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SPACEBALLS

1987, dir. Mel Brooks
96 min. Rated PG
Starring: John Candy, Lem Skroob, The President from ID4, Jo from Melrose, The Keymaster.

Review by Noel Wood

With the release of the STAR WARS trilogy on DVD for the first time occurring this week, everyone is in SW-Mania mode. Message boards on the internet are lighting up with discussions, water coolers all over the world are being subjected to talk about Wookiees and Ugnaughts, and video stores are enjoying watching copies of the trilogy fly off the shelves.

As for me, I celebrated the week by watching SPACEBALLS, the Mel Brooks parody of STAR WARS.

I haven't really seen SPACEBALLS since I was a kid, save for a few times where I had it on in the background when I worked at the old video store where MCFTR first found its roots. I figured that since I was a little more innocent at that time, I probably missed a bunch of jokes that would appeal to me even more now that I'm practically a senior citizen. I'm a little disappointed to report that I really didn't miss anything then. But still, SPACEBALLS is a pretty funny movie. Sure, it's Mel Brooks' lowball-at-the-lowest style, but it's still pretty funny.

The opening scene of the film is the first of its parodies, and it's one of the most effective. Spoofing the long shot of the Star Destroyer from the opening of STAR WARS, we see "Spaceball One", the flagship of the titular film villains, as it passes by us slowly for a ridiculously long time. When it finally reaches its end, a bumper sticker punctuates it: "We Brake for Nobody". Since this was before the days of CG, that means that this was a model designed for the shot, and it's apretty elaborate one at that. It's a lot of effort just for one single gag, and it pays off.

As we move along, we meet our cast of characters, most of which can be lined up with the cast of STAR WARS. Lone Star (Bill Pullman) is our gallant space pirate, serving as sort of an amalgam of Luke Skywaler and Han Solo. His trusty sidekick, the "mog" named Barf (John Candy,) is this movie's Chewbacca. Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) should be pretty obvious, as should be her sidekick, the golden android Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers.) On the villainous side, we have Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis,) who is a nerdy version of Lord Vader. He is flanked by Col. Sandurz (George Wyner,) the Grand Moff Tarkin of the crew. And of course, the master of "The Schwartz" is revealed to be Yogurt (Mel Brooks,) a spoof on you-know-who.

SPACEBALLS also stars that funny mouth sounds guy from the 80's, Michael Winslow. Okay, maybe stars is a bit of an exaggeration, but he does show up for one quick scene. You know him better as Larvell Jones from the POLICE ACADEMY movies and, well, not much else of note. Fortunately for Mr. Winslow, there is yet another sequel to that movie in production now. But it kinda makes you feel sad for him; we all remember that every kid in America thought that he was the funniest guy alive at that time. Now you look back and wonder what the hell you were thinking.

The plot of SPACEBALLS is pretty basic to allow for more jokes to be tossed at you, but I'll go over the briefs. Princess Vespa is slated to marry Prince Valium (JM J. Bullock), but she doesn't love him, so she runs away with her droid of honor. Meanwhile, planet Spaceball is running low on air, and President Skroob (also Mel Brooks) plans to steal the air from Vespa's home planet of Druidia, run by her father King Roland (Dick Van Patten.) The Spaceballs' plan to coerce Roland to release the combination of the planet's air lock involves capturing the princess and holding her for ransom. Roland enlists the help of Lone Star and Barf to find his daughter and keep her safe, at the cost of one million Spacebucks. They need the dough to pay off gangster Pizza the Hutt (voiced by Dom DeLuise,) so they comply. Parody ensues.

And boy, does it. Aside from the countless barbs at STAR WARS and its two sequels, it also takes aim at Star Trek, THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, ALIEN, THE PLANET OF THE APES, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, and even The Transformers. Most of it is pretty easy to catch, but it doesn't take away from its effectiveness.

Critics gave SPACEBALLS a lot of shit because it came out ten years after STAR WARS was released in theaters. Their argument was that "timing is important for comedy", but they have no clue what they're talking about. The true test of the parody comes when you can watch it fifteen or more years later and it still holds up. STAR WARS is timeless, and SPACEBALLS still works as a result.

Rumor had popped up a long time ago about SPACEBALLS 3: THE SEARCH FOR SPACEBALLS 2 being in the works, but it never came to pass. I distinctly remember being about 13 or 14 years old and seeing a note about this in some kiddie newspaper that I used to read. This was in the late 80's, mind you. Mel Brooks has apparently counted out ever doing any sequels to any of his movies, despite the fact that some of them are ripe to add another chapter to. A SPACEBALLS sequel would be pretty much out of the question without John Candy at this point anyway.

However, with the new STAR WARS trilogy wrappign up next year, might it be time for Brooks to do a prequel to SPACEBALLS, with an all-new cast? Let's hope he gets to it before the friggin' Wayans Brothers do. Can't you just imagine how easy it would be to spoof Jar Jar Binks? Wouldn't Dave Chappelle as a Mace Windu type kick a lot of ass? A pipe dream, perhaps, but I could see it as a logical next step without violating Brooks' "no sequels" rule.

While there wasn't a whole lot that I missed in my first go-round with this movie, there were a couple of new jokes that I picked up this time around. One involves the change of Spaceball One from a spaceship to "the megamaid". There's a Kafka's Metamorphosis joke worked in that I know I didn't understand when I was 12. There's also a joke by Lone Star about a "Ford Galaxy", which of course refers to the car of the same name but maybe even intends to spoof the actor who played the proto-Lone Star. Maybe. It's a bit of a stretch.

But still, despite the fact that it doesn't exactly go for a megacerebral humor level, SPACEBALLS is a pretty good parody of a fine set of movies. And although he is ultimately wrong in the end, we should still remember the immortal words of the one and only Lord Helmet: "Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb."

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