Spaceballs

B-

Spaceballs

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Shamelessness isn’t usually a laudable quality for a filmmaker, but it may be Mel Brooks’ most endearing trait: How many comedy directors are willing to go to such extreme lengths for a bad pun or a cheap visual gag? A good case in point is the opening of 1987’s Spaceballs, his typically uneven parody of Star Wars and other space adventures, in which he had an extraordinarily large model built just for a joke on how unwieldy motherships tend to be in movies like these. And you know what? It was worth every penny. Elsewhere, Brooks makes significant creative and budgetary investments in payoffs that are funny almost by virtue of their eye-rolling cheesiness, like naming a character Colonel Sanderz for a single one-liner (“What’s the matter, Colonel Sanderz? Chicken?”) or taking the phrase “combing the desert” to its literal extreme. Anything for a laugh. 

His last semi-decent spoof (before he permanently hit the skids with Life Stinks, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, and Dracula: Dead And Loving It), Spaceballs finds Brooks operating without a quality-control button, but still eking by on the hit-to-miss ratio. The Spaceballs of the title are running out of air on their home planet, so their evil leader Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) schemes to siphon fresh air from the peace-loving planet of Druidia. In order to get the code to break through Druidia’s protective shield, Dark Helmet and his minions attempt to kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga, who doesn’t look Druish) and bribe her father into giving them the information. In a pinch, the king calls on rogue Han Solo-type Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his half-man/half-dog Barf (John Candy) to rescue the princess and restore order to the universe. 

On the special features of the new Blu-ray edition, Brooks recalls sending the script to George Lucas and offering to make revisions if he objected to any of the satirical digs in the movie. Brooks desire for Lucas’ blessing is a curious revelation: Was he worried “Pizza The Hutt” would somehow tarnish the Star Wars legacy? (Lucas did all the tarnishing himself later on.) In truth, Spaceballs couldn’t be more innocuous; as with every other Brooks spoof, some of the jokes affectionately send up a genre (the Western in Blazing Saddles, classic horror in Young Frankenstein, silent movies in Silent Movie), some of them are random bits of silliness, and a few of them stick. Spaceballs was the last time they stuck.

Key features: Along with a “storyboard-to-film” comparison—which must be on the shortlist for least essential extra ever—the disc contains all the Spaceballs flotsam a fan could want and more, including a genial Brooks commentary track, a conversation between Brooks and screenwriter Thomas Meehan, mini-docs on the movie and the late John Candy, still galleries, and bloopers.

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