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Case Number 00501

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Spaceballs

MGM // 1987 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // May 5th, 2000

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our reviews of The Mel Brooks Collection (Blu-Ray) (published December 21st, 2009), Spaceballs: Collector's Edition (published April 25th, 2005), Spaceballs (Blu-Ray) (published July 6th, 2009), and Spaceballs: The Totally Warped Animated Adventures (published January 21st, 2010) are also available.

The Charge

Spaceballs: The Tagline!

Opening Statement

Mel Brooks lampoons the big names in science fiction and the hyper-merchandising of modern films with his usual collection of cheap jokes, sight gags, and sly humor. While perhaps not in the same class as his earlier works, Spaceballs is a snicker-fest for any fan of sci-fi and Mel Brooks. On the down side, this is an MGM catalog title.

The Evidence

What is there to say about Mel Brooks? Writing, directing, and acting comedy films is very serious business for him, and we are the better for it. Though he has not had critical or commercial success lately, his resume includes such movies of genius as Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and History of the World Part I. He seems to have a natural talent for the genre comedy parody film, deftly skewering a genre's conventions with deadly, good-natured fun and using a gifted collection of actors to exquisite effect.

The whole cast of Spaceballs should bring a smile to your face, as it is difficult to single out any one actor for the overall success of this ensemble effort. The story of Spaceballs may not be quite to the hilarious standards of Blazing Saddles or have quite the bordering-on-outrageous zest, but Spaceballs should generate its fair share of smiles, chuckles, groans, and smirks, particularly if you are a fan of the genre. Considering the task of lampooning Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Planet of the Apes (and probably other films), this is no small feat!

When Planet Spaceball runs out of non-polluted air, President Skroob (Mel Brooks) sends Dark Helmet and his legion of Spaceballs to take decisive action. The dreaded Spaceballs (who wear what look like big ping-pong balls on their heads) are led by Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis—My Blue Heaven, Ghostbusters, Strange Brew), whose oversize helmet provides no end of comedic possibilities. Dark Helmet and his legion intend to capture Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) and force King Roland (Dick Van Patten), her father, to surrender Planet Druidia and its pristine air supply to Planet Spaceball.

Dragging along her servant robot Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers), Princess Vespa falls right into Dark Helmet's plans when she flees her arranged wedding to Prince Valium (Jim J. Bullock) straight into the path of Spaceball One, Dark Helmet's flagship. The kidnap attempt is foiled at the last minute by Lone Starr (Bill Pullman—Independence Day, Sleepless in Seattle, A League of Their Own) and his sidekick Barf (John Candy—Home Alone, Stripes, Blues Brothers), who is half man and half dog—he's his own best friend! It seems that King Roland's desperate pleas (and a million spacebucks) fell on receptive ears, what with Lone Starr being in debt to crime boss Pizza the Hut (voiced by Dom DeLuise) for a million spacebucks.

The rogue fly-boy and the spoiled princess ("Funny, she doesn't look Druish!") have barely time to snap at each other before they are forced to crash-land on a nearby desert planet. They nearly fall victim to the unrelenting exposure to heat and sun before being rescued by a group of midget sand dwellers called Dinks, leading Lone Starr to ask, "Did I miss something? When did we get to Disneyland?!?" The Dinks bring Lone Starr, Barf, Princess Vespa and Dot Matrix to meet the wise and famous guru Yogurt (Mel Brooks), who is powerful in the ways of the Schwartz. He instructs Lone Starr in the use of the Schwartz and tells the whole group about the true power in the universe—merchandising, where the real money from a movie is made! Everything from Spaceballs: The Lunchbox, to Spaceballs: The Coloring Book, to Spaceballs: The Flamethrower ("The kids love this one!"). Princess Vespa and Lone Starr begin to grow close, despite their differences, but Dot Matrix's virgin alarm keeps a lid on their passions. Meanwhile, Dark Helmet and Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) ("What's the matter, Colonel? Chicken?") use a strange array of techniques to track down their errant prey, such as watching a copy of Spaceballs: The Movie for clues, and combing the desert (literally). However, Dark Helmet soon tricks Princess Vespa into revealing herself and finally kidnaps her out from under Lone Starr. With the Princess as leverage, Dark Helmet and President Skroob force King Roland to give up the code to the air shield protecting Planet Druidia, and set about transforming Spaceball One into MegaMaid so as to vacu-suck Druidia's whole atmosphere for eventual use by Planet Spaceball.

Hoping that the Schwartz is with him, Lone Starr infiltrates Spaceball One, rescues Princess Vespa and foils the evil oxygen-sucking plans of Skroob and Dark Helmet. Evil has been thwarted, but there is still the problem of Princess Vespa's arranged marriage to Prince Valium. She doesn't love him, but she has to marry a Prince, and Lone Starr is as heartsick at the prospect of her marriage to Prince Valium as she is! After a cute interlude at a space diner (where John Hurt recreates a famous scene of his, this time with a musical twist), a secret message from Yogurt gives Lone Starr the answer to his prayers, but will he be able to reach Druidia in time to stop the wedding (again)?

The non-anamorphic video transfer is uniformly excellent. The picture is crisp and clean, with only a very small handful of dirt bits or film defects and minor film grain. Colors are modestly saturated, shadow detail is good, and digital enhancement artifacts are all but absent. Flesh tones seem to be a dab too rosy. Considering this is almost certainly an old laserdisc transfer, I am somewhat surprised that it looks as good as it does.

Audio is fairly typical for a comedy 5.1 mix. That is to say the rear surrounds are used in limited fashion, mostly for light ambient fill. In the front soundstage, the center channel takes the lion's share of the work with only modest directional effects in the front mains, though the latter do an excellent job with the absurdly bombastic score. (However, the firefight in Chapter 23 is a good use of directional effects!) Your subwoofer may get more of a workout than you might expect, primarily thanks to Spaceball One, during its opening fly-by (and by and by and…) and its transformation into MegaMaid.

The audio commentary is somewhat of a rough gem, as it begins rather abruptly and features Mel Brooks in sort of a stream of consciousness mode. He has a lot to say about the creative and technical aspects of the film, but also engages in some "describe what is on the screen" commentary. On the positive side, you do hear him genuinely laugh at some of the jokes and fall silent at times to enjoy his favorite scenes. A Criterion-style commentary would be nice, though…A small bonus in the commentary is the sudden appearance near the end of Brooks' pal Ronny Graham, who plays the crusty Priest and was a co-writer.

I have to give MGM some credit for the DVD menus, which are very true to the spirit of the movie and funny! They are animated, use movie-themed sound, and show that their designers paid attention to the movie. The nine-minute featurette is fairly standard, but it comes off as being more than just a studio fluff piece. The trailer and a two-page color insert with some production notes round out the content, though MGM sadly uses the Alpha keep case as packaging. Ick!

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I'm of two minds about the extra content on Spaceballs. It is nice to see some extras (especially a commentary), as some past MGM catalog titles were woefully bereft of any substantive extras (i.e. A Fish Called Wanda, Back to School). On the other hand, a little digging makes clear that all MGM did was port over the content from a previous laserdisc transfer. That also explains why we are cursed with a non-anamorphic video transfer. I just wish MGM would spread some of that Bond magic to its other catalog releases!

Furthermore, I am sorry to have to report that MGM has released a disc with another botched matte. You won't notice anything amiss until Chapter 22, where the right side of the picture is cut off, totally blowing a joke. I have read reports that you can still see the missing picture if you adjust the overscan on your TV, but for the rest of us, this is intolerable. Hel-lo, MGM! Would you PLEASE not just throw old laserdisc transfers onto a DVD when aside from being non-anamorphic, the transfer perpetuates a known problem?

Closing Statement

This is an ideal film for anyone looking for an evening of light, relatively clean comedy, Mel Brooks fans, and those science fiction fans who have a healthy sense of humor. Strongly recommended for rental, and only the non-anamorphic transfer weighs against a ($25 retail) purchase.

The Verdict

Spaceballs: The Acquittal! (Except for MGM, which is strongly censured for its continued laziness on catalog titles.)

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Scales of Justice

Video: 94
Audio: 89
Extras: 60
Acting: 86
Story: 80
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: MGM
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Genre:
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer
• Director's Commentary

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Spaceballs - The Web Site








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