Friday, January 28, 2011

Spaceballs: Laugh Your Schwartz Off

Well, last week I talked about the sci-fi movie of all sci-fi movies, "Star Wars" (1977).  So how about flipping all that upside down with the essential sci-fi spoof "Spaceballs" (1987)?

"Spaceballs," Mel Brooks' destruction of the space genre, isn't his best (hello, "Young Frankenstein" (1974) and the original "The Producers" (1968)), but it's the film I always think of first whenever anyone mentions Brooks' name.  This was the first Brooks film I ever saw, and as a kid, I thought it was hilarious.  Spoofing what I love?  Genius!  And although I've grown out of some of the jokes as I've gotten older, it's still a hoot and a half to watch.

This science fiction parody starts out with the classic Star-Wars-ish scroll across the screening, explaining the villains of the movie, the Spaceballs, and their sinister plot to steal the air from planet Druidia.  (You see, they destroyed their own planet's air through years of pollution.  I wonder if that means one day we'll have to go suck another oxygen-loving planet's air dry...if we can find one.)  On Druidia that day, however, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) is getting married...or is she?  She runs away from the altar, only to be captured by the Spaceballs (who include Brooks himself and Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet).  Luckily, our hero Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) is close by and saves the princess from capture.  Together, they must evade the Spaceballs and get the princess back to Druidia safe and sound, while bickering and falling in love with each other along the way.

There are so many hilarious jokes in this film, it's hard to go through them all.  My favorites are the Leia-like hair-bun earphones Princess Vespa is listening to (I have wanted a pair since I first saw them!) and John Hurt's cameo just so another creature can pop out of his stomach...and then go dancing across the counter.  To this day, I can watch this sequence and laugh, yet the anticipation of seeing the more gory original version in "Alien" (1979) has caused me never to be able to watch the latter.  Very odd, I know.  Brooks said the two jokes he is most proud of from the film are Spaceballs: The Merchandise and the villains being able to rent the VHS of "Spaceballs" while they are still filming it.

No Spaceballs merchandise was ever released though because of a fair-use agreement between Brooks and George Lucas.  (The coloring book and lunch box are actually "Transformers" items with the Spaceballs logo slapped on it.)  Yes, you read that correctly.  Lucas did know about "Spaceballs" before it even began pre-production.  After finishing the script, Brooks sent it to Lucas for permission.  He was nervous that he might be offended, but Lucas had no problems, for he was a fan of "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein".

Brooks put together a hefty effects and makeup team for this one.  The visual effects were actually run by John Dykstra, an ex-ILM employee.  His company Apogee Inc. did most of the effects but ILM did actually help out a little.  They created Hurt's stomach creature.  As for John Candy's costume, it doesn't seem that elaborate at a glance but it required three people to control.  Candy controlled his own tail with a little joystick in the palm of his hand while two other assistants controlled his ears, one per ear.  It also had to be powered by a large battery (probably would be the size of a pen today) that Candy had to wear on his back.  And Brooks himself wasn't without his own effects pain.  The golden makeup he wore for the role of Yogurt caused a rash to break out on his neck.  Also the constant walking around on his knees really caused pains, even with kneepads.

So, I recommend getting your laugh on this weekend with "Spaceballs."  It's a blast to watch, especially if you've just watched "Star Wars."  Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

(Post-tidbit: Thanks to knowing this movie probably too well, I managed to sweep the first round when I was on "Trivial Pursuit" the game show one time...Of course I lost the second round, but that's beside the point.  It's the only time I will ever thank Joan Rivers (aka Dot Matrix).)


  1. I never noticed the recycled merchandise. Ha ha - you can see Optimus Prime the transformer on the coloring book.

  2. Also one of my favorite Mel Brooks films! I think Bill Pullman as Lonestar and Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet were two of my favorite characters of the film. They both played their parts with such passive humor. Interestingly I haven't really seen those two in much since "Independence Day" for Bill Pullman or one of the "Honey, We Shrunk ______ for Rick Moranis.

  3. great site keep it up!