“You have the ring, and I see your Schwartz is as big as mine. Now let’s see how well you handle it,” says Dark Helmet to Lone Starr.
One of my favorite comedies growing up was a little Mel Brooks film called Spaceballs. A sci-fi spoof largely of Star Wars and Star Trek, I watched it many times thanks to countless airings on HBO and just loved it. As I got older it actually got funnier (most likely because I was able to get certain jokes that went right over my head as a child; some examples being the Druish princess bit and President Skroob’s use of Perri-air). I enjoyed it many more times when I got it on Blu-ray, but it wasn’t until three years ago that I finally got a chance to see Brooks’ Spaceballs on the big screen at the IFC Center as part of a mini-Brooks retrospective. I had a blast seeing it and I continued to be amazed at how well the humor had held up. This review of Spaceballs is my second entry in my Mel Brooks Blogathon.
1987’s Spaceballs follows mercenary Lone Starr and his sidekick Barf as they try to rescue Princess Vespa from the clutches of the evil Dark Helmet and try to foil Planet Spaceball’s plan to steal the air from planet Druidia. Brooks assembled a hilarious ensemble that included Bill Pullman (as Lone Starr), John Candy (as Barf), Daphne Zuniga (as Princess Vespa), Joan Rivers (as the voice of Dot Matrix), Brooks (as President Skroob/Yogurt), Rick Moranis (as Dark Helmet), Dick Van Patten (as King Roland), George Wyner (as Colonel Sandurz), Leslie Bevis (as Commanderette Zircon), Michael Winslow (as the Radar Technician), Jim J. Bullock (as Prince Valium), Dom DeLuise (as the voice of Pizza the Hutt), Rudy De Luca (as Vinnie), Stephen Tobolowsky (as the Captain of the Guard), Sandy Helberg (as Dr. Phillip Schlotkin), Jeff MacGregor (as Snotty), Denise Gallup (as Charlene), Dian Gallup (as Marlene), and John Hurt (as himself). Pullman and Zuniga have great chemistry as the rogue and princess who eventually fall in love, and Pullman and Candy make for quite a comedic duo (the scene where they discuss why they’ve agreed to rescue Princess Vespa is a classic). Brooks doesn’t miss a beat as the inept President Skroob and the wise and lovable Yogurt. Moranis has many of the film’s best scenes as the villainous Dark Helmet, and he and Wyner also make a good comedic duo (the ludicrous speed sequence is my favorite of theirs).
The screenplay by Brooks, Thomas Meehan, and Ronny Graham explores the hero’s journey (for Lone Starr) and also spoofs a number of sci-fi films and tv shows: Star Wars, Star Trek, the original Battlestar Galactica, Space: 1999, the original Planet of the Apes, Transformers: The Movie, and Alien. There are also other funny non-sci-fi gags peppered throughout, including homages to The Wizard of Oz and The Bridge on the River Kwai, as well as some clever fourth wall-breaking and, of course, loads of Jewish humor). Nick McLean’s cinematography is first-rate, as is Terence Marsh’s magnificent production design (the absurdly large Planet Spaceball, Lone Starr’s Eagle 5, Yogurt’s temple, the king’s castle on Druidia, etc.). Conrad Buff IV’s editing moves the film at a good pace, and the special effects are quite effective and still hold up after nearly 30 years.
Donfeld’s costume designs spoof many of the sci-fi films and shows previously mentioned (the one for Dark Helmet is my favorite; from the oversized helmet to the subtle shorts and tie shapes that take a while to notice). Ben Nye Jr.’s makeup design creates a number of fantastic-looking creatures, from Yogurt to Barf to Pizza the Hutt. John Morris contributes a memorable score with several motifs, including an exciting main theme and a tender love theme (the title song performed by the Spinners is also hilarious). Brooks’ Spaceballs is a genuine cult classic that delivers a solid sci-fi story along with plenty of laughs for almost all to enjoy (I dare anyone not to laugh during the hilarious Major Asshole sequence). Don’t miss out on a chance to see this film on the big screen, and may the Schwartz be with you!