Testing, testing… ah, that’s better – the silly Babel fish needed a feed.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away there was a little film rather innocuously called Star Wars. But before that there was another little film, named Spaceballs which, due to a major problem with falling through a time warp and not emerging until ten years after that innocuously titled little film we mentioned hit the world’s cinema screens, ended up being seen as a rip-off – which has had one George Lucas, who knows the truth of his shameless ripping off of Mel Brooks’ work, grinning to himself evilly ever since and rubbing his hands together in utter glee whenever he thinks nobody’s looking - between bouts of playing about in his money bin, of course.
I see your Schwartz is as big as mine!
And so to the tale of two planets, the nice as pie Druidia and the big, nasty, evil empire that is Spaceball. The latter has done gone and squandered its entire atmosphere, relying on canned air to sustain their nasty, ruthless, evil little lives, so they kind of need to do something about the situation rather pronto. Now, guess which nice as pie little planet has air to burn? Yes, Earth – but that planet isn’t a part of this story. And so Druidia finds itself the target of an evil Spaceballian plot helmed by evil Spaceball Lord Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis in his most hilarious turn ever), who together with his trusty evil offsider Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner), army of evil ball-headed minions and somewhat whopperous spaceship Spaceball 1 (which, of course, is evil) set in motion President Skroob’s (Mel Brooks) plan to kidnap Druish Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) on the day of her wedding, to be held ransom in exchange for the password to her planet’s airlock. Has everybody got that? Good.
But Vespa has other plans – not exactly keen on sharing the rest of her life with Prince Valium, apparently the only princely type left in the galaxy to marry, she hightails it out of Druidia with her trusty droid assistant Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers) in tow (quite literally). Her father, King Roland (Dick Van Eight is Enough), is apoplectic, and calls in the services of rogue space captain and proud Space Winnebago owner Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his trusty (and hairy) cohort, Barf (John Candy) – half man, half dog – and as such his own best friend. Yes, it seems everybody has a trusty companion on hand. Needing one million spacebucks to pay off a debt (with substantial interest) to the rather cheesy Pizza the Hutt, Starr jumps at the chance to accept the rescue gig – after all, it’s not a case of doing it just for the money, it’s a case of doing it for a shitload of money! He and Barf quickly nab the Princess (and Dot!) and then they kind of run out of gas, leaving them all crashlanded and stranded on the hot, desolate planet of Vega.
Oh dink! Things aren't looking good for our heroes (and heroines!)
Ah, but it isn’t totally desolate, for just as they seemed doomed to a life of death, our heroes (and heroines!) are rescued by a curious little be-cloaked race called the Dinks. They cheerily lead our foursome underground, where they meet the keeper of the power known throughout the universe, the Schwartz, in the form of everlasting know-it-all (and somewhat natty merchandiser) Yogurt (Mel Brooks). Armed with the ring of the Schwartz, will good be not dumb enough to triumph over evil?
"Use the Schwartz!"
Heehee, fooled you! For naturally anybody with at least two brain cells capable of bouncing off each other with enough coordination to allow that thing we know as lucid thought will know all that stuff back there about George Lucas was complete, total and utter unmitigated garbage, and indeed Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs is a parody of said hairy one’s somewhat classic galaxian swashbuckling adventures. It’s also the last decent thing Mr Brooks ever committed to celluloid, for I doubt this particular reviewy-type person is the only one who would rather just forget that such utter twaddle as Robin Hood - Men in Tights and Life Stinks ever existed.
Instead we get Brooks in close to career high form, bringing his often masterful eye for parody combined with abject silliness to the fore for this often hilarious, roughshod tromping over all things Star Wars (plus a little Alien (once again quite literally), Planet of the Apes, a certain classic Warner Brothers animated short and more).
All the inspiration you need for the 40 Hour Famine...
Speaking of time warps as we were, at first glance you could be forgiven for thinking this particular transfer had fallen through one, as it does look fairly natty – especially considering that, criminally, it isn’t 16:9 enhanced. It is at least delivered to us in a ratio of 1.85:1 and gives us a remarkably clean print – only a few speckles pop their evil, pus-ridden heads up every so often – which exhibits excellent colour for a film of mid-‘80s vintage, good blacks and decent enough clarity. Not surprisingly, things aren’t super-sharp, nor are they all blunt either though, while transfer-to-DVD artefacts such as aliasing are at a minimum, only really showing up once or twice on space-grilles. There is a fleeting, funny looking blot on the landscape at around 77:03, however it’s hard to work out if it’s actually a nasty or just a rather questionable visual effect (after all, it does seem to have an accompanying sound effect). Oh yes, the layer change could not have been placed more perfectly, and should be imperceptible to all but the most anal of viewers and joy of joys, MGM haven’t removed the original location titles for a change, leaving them in their original, ‘80s fonted glory.
Joan Rivers discovers a great way to avoid more plastic surgery...
Picked up, pummelled about a bit, split up and plonked into Dolby Digital 5.1 shape, a film which started its life with a simple stereo mix comes up quite nicely in the expanded format. Space thrums and the like make decent use of the subwoofwoof, while at times various whooshes and the like shoom about with abandon from front to back, side to side and, depending upon your speaker placement, up and down. Every gloriously dumb bit of dialogue comes through clearly and perfectly synched, and the score from John Morris take’s more than one or ten cues from the work of a certain other rather well known composing John, suiting the action impeccably.
The only real blight on Spaceballs is the choice of songs, dating it horrendously. Naturally Yogurt required a soundtrack album to back up his substantial merchandising empire, so a selection of ditties is included that’s enough to strike fear into the heart of anybody who managed to escape the ‘80s with some semblance of musical taste in place. Kim Carnes, Berlin, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, The Pointer Sisters – AGH! It’s all too much! I give up! I capitulate even! Hand me my legwarmers…
Somewhere in the deep, dark (and possibly evil) recesses of space lies a void. Within this void floats a whole swag of exciting extras intended for this DVD edition of Spaceballs, for sadly all that managed to escape the clutches of said nothingness and make it to release is a full-frame theatrical trailer (2:33) – and it looks like it’s sporting a few battle scars from its scrap. Or to put it another way, what rhymes with “scrap”? Alright, anybody who said “bap”, “cap”, “clap”, “flap”, “gap”, “lap”, “map”, “nap”, “pap”, “sap”, “tap”, “wrap”, “yap”, “zap” – or any other words suffixed with an exclamation mark from old episodes of Batman for that matter - go to the back of the class…
Any fan of that trilogy of five badly-ordered films and counting will no doubt get more than a slight blast from Spaceballs, but even if you’re not familiar with – or even particularly into – the flicks which this little baby lampoons so mercilessly you’re sure to get one or ten damned satisfying giggles. In the end it comes down to whether you gel with Brooks’ style of humour or not – if you do, you’re in for one of his better works, with some extremely clever little gags which at times even hark back to his glory days of Get Smart.
The quality side of things DVD-wise is a mixed bag, though. The video is pretty good, but is not 16:9 enhanced. The audio is quite solid, but the singular extra pretty much sucks (AND blows) – especially considering the interminable wait we’ve had for this region 4 release, and the fact that the ancient region 1 version features both a Mel Brooks commentary and a nine-minute featurette. Barf indeed! Still, if you’re a fan of the film and need a region 4 version, it’s better than nothing, and indeed a lot better than it could have been.
Anyway, as a film at least Spaceballs definitely gives great helmet...
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "