Spaceballs (1987)(MGM)

Written By: Ken Hulsey

Things have gotten way too serious around here, so it's about time that we all had some fun!

Okay, things have never really been that serious around here, so it is about time that I wrote about a sci fi comedy for a change, and not about some foreign film with a fancy-pants rubber suited monster or bikini girls (?).

Many people, mostly squares, questioned why the great Mel Brooks would choose to make a parody of "Star Wars" ten years after the film was released?

The answer was simple, because he could, and because it was the last film genre (Sci Fi) left for him to lampoon.

You have to remember that Brooks had made a very honest living poking fun at the best that Hollywood had to offer. He had slighted Hitchcock with "High Anxiety", he had roasted classic horror with "Young Frankenstein", he had farted in the general direction of 'true-grit' westerns with "Blazing Saddles", and even re-wrote history with "History of the World, Part I". So, George Lucas, and his "Star Wars" films, were easy targets, and next in line.

Granted, making a film based on the original "Star Wars" ten years after the fact, was not one of Brooks better timed ideas, but the original trilogy was still on the minds of young movie goers, and the merchandise was still weighing down shelves at the K-Mart.

In fact, if you really wanted to press the issue, maybe the film was actually released too soon. Maybe the films meager $38 million gross, could be blamed on the fact that everyone was kinda getting sick of seeing anything even remotely resembling a Wookie by 1987?

Hey, if you didn't live it, you have no idea. You know that I love everything "Star Wars", but by the late 80s it was like "ENOUGH ALREADY!"

Brook's shellacking of the highest grossing film of the day was a complete one. The film's hero, Lone Star, played by Bill Pullman, was a perfect hybrid of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. The damsel, Princess Vespa, (Daphne Zuniga) a spoiled brat who undoubtedly mirrored the Princess Leia Organa we never saw growing up on Alderaan. Barf, (John Candy) a furry side-kick, like Chewbacca, that was always looking for a snack. Hey, you don't think that the Wookie wasn't munchin down on Alpo off camera?

Like Lucas, Brooks filled his galaxy....far....far.....away with various robots, flying Winnebago's, blond twins, and, of course, an evil empire, The Spaceballs, who run around making trouble and stealing precious oxygen.

Of all of these colorful characters, it is Rick Moranis' Darth Vader inspired 'Lord Dark Helmet' that really steals the show, and in a lot of ways, saves the movie. As is true with most villains, Helmet has the best, and funniest lines in the film.

When the character is first seen on camera, it is a somewhat imposing sight, like Vader before him, with a that eerie deep breathing sound. Then suddenly, without warning, the visor comes up to reveal the rather geeky man within struggling to breath under the mask. A wonderful parody of the ultimate evil that is Darth Vader.

Plot:

Planet Spaceball, led by President Skroob (Mel Brooks), has wasted all of its air and, desperate to find more, plans the extraction of all the air from planet Druidia. They plan to kidnap the Druish Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), who is about to marry the narcoleptic Prince Valium (Jim J. Bullock). Resenting this marriage, Vespa runs off from the altar with her Droid of Honor, Dot Matrix (Joan Rivers/Lorene Yarnell), and escapes into space, where she is attacked by the Spaceballs under the command of Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis).

Vespa's father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten), hires Captain Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his mawg (half-man, half dog) sidekick Barf (John Candy), who are desperate for money to pay back their debts to the Mafioso Pizza the Hutt (Dom DeLuise), to rescue his daughter. Aboard their Eagle V, Lone Starr and Barf save Vespa and Dot, and distract the Spaceballs by literally jamming a radar hub on their flagship, Spaceball One, and then escaping by entering light speed. In response, Spaceball One pursues by attempting to go faster, but end up traveling at "ludicrous speed" and overshoots Eagle V. Upon exiting hyperspeed, the heroes realize they have run out of fuel and crash-land on the desert "Moon of Vega". There, they meet Yogurt (Mel Brooks), who introduces Lone Starr to The Schwartz and the audience to the film's merchandising (which is prevalent throughout the film henceforth). However, the Spaceballs, having discovered their location by using an "instant cassette" of the movie itself, trick Vespa and capture her again, taking her to their capital city. Lone Starr and Barf rescue the Princess again, but not before the Spaceballs have succeeded in forcing King Roland to reveal the entry code to Druidia's atmosphere (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Spaceball One, upon arriving at Planet Druidia, transforms into Mega Maid with a vacuum cleaner, which starts to extract the air from the planet. Lone Starr uses his Schwartz ring to reverse the procedure, and sneaks through Mega Maid's ear to the central brain area of the ship to activate the self-destruct button. As he is about to press the button, Dark Helmet appears and challenges him to fight. They proceed to duel using lightsaber-like weapons emanating from their Schwartz rings, until Dark Helmet tricks Lone Starr into losing his ring. Yogurt then speaks to Lone Starr, convincing him he doesn't need the ring to use the Schwartz. Using this advice, Lone Starr summons a mirror to reflect Dark's attack and inadvertently press the self-destruct button, causing chaos aboard the ship as Mega Maid counts down to self-destruction. The heroes then escape as Dark Helmet, President Skroob and Col. Sandurz (George Wyner), failing to make it to any of the escape pods in time, look on in horror. The resulting explosion causes the three along with parts of Mega Maid to crash-land on a neighboring planet, much to the horror of its simian residents.

Lone Starr returns the Princess to Druidia and leaves without taking the agreed payment of one million spacebucks after learning that Pizza the Hut ate himself to death. After disgustedly leaving a space café after an alien bursts from the stomach of a customer, Lone Starr offers a snack to Barf who is still hungry. Barf opens a fortune cookie (originally given to Lone Starr by Yogurt) to discover that Lone Starr is a "soitified (certified) Prince", and they return in time to interrupt the marriage, and for Lone Starr to marry Princess Vespa.

"Spaceballs" is no where near the caliber of Brook's prior classics like "History of the World, Part I", "Young Frankenstein" or what I think is his best work, "Blazing Saddles." That's not to say that the film is a dud, no way, "Spaceballs" stands on it's own merits as a wonderful comedy.

It is almost unfair to try to gauge it against the other films in Brook's collection, simply because they are such masterpieces.

Though the critics of the day were a bit harsh in critiquing the film, it has continued to hold on to a strong cult following, which is ultimately the measuring stick to base the quality of a movie on.

Would I recommend "Spaceballs" to people, yes, without a doubt I would. Because it is a great parody film, that takes a well deserved stab at "Star Wars", and sci fi in general.

And let us remember that parody is often time the sincerest form of admiration. Just because we can see the humor in a genre's cliches doesn't mean that we dislike it, just the opposite, we laugh because of our love for it.

Well......maybe not "The Phantom Menace"......?

Here are more photos from "Spaceballs":




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