Spaceballs On Blu-Ray: 25 Years Later, The Schwartz Is Still Strong In Mel Brooks' Star Wars Spoof
A long time ago in a culture far removed from this one — 1987 to be exact — cinematic satirist Mel Brooks took on box-office game changer George Lucas' Star Wars franchise and didn't end up in the Hollywood equivalent of a Sarlacc Pit. Substituting the Schwartz for the Force, Yogurt for Yoda and Pizza The Hutt for Jabba, Brooks gave us Spaceballs and made us laugh harder (intentionally) than Jar Jar Binks ever did. To celebrate the movie's 25th anniversary, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has released a commemorative Blu-Ray edition that mostly does justice to this comedy gem.
The Film: Spaceballs (1987)
Why It's An Inessential Essential: Although Life Stinks (1991) was Mel Brooks' last sturdy feature, the often gut-bustingly funny Spaceballs was his last really inspired comedy. Like many of Brooks' earlier films, Spaceballs spoofs generic and genre cliches. In this case, the director aimed his blaster at science fiction and fantasy films, Star Wars in particular.
Viewed 25 years after its theatrical release, Spaceballs suffers from lopsided structure and occasional laziness, but the movie repeatedly breaks down the fourth wall with such zeal and absurd charm that it's impossible to resist. (It's worth noting that the movie was released during the heyday of the Bruce Willis/Cybill Shepherd ABC comedy series Moonlighting, which was heralded for doing the same.)
A large part of the movie's giddy appeal is its game cast, led by SCTV Jedi the late John Candy and Rick Moranis. Candy plays the Wookiee-like Barf and Moranis is particularly hilarious as the clutzy, over-compensating Darth Vader spoof, Dark Helmet — a puny man topped by enormous circumcised headgear.
As ringmaster of this circus, Brooks (who also appears in the movie as both President Skroob and Yogurt) is at a point in his career where he's starting to toss things against the wall out of sheer desperation. And because he's working with talented comedians and co-writers, most of what he throws sticks. The move is a collection of blisteringly strange and funny sketches, such as the one where Helmet fantasizes about seducing Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) while playing with a set of action figures that includes an even tinier facsimile of himself and the Druish princess.
Brooks' wise-ass, Brecht-by-way-of-Vaudeville sensibility is at the core of the movie's cantankerous, Yiddish sensibility, and though some of the yucks feel a tad musty, the movie is never tedious. Riffs on cash-in sequels, "Moichandizing" and "turning off the movie" demonstrate that, at that point in his career, Brooks' cultural comedy mojo was still working.
Indeed, Spaceballs doesn't just hold up as a laugh riot. It's still highly quotable right down to the characters' names. (Yogurt! Pizza The Hutt!). "May the Schwartz be with you" still provokes laughter after all these years, as does Barf's "Funny, she doesn't look Druish" comment about Princess Vespa. And when the Spaceballs and Dark Helmet land on the Planet of the Apes, one of its denizens grouses; "Oh shit, there goes the planet."
How the Blu-Ray Edition Makes the Case for the Film: The best special features on the 25th anniversary release are the least serious ones. New interviews with a doddering and-haughty Brooks don't contribute much. ("We were looking for a new genre to destroy," he exclaims at one point).
Much more satisfying is a very funny list of continuity errors in the film, including, a scene in which Dot Matrix (Joan Rivers playing a droid even bitchier than Anthony Daniels' C-3P0) appears to stop leaving a trail behind her in one desert scene. The film's gag audio commentary tracks are also suitably ridiculous. One is in "Mawgese," presumably the native language of Barf, another, in "Dinkese," the mother tongue of the Jawa-esque Dink Dinks.
Unfortunately, the Blu-Ray edition does not markedly improve the picture quality that was found on the 2005 DVD release of Spaceballs. There are still notable visual blemishes, including artifacts that resulted from poor video compression. Still, the dual Blu-Ray/DVD package is worth buying if only because the menus included on the new DVD release are more interactive and the features they include are more impressive than the last time around.
Other Trivia: The new 25th anniversary Spaceballs Blu-Ray is loaded with new special features. If you're a dedicated Mel Brooks fan — even one who lost faith or interest after Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It — you'll probably get a big kick out of the jokey introduction he recorded to the film's original trailer. Brooks' audio commentary track is also worthy, even if he is more than a little full of himself after the wild (and not entirely deserved) multi-platform success of The Producers. Compared to the meager 2005 DVD release, which came with a making-of featurette and a skimpy souvenir booklet, Sony's 25th anniversary Blu-Ray release is a much more comprehensive presentation of the film.