Spaceballs: The Blog Post
On my parents' first date in 1968, they went to see Mel Brooks' The Producers. They've harbored a soft spot for Brooks and his spoofs ever since; probably a big reason why I was permitted to see Spaceballs at the tender age of 6 or 7. And maybe that's why I've harbored a soft spot for Mel and his spoofs my whole life. I watched Spaceballs religiously as child, over and over again until I wore out the family VHS tape that we'd copied off HBO. Looking at the film now, its appeal is not hard to understand. When you're a goofy little kid with a strange sense of humor, a Star Wars movie is great. But a Star Wars with jokes? Well that's just about heaven right there.
The movie holds up pretty well, better than some of the other cinematic obsessions of my childhood (G.I. Joe: The Movie, anyone?). Now, of course, I can recognize that Brooks' best work came in the 1970s during the era of Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but Spaceballs still owns a special piece of real estate in my heart as one of the first movies that I out-and-out loved. On the basis of the laughs that still spilled out of my mouth as I rewatched the film tonight for the first time in years, I see no reason to change that.
It's true that children are pretty forgiving of special effects, but I think it's worth mentioning just how good Spaceballs looks for a spoof. As a kid, I really did think of the movie as a "Star Wars with jokes" -- it wasn't just funny, it was exciting too. And as silly as the concept of a Winnebago-as-a-starship is, the ship itself moves gracefully and fluidly through the space (kudos to production designer Terence Marsh). The mixture between comedy and adventure in the movie is perfectly managed, and an underrated part of the film's success. Take the final showdown between Lone Star (Bill Pullman) and the Spaceballs, for example, which features the unbeatable combination of thrilling lightsaberish swordfights and guys getting hit in the balls. The scene also contains one of the all-time great bad guy to good guy putdowns in movie history, courtesy of Rick Moranis' delightfully mean Dark Helmet: "So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb."
Most of the humor is dumb, but wittily dumb. And twenty-plus years later, the movie's best sequence, Brooks' send-up of Hollywood's thirst for "moy-chan-dizing!" ("Spaceballs: The Lunch Box! Spaceballs: The Breakfast Cereal! Spaceballs: The Flame Thrower!") hasn't aged a day. I also remain a deep admirer of the movie's surreal texture, and the way characters keep breaking the fourth wall to point out each of the cliches Brooks demolishes. A particularly memorable example comes when the Spaceballs, wondering to where to search for Pricess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), find her by watching the next scene in Spaceballs, via the already-released home video edition. The plan works, but not before the fiends accidentally find their way to the exact point of the movie that we're watching, leading to a rat-a-tat exchange that would have pleased Abbott and Costello:
Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?Watching a beloved childhood favorite as an adult, you do see things you never saw before. Curiously, this Star Wars knock-off doesn't even have a Luke Skywalker character. You'd think a character that annoyingly earnest would provide plenty of material for parody. Certainly the Kafka joke didn't mean much to me at age 6 (to be honest, it doesn't mean a whole lot more at age 28). Also, one incredibly disturbing fact that completely eluded until this very viewing: Bill Pullman keeps his eyes open for the entirety of his movie-ending smooch with Zuniga. I'm not making this up:
Colonel Sandurz: Now. You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now.
Dark Helmet: What happened to then?
Colonel Sandurz: We passed it.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We're at now now.
Dark Helmet: Go back to then.
Colonel Sandurz: When?
Dark Helmet: Now.
Colonel Sandurz: Now?
Dark Helmet: Now.
Colonel Sandurz: I can't.
Dark Helmet: Why?
Colonel Sandurz: We missed it.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now.
Dark Helmet: When will then be now?
Colonel Sandurz: Soon.
I have no idea what's going on there. Besides that, I remain a Spaceballs devotee. But maybe given my familial history, I'm just genetically predisposed to like Mel Brooks movies.