Re-Watch: Spaceballs (1987)

Spaceballs
Director: Mel Brooks
Writer: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan, Ronny Graham
Cast: Bill Pullman, John Candy, Daphne Zuniga, Rick Moranis, Mel Brooks, Dick Van Patten, George Wyner, Michael Winslow, Joan Rivers, Lorene Yarnell Jansson, John Hurt
Seen on: 22.12.2015

Plot:
Planet Spaceball has a problem: they are running out of breathable air. That’s why President Skroob (Mel Brooks) sends Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) to the neighboring planet Druidia to take their air. Dark Helmet kidnaps Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) of Druidia to ransom the air, but her father King Roland (Dick Van Patten) decides to hire Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his trusted sidekick Barf (John Candy) instead to rescue Vespa.

I watched Spaceballs a lot when I was a kid (certainly more often than Star Wars which it spoofs) but it has been years since I last watched it (it is still one of the films that gets quoted in my friends’ group from time to time). And I don’t think I ever saw it in English before. So when they showed it for a night in the Gartenbaukino, in honor of the release of Episode VII I figured it was the perfect moment to revisit it. And I still loved it.

spaceballs

[SPOILERS]

As most of Mel Brooks’ comedies, Spaceballs is a silly film. A very silly film. It is so silly, many things don’t make sense unless you lean back and just go with it. The most egregious example is probaly the bear during the self-destruct scene. Why is there a bear on the Spaceballsian ship? Nobody knows, nobody cares. And yet, the film does make sense in a way. If you want to get a planet’s air, why not suck it up with a huge vacuum?

Every once in a while there are also jokes that transcend plain silliness or are more than just a pun. When Brooks harps on and on about the merchandise that accompanies Spaceballs (up to and including Spaceballs the Placemat) [a thing I never noticed before in the film], you can feel a certain bitterness at a movie system that is made mainly to sell things that have nothing to do with it. (Or maybe that’s my own exasperation talking.) But my favorite bit still is one of the silly things: the Alien ending in the Diner. I saw it way before I ever saw Alien. In fact, I never realized that it was actually John Hurt himself. It’s just an amazing scene. Or maybe the stunt doubles?

spaceballs1Spaceballs is by no means perfect though. In the middle there are some pacing issues. Some jokes fall flat, and it wouldn’t have hurt if Princess Vespa was a little less spoilt and a little less damsely – especially since I thought that they parodied Leia’s wrong qualities with that portrayal.

At this point, I really have to compliment the German translation of the film, too. From what I can remember of it, they really nail the jokes. Of course, I don’t remember all of it, but there was nothing in the English version that completely took me by surprise. All the laughs had the comfortig tinge of nostalgia to them. And that’s always a nice experience.

spaceballs2Summarizing: an absolute classic.

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3 thoughts on “Re-Watch: Spaceballs (1987)

  1. I actually prefer the german dubbed version – which, granted, might be because I grew up on it, but I also think that the voice actors actually are a little more engaged (and over-the-top) than the original ones. Nevertheless, there obviously were a couple of jokes that they were unable to save into the german translation, like Pizza the Hut, the “jamming” of the radar, or “What’s the matter, Colonel Sandurz? Chicken?” (Colonel Sanders is the founder of KFC).

    And there was a bear on Spaceballs because it’s pretty much a big city in space, which also features a zoo (which they actually reference in dialogue before). Glad to be of service. ;-)

    • True, those jokes couldn’t have been translated into German.

      And that there is a zoo on Spaceballs doesn’t explain why the bear knows how to use the emergency capsules or how it’s even found it’s way to the bridge. But it’s nice that they explained about a quarter of the silliness in that with that reference (which I apparently missed).

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