Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Mel Brooks, Dick Van Patten, George Wyner, Joan Rivers (voice), John Hurt, Michael Winslow, JM J. Bullock, Stephen Tobolowsky
Written by: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan, Ronny Graham
Directed by: Mel Brooks
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 96
Date: 06/23/1987

Spaceballs (1987)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Forced Laughter

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mel Brooks' Spaceballs originally arrived at a strange time, four years after the first Star Wars trilogy had opened and closed and well after Star Wars mania had cooled off a little. It did not really upset any sacred cows, but it offered a brief and painless chance to revisit that familiar galaxy.

In the film, space hero Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his sidekick Barf (John Candy) must rescue an errant princess (Daphne Zuniga), while Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and the President of the Galaxy (Mel Brooks) scheme to steal the air from the princess's home planet.

Of course, the plot only exists so that Brooks can wedge in any number of jokes, some of them with lengthy and obvious set ups (the raspberry jam gag, for example). Most jokes have a forced quality, but there's something gleefully self-aware about them, like the vaudeville comedian whose act consists of telling bad jokes and laughing at them, but doing it all with exquisite timing. (The joke about merchandizing especially rings true today.)

Even so, it's hard not to compare Spaceballs unfavorably to Brooks' earlier, more deliriously cutting films (The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles).

In 2005, MGM/UA re-released Spaceballs in a two-disc DVD Special Edition. It's true that the film has a cult following (Daphne Zuniga told me she gets asked about it a lot), but I suspect that the real reason behind the new release is Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

The new disc comes with a Mel Brooks commentary track, two "joke" commentary tracks, and the option to watch the film at "ludicrous speed." Disc Two contains a 30-minute making-of featurette, a 20-minute conversation with Brooks and his co-writer Thomas Meehan, a tribute to the late John Candy, photo and art galleries, a storyboard-to-film comparison, trailers, film flubs, "spacequotes" and a trivia game.

These various features are accessible through three different main menus, each resembling a ship's control panel. Viewers can choose between Lone Starr's ship, Vespa's ship or Darth Helmet's ship; each menu has its own Easter Eggs.

In 2021, Kino Lorber released the film on a new Special Edition Blu-ray, along with a new 4K edition. The bonuses appear to be largely the same as on the 2005 DVD, and they are still mastered in 480p. The movie's video transfer struck me as a teensy bit pale -- the colors don't quite pop they way you'd expect them to -- but there's a lovely hint of film grain, and the audio is excellent. Brooks's The Producers was also released the same week.

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