.1; French and Spanish – Dolby Digital 5.1; Mawgese and Dinkese – Monaural
May 3rd, 2005
Comedy legend Mel Brooks wears many hats in most of his films, frequently serving as writer, director, and actor! And though Mr. Brooks is immensely talented, he has, like many of his colleagues, had his share of duds, particularly in the latter stages of his career. Yes friends, for every brilliant satire like Young Frankenstein, there has been a Life Stinks, and for every Blazing Saddles, there has been a Dracula: Dead and Loving It. His film Spaceballs is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, as it is fairly funny, but came along (I think) too far after Star Wars to have been as effective a satire as it otherwise might have been.
The best thing about Spaceballs is that the cast really shines, especially John Candy, Rick Moranis, and Bill Pullman. Indeed, it is very difficult to give any one performer the lion’s share of the praise for what really and truly was a group effort. Don’t get me wrong, the film does generate its fair share of laughter, particularly if you are a Star Wars nut like me and catch all the in-jokes. That being said, however, the premise is preposterous, many of the jokes hit the ground with a thud, and the film lacks the charm and razor-sharp wit present in Brooks’ earlier efforts like Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein.
Essentially, here is how the story goes: The residents of Planet Spaceball have exhausted their planet’s supply of clean air, forcing President Skroob (Mel Brooks) to send Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and his military forces to acquire breathable air from a nearby planet called Druidia. The feared Spaceball army hopes to carry out their sinister plan by abducting Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) of Druidia and forcing her father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten), to surrender his planet’s air for transportation to Planet Spaceball!
Unfortunately for the king, his daughter and her annoying android Dot Matrix (voiced by the awful Joan Rivers) unwittingly aid the evil Dark Helmet by ducking out of her wedding to one Prince Valium (JM J. Bullock) and coming into contact with Lord Helmet’s ship “Spaceball One”, which brakes for no one ! However, since Helmet is not exactly the most competent villain, his attempt to grab hold of her is easily thwarted by a dashing rogue named Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his half-man and half-dog sidekick, Barf (John Candy), who are quite obviously Mel Brooks’ take on Han Solo and Chewbacca! Brooks has even been kind enough to attach a one-million spacebuck bounty to Lone Starr’s head, with the crime boss offering the reward being a gooey mess named Pizza the Hutt (Dom DeLuise)!!!
Yet another similarity between Spaceballs and Star Wars is how the relationship between Lone Starr and the feisty princess is essentially the same as that between Han Solo and Princess Leia, and starts out with the couple at odds. As you might expect, the hostility between Princess Vespa and Lone Starr soon begins to diminish, and the two develop the beginnings of a romantic relationship, just as Han and Leia do in George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy.
Of course, there is still the matter of those nasty Spaceballs to contend with, and things get even more complicated for our heroes when Lone Star’s interstellar Winnebago “Eagle 5” runs out of fuel and crashes down on a hot, arid planet. Luckily, they are rescued by a group of diminutive creatures called Dinks, who take this motley crew to meet the all-knowing mystic Yogurt (Mel Brooks in gold makeup), who imparts the ways of “The Schwartz” to them. Being especially kind, the exalted one even tells Lone Starr the secret to bringing in the big bucks in the movie business!
In the meantime, Dark Helmet and his cohorts, including Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) and Major A$$hole (Jim Jackman) – I love that name – employ every means at their disposal to try and seize the princess, including “combing” the desert and watching an advance copy of Spaceballs in the instant cassette format. Eventually, they are successful, and take the princess from Lone Starr, which sets up a big showdown between Dark Helmet and the would-be hero! The question is, with the Princess in his clutches, will Dark Helmet get Druidia’s King to give up his planet’s atmosphere, or will Lone Starr be able to use the Schwartz to rescue the object of his affections yet again?
Moving along, while the similarities to the Star Wars saga are obvious, Mel Brooks does mix things up a little by spoofing other notable entries into the sci-fi genre, such as Dune and Ridley Scott’s Alien, via a great cameo by John Hurt. And though the jokes are not quite as rapid fire as those in a David Zucker movie, Mr. Brooks’ gags still turn up frequently, and sight gags are sprinkled liberally throughout the picture. The problem is that they are just not quite as inspired at those that grace his earlier works.
Fortunately, as I mentioned above, the performances in this film are very good across the board. To begin with, Mel Brooks is quite good in his dual roles as Planet Spaceball’s leader President Skroob and the wise Yogurt. Better still, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga and the late John Candy are also terrific, delivering energetic performances that rise above the usually mundane material. The chemistry between Pullman and Candy, in particular, really gives the film a lift, and Moranis, who is an absolute hoot as Dark Helmet, nearly steals the show! It is a shame that while the material is not quite terrible, it is nowhere near as good as the performances.
To wrap things up, movies this silly (i.e. most Mel Brooks films) are clearly not for everyone. Personally, I have no problem with such films, and am proud to have motion pictures like Blazing Saddles, The Naked Gun, and Airplane in my library. If you are also fond of silliness and sight gags, then it is likely that you will enjoy Spaceballs as well, at least on some level. This is especially true if you have an appreciation for more mainstream sci-fi films like Star Wars.
So how do I feel about Spaceballs? Well, personally, although it is moderately funny to me, I did find some fault with the film’s nearly complete lack of substance – the story is almost non-existent, serving only as an excuse to bounce jokes off - and thought the film came along too far after George Lucas’ groundbreaking “A New Hope” to have been as effective as it might have been. While that is only my opinion, I am sure most folks would agree that Spaceballs was not Mel Brooks’ best work…
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
If, like me, you owned the previous DVD release of Spaceballs, you are no doubt wondering whether the transfer is better (perhaps enough to warrant an upgrade). Happily, although it is not flawless, MGM’s “16x9 enhanced” widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is lovely – as it should be, given that the transfer is new and the film has an entire DVD to call home! That being said, I can say that the answer to whether or not you can update your Spaceballs DVD based on the transfer is an emphatic y-e-s!
To begin with, colors, from the annoying Dot Matrix’s shimmering exoskeleton to Dark Helmet’s Schwartz beams, are nicely saturated, and free of visual annoyances like banding or dot crawl. The disc’s black level is also quite good, giving the image plenty of detail in shadows and a good sense of depth. Detail is also good in general, often extending well into the background of most shots, although a couple of sequences looked slightly soft.
The only other negative (and it is a relatively minor distraction at most) is that macroblocking makes its presence known at various points throughout the feature. Fortunately, however, this is offset by the fact that other digital signatures, such as edge enhancement or compression artifacts do not present any problems. Thus, all things considered, I have to say that despite a couple of minor flaws Spaceballs looks better than ever, and certainly much crisper, more colorful, and more film-like than it was in its previous DVD incarnation! Pretty nice work MGM!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The audio for Spaceballs was right along the lines of what I had been expecting for a comedy, but I was impressed with the amount of options onboard, including both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, a stereo mix, and three monaural mixes! I stuck with the surround mixes, switching back and forth between my beloved DTS and its Dolby counterpart, and found probably the least amount of discernable difference between the two that I ever have.
As you might expect, most of the audio information resides in the front of the listening space, with the center channel seeing the most action. To be sure, there are a handful of location specific effects and pans that are emitted from the front left and right channels, and the film’s overly cheesy score is reproduced nicely as well.
The surrounds are used sparingly, mostly to generate ambience or provide subtle support to the aforementioned score, although they do enhance a couple of the action sequences. The subwoofer is employed in a similarly limited fashion, although it does add an appropriate rumble to the sequences involving Dark Helmet’s ridiculously enormous ship, Spaceball One, such as when it cruises across the screen during the film’s opening scene.
To wrap things up, while they are not as spectacular as the new image transfer, these mixes more than serve the source material!
NOTE: They won’t take up much of your time, so be sure to check out the “Mawgese” and “Dinkese” monaural mixes…
The audio commentary for Spaceballs is provided by director/actor/writer Mel Brooks, and unfortunately, it is not a new track but the same uneven commentary from the previous DVD release. More specifically, while Brooks does offer some interesting insight into the creative processes of this film, there are also many instances where his comments are too screen-specific, or where he does not comment at all. Co-writer Ron Graham joins Brooks near the end of the track, which makes the commentary a better listen, but by that point, it was too little and too late to salvage the experience for me. Perhaps if he would have been paired with Mr. Brooks from the beginning of the commentary the end result would have been better, but as it is, this commentary was a disappointment.
Ludicrous Speed Option
Ever felt like watching all of Spaceballs in under 30 ticks? Well, I don’t see the point personally, but if you are so inclined, you can do precisely that by selecting this option.
The menus on the disc are more interactive than most, so be sure to play around with your remote control and see what you can uncover! To give you one example, you can “jam up the radar”.
Spaceballs: The Documentary
During this documentary, which runs for a half-hour, many members of Spaceballs’ cast reminisce about the experiences they shared in making the film. Indeed, all of the principals still living offer their thoughts on the film and anecdotes from the set, including Bill Pullman, Rick Moranis (“The Keymaster” ), Daphne Zuniga, and Mr. Mel Brooks! A small compliment of the film’s crew is also on board, to talk about more technical matters, such as the effects shots used in the film.
All in all, it is not the most detailed documentary, but if you are fond of the film, it is a pretty fun watch!
In Conversation With Mel Brooks and Thomas Meohan
Running for 20 minutes and 29 seconds, this conversation between Brooks and Meohan reveals a variety of interesting things, but not it is repetitive and probably doesn’t offer too much that hardcore fans don’t already know. Some of the highlights included discussions about how the film was not originally titled Spaceballs, Brooks’ approach to writing screenplays, why the planet was named Druidia, and the roots to some of the other elements in the film.
John Candy: Comic Spirit
This 10-minute tribute to John Candy traces the funnyman’s route to stardom, beginning with his SCTV days. It features comments from some of Candy’s Spaceballs co-stars, biographer Martin Knelman, and some of his friends, including Joan Rivers, J.M. J. Bullock, and Eugene Levy, as well as archival interview footage of John Candy himself.
Storyboard to Film Comparison
Running nearly 7 minutes, this value-added featurette is exactly as it sounds, namely a comparison of several scenes of the film against the storyboards for said scenes.
Fun and Games
This section consists of six different technical/continuity errors in the film, which are described and then shown. They are titled:
--- Edge of the Mirror
--- Grabs Himself Early
--- The Magic Reappearing Ring
--- More Than His Head
--- No End In Sight
--- Tracks Behind Dot
There are a total of 68 photographs and sketches included in the galleries, which are titled:
--- “Spaceballs: Behind-the-Movies”
--- “Spaceballs: The Costume Gallery”
--- “Spaceballs: The Art Gallery”
The “Exhibitor Trailer”, with an introduction by Mel Brooks, and the theatrical trailer for Spaceballs (2:39) are included.
The trailer for the upcoming The Pink Panther is available on Disc One, and there is an MGM Comedies promo on Disc Two. Also on Disc Two is the cover art for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Back to School, Valley Girl, and The Sure Thing.
(on a five-point scale)
Film: :star: :star: :star:
Video: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Audio: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Extras: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Overall: :star: :star: :star: :star:
THE LAST WORD
If there are more than a handful of self-professed sci-fi geeks (like myself) that have yet to experience “The Schwartz”, I would be greatly surprised. And while the legendary Mel Brooks has certainly made better films, and Spaceballs came along a little too late, the film still has enough energy and laugh inducing scenes (particularly those involving Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet) to make it worth watching from time to time. If only the story were not so wafer thin…
As far as presentation goes, this double-disc “Collector’s Edition” of Spaceballs is very solid, so much so that upgrading is really a no-brainer. Despite a few quibbles, such as the inclusion of the same disappointing Mel Brooks commentary available on the previous DVD, “The Schwartz” is with this release. Highly recommended!