"I knew it! I'm surrounded by assholes!"
Mel Brooks, who knew you were really a prophet? Not me, for sure. But with that one simple line, Brooks proved without a shadow of a doubt that he could see the future. The future of the genre where many of his cinematic works dwell: the parody comedy.
"How many assholes we got on this ship, anyhow?"
Without naming names, it's safe to say that when we hear the phrase parody movie these days, the first thing that springs to mind are the abysmal train wrecks that have turned a once hilarious idea into the most repetitive, irrelevant, borderline mentally handicapped one out there. Sure, we can assign blame to nearly every film that ends its title with the word "Movie," or we can blame sequelitis ('Naked Gun 33 1/3,' anyone?), but there has been a real lack of hilarious films that are funny in the first place, and more importantly stay as funny, if not get funnier, with every repeat visit.
Brooks' legendary farces are the diamonds in the rough, or, in the case of 'Spaceballs,' the Dark Helmet surrounded by assholes. The Brooks takes on Robin Hood and Frankenstein are cult classics (it's best we not mention his take on Dracula...), while his rub on the Sci-Fi genre holds its own ground, with quirky humor that doesn't date itself, often breaking the rules with its self referential jabs that land like right crosses.
The Spaceballs, led by President Skroob (Mel Brooks), are a mismanaged technological giant who are running out of air, and have devised a plan to acquire 10,000 years worth of air...by stealing it from the peaceful planet of Druidia. The plan springs into action when Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) ditches her own wedding, fleeing with her trusty droid Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers), quickly falling pray to the waiting Spaceballs on their gigantic mother ship, the Spaceball One. A drifter, Lone Starr (Bill Pullman), his trusty companion mog (half man, half dog, he's his own best friend) Barf (John Candy), and their flying Winnebago, the Eagle 5, are called to rescue the princess, leading them into a fight between idealistic and naive good, and jaded, short-sighted evil. Can Lone Starr outsmart and out-will the evil Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), save the girl, and save the planet?
Brooks' previous work, 'The History of the World, Part I,' hinted in closing at an upcoming feature: "Jews in Space," and 'Spaceballs' is definitely the closest we'll ever see to that gag ever coming to fruition. The staple Brooks Jewish and Nazi jokes (including a Spaceball soldier proclaiming "Jawohl, Lord Helmet" at one point, or the Hitler mustache on the stunt double, and an entire character that plays like a more-Jewish Yoda) are more than obvious, as is the classic Brooks style.
While the film (especially the characters) is obviously most influenced by 'Star Wars,' 'Spaceballs' lampoons many other sci-fi films of the times, from 'Alien' to some ever so brief stabs at the 'Star Trek' and 'Planet of the Apes' sagas in a less than veiled manner. Subtlety was never one of Brooks' strong suits, and 'Spaceballs' is a testament to that. High brow humor can be found, while the low brow assortment is around many a corner, from "lightsabers" thrusting forward from the pelvic region, to the constant awful puns and silly bits of wordplay.
'Spaceballs' succeeds in my eyes for many reasons. It never gets old, or boring, in repeat viewings. It is one of the few comedies that I've found to get funnier with repeat viewings, inducing more laughter, rather than a blank gaze. The casting is spot on, with great comedic timing, especially a gut busting, hilarious performance by Moranis. Even the moments that pull the audience from the film, such as staring into the camera, or breaking the third wall, come off as funny. While not a perfect film, 'Spaceballs' is certainly a perfect farce of the sci-fi genre, and a must own title for any comedy collection.
So, 'Spaceballs,' at last we meet on Blu-ray again for the first time for the last time. I had high hopes for you, being what I'd consider one of the best farces out there. You're much closer to a horse faced spacedog than a Druish princess!
Presented in an AVC MPEG-4 encode, 'Spaceballs' misses more often than it hits. When I saw the great three dimensional star movement in the opening crawl, I thought my fears were for naught. Then the rest of the film played.
That's no moon...that's a shitload of debris! Dirt and vertical scratches splatter the screen at a regular (and frequent) pace, Effects work is less than transparent..it's aged almost as poorly as Brooks himself! Schwartz effects are surrounded by a thick discolored outline, composite shots look awkward as all get out (more on that later), noise splotches appear from time to time around effects, the lines stars create as they pass in Hyperactive mode pass through characters, wires from Schwartz effects are obvious, and the painted panels beneath "floating" vehicles stand out like a sore thumb. This could be argued both ways, however, I'm thankful to see it, as that means I'm obviously seeing an improvement over the DVD.
Not too much of an improvement, though. Color banding in the Druidia air shield is noticeable, minor halos surround characters from time to time, and in general, shots lack that extra bit of detail. It's somewhat dull, really. In some shots in the flying Winnebago, a flat, unflattering image of the vehicle and Lone Starr sits aside a sharp, infinitely deep black space, a bit of a two toned appearance. Shots on the moon of Vega are awkward, with indescript sand dunes resembling tan blobs, and fluttering skies with color fade at each end. Clothing detail is often lacking, as is finer facial detail. This is possible post production tampering, or just a soft "blah" looking picture. One would think with Lone Starr constantly sporting a thick stubble, it would be occasionally clear, rather than a light brown/grey blur. One would think.
There are some positives to be found here. The white fur in Barf's face sticks out in a manner that neither DVD release ever showed. Dot's surfaces have a nice reflection at times, and whites are clean. Lone Starr's worn and withered jacket is the strongest looking costume element. Lastly, extreme close ups (and I do mean extreme) are sharp, as each time a tightly framed shot on a hand holding something pops up, it steals the show. Yeah, that doesn't really sound all that good, when you think about it....
With a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (in addition to a massive amount of dubs in varying audio formats), 'Spaceballs' sounds clearer than ever, but also highlights some problematic issues in the process.
The first obvious element of this sound mix is the bass as the Spaceball One takes its time passing overhead, somewhat reminding me of the aggressive bass found in '2010: The Year We Make Contact.' Nearly anytime the film focuses on the crew of the massive ship (and when Ludicrous Speed is attained), a bass rumble can be heard underneath the action. The bass stays active for ambiance at times, and in the soundtrack as well.
Surrounds get utilized sporadically, but considering the film is a comedy from over 20 years ago, I found their engagement in this mix to be quite satisfactory. Occasional ambiance or echoes pop up from time to time, and the soundtrack and score sweep across the soundstage, while the flight of the Winnebago sports some solid motion effects, as does laser fire, which also localize quite nicely.
Fidelity isn't flawless, as yells sound flat awful and garbled, while some of the higher pitched notes in the score sound tinny. Dialogue can be far too low at times when it is the dominant sound element, too loud in others, and can be overpowered and drowned out by the music found in the film even in the dialogue's loudest moments. The wonderfully gooey, slightly disgusting sounds emanating from Pizza the Hutt's cheesy carcass almost make up for these shortcomings. The beeps, the sweeps, and the creeps all come through clearly, but it's a shame the words don't get the same treatment.
Unlike other MGM and Fox titles, 'Spaceballs' doesn't come in one of those shoddy, cheesy, good for nothing "eco-cases," a fact I find worth mentioning. Most of the features are ported over from the 2005 two disc "Special Edition" release. 'Spaceballs:' Behind the Scenes Footage did not make its way onto this disc, though it is included on the second disc. Additionally, Spacequotes, and 'Spaceballs:' the Trivia Game are forgone in this release.
It's hard for me to put any recommendation down for this film other than "Recommended," but the somewhat bastardized audio and video qualities give me no choice, and the menu is disgustingly annoying to boot. Throw in a set of extras that gets rid of a few former features, leaving behind some massively lame ones, as one final slap in the face. The only positive to be found here is the inclusion of the DVD (sadly, the 2000 version, not the 2005 one) for a small bit of added versatility. Mel Brooks' space odyssey deserves better than this. I take some consolation in thinking that eventually we'll see "Spaceballs: The Blu-ray Double Dip" to remedy all these issues.