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Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga, John Candy, George Wyner, Joan Rivers, Dick Van Patten, Michael Winslow, Lorene Yarnell, John Hurt
Writing Credits:
Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan, Ronny Graham

May the schwartz be with you.

The farce is with you in this "uproarious salute to science fiction" (The Hollywood Reporter) that teams comedy legend Mel Brooks with an all-star cast of cutups including John Candy, Rick Moranis and Bill Pullman.

When the evil Dark Helmet (Moranis) attempts to steal all the air from planet Druidia, a determined Druish Princess (Daphne Zuniga), a clueless rogue (Pullman) and a half-man/half-dog creature who's his own best friend (Candy) set out to stop him! But with the forces of darkness closing in on them at ludicrous speed, they'll need the help of a wise imp named Yogurt (Brooks) and the mystical power of "The Schwartz" to bring peace - and merchandising rights - to the entire galaxy!

Box Office:
$22.7 million.
Opening Weekend
$6.600 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$38.119 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Stereo
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
German DTS 5.1
Italian DTS 5.1
Castilian Spanish DTS 5.1
Hungarian DTS 5.1
Latin Spanish DTS 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Mawgese Monaural
Dinkese Monaural
Castilian Spanish
Latin Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 6/16/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director Mel Brooks
• “Watch the Film In Ludicrous Speed”
• Easter Eggs
• “Spaceballs: The Documentary”
• “In Conversation: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan”
• “John Candy: Comic Spirit”
• Three Galleries
• Trailers
• Film Flubs
• Spacequotes
• Trivia Game
• Storyboard-to-Film Comparison
• Behind the Scenes Featurette
• Bonus DVD


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Spaceballs [Blu-Ray] (1987)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 16, 2009)

Mel Brooks ruled the Seventies as one of its comedic giants. In fact, with Woody Allen, Brooks stands as probably the genre’s biggest star for that period. With hits like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Brooks’ parodies were a large part of the cinematic landscape.

However, by the Eighties, Brooks fell on hard times. 1981’s A History of the World Part I was absolutely abysmal, and none of his flicks since then have been much better. Brooks maintains a good reputation due to those Seventies hits, but movies like Life Stinks and Dracula Dead and Loving It have been little more than dreck.

For geeks like me, 1987’s Spaceballs looked like it could be fun. Brooks hadn’t worn out his welcome by then, and its focus on flicks like Star Wars opened up a great deal of fertile comedic territory.

Which makes it such a disappointment that Spaceballs falters as badly as it does. Not only does the film fail to live up to Brooks’ reputation, but also it doesn’t even rise above the level of the average sitcom.

The leaders of the planet Spaceball ruin their atmosphere so they intend to steal the air from their neighbors on Druidia. To get the air, Spaceball leader Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) plans to kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), the daughter of King Roland (Dick Van Patten), during her wedding to boring Prince Valium (Jm J. Bullock). Vespa doesn’t want to go through with the ceremony, though, so she flees along with her droid assistant Dot Matrix (Lorene Yarnell, voiced by Joan Rivers).

Next we meet smuggler Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his furry Mawg copilot Barf (John Candy). Lone Starr owes lots of money to gangster Pizza the Hutt (voiced by Dom DeLuise) and needs to deal with that. Such an opportunity manifests itself when Spaceballs attack Vespa and King Roland pleas for help. Lone Starr agrees to do so if he gets a good payday.

Although the group escapes the Spaceballs, they run out of gas and crash-land on a desert planet. This exacerbates tensions between Vespa and Lone Starr; we see some romantic attraction but they bicker incessantly. The Spaceballs backtrack to find our group while they try to survive. That element leads Lone Starr and the others to meet mystical Yogurt (Brooks); he instructs Starr in the ways of the Schwartz. The Spaceballs eventually capture Vespa, and this sets up the movie’s remaining action.

Brooks was always hit or miss, but at his best, his flicks provided clever fun. Unfortunately, almost no gag in Spaceballs connects with its mark. Brooks’ parodies work best when he addresses subjects he knows and loves. That’s why Saddles and Frankenstein had their moments; they dealt with films Brooks knew from his youth and he clearly maintained an affection for them.

In the case of Spaceballs, however, it comes across as thought Brooks simply picked the flavor of the month to cash in on the sci-fi genre’s popularity. Actually, in that regard, Spaceballs feels behind the times. By 1987, it’d been four years since the last Star Wars flick, so while the series remained in the public eye, it didn’t seem like a very timely spoof.

Of course, it wasn’t exactly timely to parody westerns and classic horror movies in the early Seventies, so that shouldn’t have been a crucial factor. As I alluded, the bigger problem comes from Brooks’ obvious lack of connection with the material. He doesn’t possess an affinity for the material, so while he picks up on the obvious elements of the source, he doesn’t gain any insight when he goes after it.

To Brooks’ credit, at least Spaceballs doesn’t just retell Star Wars with comedic twists. The plot isn’t inspired, but it attempts to exist on its own and not just as a reworking of Star Wars. We see echoes of the source but not blatant story lifts.

The quality of the humor causes all the problems. Brooks usually goes for the obvious. Puns like “Pizza the Hutt” and “Snotty” the starship engineer are the kind of things third graders could invent in five minutes. Something like a bumper sticker that reads “I (Heart) Uranus” requires a little more sophistication, but not much; those bits lift the movie to 10th grade humor, I suppose.

Although not all the gags are quite so terrible, there’s almost nothing funny on display. Did anything make me chuckle? An out-of-leftfield parody of Alien worked, even if it self-plagiarized Young Frankenstein to a degree. In the movie’s middle, there’s a bit in which Helmet and his minions watch a videotape of the movie as it occurs. This is almost inspired, but Brooks can’t leave well enough alone, and he ruins it with an insipid rip-off of Abbott and Costello.

At least Brooks knows talent and casts some quality actors. Too bad they can’t do anything to elevate the tired material. I loved Moranis and Candy on SCTV, and Pullman was a highlight of 1986’s Ruthless People. None of them manage to do anything with their roles here, unfortunately. The cast provide uniformly mediocre performances that fail to elevate the material. They don’t harm it - not that this is really possible - but I’d hoped they’d be able to add some life to the tepid jokes. They don’t.

Spaceballs comes across as one of Brooks’ most dated flicks as well. Oddly, Brooks occasionally deviates from the established blueprint for sci-fi epics as he uses very Eighties pop-rock tunes at times. Most of the film features John Williams-style score, but every once in a while one of these crappy songs bursts out of nowhere. The flick even features a dreadful theme song by the Spinners. None of this has aged well, and these elements make a bad movie even worse.

I really wanted to like Spaceballs, and the subject matter clearly had potential to succeed. Unfortunately, Mel Brooks was running on fumes by 1987, and the movie feels like little more than a crass attempt to cash in on a popular genre. It’s an unfunny dud.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

Spaceballs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. At times the image showed its age, but it usually looked good.

Sharpness was the main problem. While the movie mostly displayed solid delineation, it could seem somewhat soft and tentative at times. These were mild instances, but they cropped up throughout the movie and created mild distractions. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and source flaws were minor. I witnessed a few small specks – usually in effects shots – but the majority of the movie looked clean.

Colors also came across with good definition. The movie showed natural hues that usually seemed concise and vivid. A few shots were a bit flat, but usually I thought the tones seemed positive. Blacks were dense and firm, while shadows appeared well-rendered and easily visible. Only the moderate softness caused any issues here.

I got more bang than I expected from the audio of Spaceballs. Since some films were still being released with monaural sound in the mid-Eighties, the presence of DTS-HD MA 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.

How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray Disc compare to those of the prior DVD from 2005? Audio remained about the same; the DTS-HD track packed a little more punch, but it didn’t seem terribly different from the prior disc’s DTS mix.

Although I expected that the Blu-ray would use the same transfer as the 2005 DVD, I don’t think this was the case. The 2005 DVD suffered from more prominent source flaws, so I believe the Blu-ray boasts a new transfer. And that’s a good thing, though it looks a bit softer than I recall from the DVD. However, it’s likely the extra resolution of Blu-ray simply makes it easier to see softness from the source; DVD hides flaws better than Blu-ray does. Though it works no wonders, the Blu-ray provides the superior visual experience.

This Blu-ray version of Spaceballs comes with most of the same extras as the 2005 DVD. 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 additional audio options appear. If you chose “Mawgese Mono” as an audio option, we see one 33-second scene with dog sounds instead of voices. In addition, we can select “Dinkese Mono”. That allows us to hear a 28-second segment with Dink voiceovers. Both are mildly cute.

Spaceballs: The Documentary offers 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.

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?

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.

A DVD appears along with the Blu-ray. This offers the same disc released way back in 2000. It includes both fullscreen and widescreen versions of the film along with a few extras. We find the same commentary and trailer, but we also get a unique Behind the Scenes Featurette. It lasts eight minutes, 46 seconds as it presents an archival promotional clip. Nothing of substance appears, though we do get some interesting glimpses of the shoot.

Does the Blu-ray lose anything from the 2005 DVD? Yup – it drops a trivia game. This was mildly enjoyable, and I don’t know why it got the boot.

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 Blu-ray presents positive picture and audio as well as some erratic extras. Uninspired, dopey and unamusing, Spaceballs is a clunker.

Obviously I don’t recommend Spaceballs to new viewers, but should established fans pursue the Blu-ray? Probably. It includes virtually all the same extras as the 2005 Special Edition DVD, and it provides moderately superior visuals. It’s not a killer release, but it’s pretty good.

To rate this film visit the Collector's Edition review of SPACEBALLS

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main