Spaceballs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Given the flick’s age, I didn’t expect much, but I found the transfer to look surprisingly solid.
Sharpness almost always fared nicely. A few shots came across as slightly soft, but these didn’t cause unusual problems. The vast majority of the movie displayed good delineation and definition. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering popped up, and I noticed only a little light edge enhancement. Source flaws stayed minor. Occasionally the movie was a bit grainy, and a marks and blotches appeared along the way, especially around the flick’s half-way point. Those instances stayed rare, though, and I thought the picture remained nicely clean.
Colors also came across with good definition. The movie showed natural colors that usually seemed concise and vivid. At times they appeared slightly pale, but not badly so, and the flick handled red lighting with aplomb. Blacks were dense and firm, while shadows appeared well-rendered and easily visible. Overall, I felt impressed with the picture.
I also got more bang than I expected from the audio of Spaceballs. The DVD came with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I thought the DTS version was slightly better than the Dolby one, as it appeared marginally more dynamic and involving. However, the improvements weren’t significant enough to warrant a higher mark for the DTS track, and both sounded very good.
Since some films were still being released with monaural sound in the mid-Eighties, the presence of 5.1 audio for Spaceballs really made it stand out from the crowd. I thought the soundfield might be restricted and almost “glorified mono”, but instead the audio spread out quite well. The track didn’t go nuts, but it opened things up nicely. Music showed good stereo delineation, while effects were well placed and smoothly integrated.
The various battles and space shots allowed for many chances to create lively material, and the movie followed up on those. The surrounds contributed quite a lot of good information and even tossed in more than a smattering of stereo details, especially when ships flew past. This was a surprisingly involving mix.
Audio quality occasionally showed its age, but the sound usually came across well. Despite some edginess, speech was generally natural and crisp, and I never encountered any problems with intelligibility. Music varied due to sources. The different pop or rock songs could sound moderately rough and thin, but the score was pretty dynamic and lively. Effects came across as clear and concise. They also displayed nice range, with some tight bass. I almost gave this mix an “A-“, as it seemed well above average for its age. The smattering of flaws led me to award it a “B+” instead, but I remained impressed by this track.
This two-DVD version of Spaceballs comes with a bunch of extras. On Disc One, we find an audio commentary from writer/director/actor Mel Brooks. Recorded in January 1996 for an old laserdisc, he offers a running, screen-specific discussion. (Oddly, although co-writer/actor Ronny Graham sits with Brooks, he plays almost no part in the commentary; we hear him giggle at times, but except for one very short tidbit toward the end, he doesn’t speak.) Brooks offers an occasional useful nugget, but mostly this is a slow and tedious track.
When Brooks focuses on the subject appropriately, he gives us some decent notes. He talks about the project’s genesis and its writing, the cast, concepts behind some of the gags, and various production details. Around the one-hour mark, Brooks goes into a discussion of his prior films and talks about how he doesn’t much like directing. He even expresses regret about his career arc and tells us that he thinks Blazing Saddles was a mistake! Unfortunately, a lot of dead air occurs, and much of the time Brooks either simply narrates the action or laughs at the jokes. There’s a smattering of good information but overall this is a mediocre to weak track.
An unusual feature, we can Watch the Movie in Ludicrous Speed. This shows the whole flick - in oddly pixilated form - over the span of 27 seconds. It’s a silly, fairly pointless extra.
Two semi-Easter eggs pop up in the audio menu. If you chose “Mawgese Mono” as an audio option, we see one 31-second scene with dog sounds instead of voices. In addition, we can select “Dinkese Mono”. That allows us to hear a 26-second segment with Dink voiceovers. Both are mildly cute.
Lastly, DVD One starts with an ad for the new version of The Pink Panther. In a clever touch, the disc’s menus parody those of the Star Wars DVDs. That choice is more inspired than anything in the actual movie.
Over on DVD Two, we find Spaceballs: The Documentary, a 30-minute program that combines movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Brooks, visual effects supervisor Peter Donen, director of photography Nick McLean, makeup designer Ben Nye Jr., and actors Bill Pullman, Dick Van Patten, George Wyner, Jm J. Bullock, Daphne Zuniga, Rudy De Luca and Joan Rivers. They go over the choice to spoof science-fiction flicks, the visual effects, the creative team and cast, shooting the flick, sets and locations, costumes and makeup, working with Brooks, improvisation, and the movie’s legacy. An extremely cheery piece, that tone accentuates the positive and means we get a pretty superficial look at the production. You’ll find some good tidbits at times, but don’t expect a thorough examination of the flick in this perky program.
Next comes In Conversation: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan. It runs 20 minutes and 28 seconds as the writer/director/actor chats with co-writer Meehan. They chat about their collaboration, the movie’s original title and how they selected Spaceballs, the choice of subject and developing the story, the origins of some gags, reflections on Ronny Graham, directing movies, and the concept of a sequel. Sporadically we get nice notes, but Brooks’ ramblings make this a frequently unfocused piece that occasionally becomes almost painful to watch. Meehan attempts to keep things more on task, but Brooks goes off onto barely-related tangents and makes this an occasionally incoherent piece.
For the final featurette, we get the 10-minute John Candy: Comic Spirit. A tribute to the late actor, we find remarks from Zuniga, Van Patten, Pullman, Rivers, Bullock, Nye, Wyner, Donen, Brooks, actor Eugene Levy and biographer Martin Knelman. We also see some archival interviews with Candy. The program reflects on Candy’s childhood and start in show business, his development on SCTV and move to Hollywood, shooting Spaceballs and Candy’s work in some other flicks, his personality and death, and various remembrances. “Spirit” gives us a minor biography of the actor, but mostly it exists as the form of generic elegy with a great deal of discussion about Candy’s greatness.
Inside the Galleries domain, we find three sections. We locate “Spaceballs: The Behind-the-Movie Photos” (37 shots), “Spaceballs: The Costume Gallery” (18), and “Spaceballs: The Art Gallery” (13). Nothing much of substance appears in the first collection, but I like the costume sketches, and the “Art Gallery” shows some unusual images via a few posters that can be turned into black-light pieces.
Trailers offers a mix of ads. We get the flick’s theatrical promo along with an “exhibitor trailer with Mel Brooks introduction”. That unique piece is more interesting than most, though the standard trailer is ordinary. This area also includes a general promo called “Other Great MGM Releases”.
Inside “Fun & Games” we locate three pieces. Film Flubs includes six goofs that run between seven seconds and 21 seconds for a total of 74 seconds of footage. It presents some fun material but suffers from clumsy execution; there’s no “Play All” option, which makes it a chore to work through these brief clips.
Spacequotes lets you select soundbites from seven different characters. Despite the addition of some comedic notes, this isn’t an interesting feature. If I want to hear cracks from the movie, I’ll just watch it; why bother with these out-of-context snippets?
Next we find a Trivia Game. It offers questions of moderate difficulty. Despite having seen the movie only once, I still did pretty well, and the quiz is forgiving, so if you make a mistake, you get another chance. No real reward comes with completion.
Finally, we get a Storyboard-to-Film Comparison. This six-minute and 40-second segment shows art on the left of the screen and the pan and scanned movie image on the right. It offers a decent look at the transformation of the movie from the planning stage to the screen.
Spaceballs won’t go down as Mel Brooks’ worst movie, but that acts mostly as a reflection of the crumminess of the movies that followed it. Spaceballs provokes maybe two or three minor chuckles, but otherwise it leaves me shaking my head at all the wasted talent. The DVD presents surprisingly positive picture and audio as well as some erratic extras. Uninspired, dopey and unamusing, Spaceballs is a clunker.