At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Spaceballs “87”

MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy/ Stars: Bill Pullman, John Candy, Daphne Zuniga, Mel Brooks, Rick Moranis, Dick Van Patten, George Wyner, Michael Winslow, Ronny Graham, Jim J. Bullock, Leslie Bevis, Jim Jackman, Sandy Helberg, Brenda Strong, Rudy De Luca, John Hurt; Voices of: Joan Rivers, Dom DeLuise/ Runtime: 96 minutes

Oh where oh where art thou Mr. Mel Brooks? I ask because in the year 2020, a year where literally everything that could go wrong all but nearly has gone wrong, a comedy-craving country needs you and your brand of comedy genius now more than ever. Indeed in a time and place where not only the genre of comedy has taken an unfortunately big step backwards, but where we have seen comedic legends such as John Candy, Bill Murray (who seems happier in either dramas or dramedies nowadays at any rate), Rick Moranis, and John Belushi, to say nothing of such landmark and iconic films like Animal House, Ghostbusters among other iconic entries really do seem as long gone as a laptop that has been dropped from the top of a 33 story window, movie lovers sadly have no choice, but to plain and simply move their lonely and heavy line of sight over to their physical copies on either DVD or Blu-Ray for the chance to view oldies but goodies that, when presented in a way befitting their legacy, can make even films made 3 decades ago and the style in which they were made look and feel refreshing and new. This of course I feel can most definitely be said for the movie known simply as Spaceballs aka the equally as iconic parody which pokes fun and then some at a little known cinematic sci-fi series known as Star Wars. A film that stars its head scribe as well as helmer Mel Brooks, the titan who also gave us the equally as iconic Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs is a film which manages to deliver in nearly every way possible despite the majority of its narrative being played as absurdly as possibly, but that is where the true magic that the film possesses manages to live. Indeed this is because the completely over-the-top style of the film, a fact that helps it work as a complete opposite to something that is more low-key comedic like the first Ghostbusters film in 1984, never ever doesn’t land where it is supposed to and the wackiness of not only the cast of characters, but the circumstances they are put in as well as the dialogue they deliver all manage to work together beautifully to give the audience a rip roaring good time to be had time and time again.

The plot is as follows: A far time ago in a galaxy long long away, the story of Spaceballs starts off by witnessing as The (what else) Spaceballs which happens to be a volatile pack of deadly misfits who are led by a ruler named President Skroob, have proceeded to completely obliterate their atmosphere to the extent that this rag tag group is now no longer able to enjoy the comfort of having clean air to breathe in and live on. Thus they decide to hatch a plan that is so simple you’d swear it was a rip-off of something: they decide to swipe an equally as plentiful atmosphere from a planet known as Druidia, a planet that, aside from being quite the clean and cozy place to live, is also incidentally fixing to be the host of the most glamourous wedding in the galaxy between Druidia’s own Princess Vespa and the seemingly-always tired Prince Valium. However when a moment of cold feet causes Vespa and her droid friend Dot Matrix to run away from the wedding in Vespa’s Mercedes, she and Dot soon find themselves ensnared by Spaceball One, a huge spaceship that is captained by President Skroob’s fearless (if not slightly moronic) lieutenants Dark Helmet and Colonel Sandurz. Meanwhile, we also are introduced to a charming rogue by the name of Lone Starr and his guy, half-mutt pal Barf who are in desperate need of no less than a million space bucks in order to square a debt they owe to a nefarious gangster known simply as Pizza the Hut. Suffice it to say then that when they receive a distress call from Druidia’s royal family to save the Princess in exchange for the very sum they are needing to get Pizza off their butt, our rag-tag dynamic duo agree to save the day. Of course it should go without saying, but we soon discover that this earnest attempt at a rescue will result in our heroes not only on the run from the nefarious Spaceballs, but also in crossing paths with a mystical Master of Schwartz known simply as Yogurt. A creature who not only could be the key to them defeating the villains on their tail, but also maybe in helping Lone Starr uncover his true destiny as well…..

Now I think it should obviously be pointed out that this film didn’t just by accident become one of the finest entries in the parody subgenre of movie magic. Indeed by choosing to go after perhaps one of the holy grails of film franchises in regards to Star Wars, Spaceballs had quite the challenge ahead of it in terms of getting it right yet not only does the film pull it off, but it also set a new benchmark for how to obtain the much-desired laughs in a parody movie while also helping some of Brooks’ prior efforts like Blazing Saddles find a whole new audience. Most noteworthy though is the fact that Spaceballs doesn’t just prove to be a comedic retelling of Star Wars; rather it takes some of the crucial characters, events, and themes at play in that franchise and puts them in a narrative that feels more like a fairy tale of yore involving a princess in peril and her rescue by a charming rogue in a slightly dented and rusted Winnebago than it is just a group of loosely-tied together skits all bound by a loose-fitting narrative. Also worth pointing out is the fact that Spaceballs also manages to triumph due to the fact that a lot of the comedy would still work quite well even if this was made in a world where Star Wars simply was not around. Indeed make no mistake George Lucas’ time-honored saga, with particular regard to the original trilogy, are most definitely the main influence for how this film looks, and yes this film also does take a bit of its comedy right from those films as well, but nearly everything else works so well independently that you will be thankful with how few Star Wars winks and nods you are bombarded with. Yet even when they do appear, this film is never overrun by the latter, but instead still manages to keep a firm comprehension of its own identity. Not only that, but this film goes in completely the opposite direction especially when compared to the parody subgenre’s more recent cinematic outings since those simply take things as they are and then mix it together with no sense of direction and pray it all works out. This film however chooses to take its time in getting the best ingredients from a given film and then brings it into the fold in a unique narrative in a way that is nearly always comical. Thus it should come as no surprise then to learn that it is this way of doing things which has resulted in many a film reviewer viewing Mel Brooks as one of the finest helmers that the comedy genre of movie magic has ever had.

Now even though a few things in this film might be either outdated (I mean am I the only who wishes 5 dollars of gas was still enough) or unrealistic (characters in space not needing a suit), the movie still feels as fresh as ever and the humor still works even in the year 2020. Best of all however is the fact that the cast of characters at play manage to hit the ground running right off the bat thanks in large part to wonderful dialogue and making each of their roles as comedic as possible with the standout being Rick Moranis who cashes in on comedy gold with a fantastic and as over-the-top as the moon style performance as Darth Vader-lite Dark Helmet. Yet even the smaller characters, so basically anyone in this film who talks, manages to make their character just as memorable as any of the principles. Indeed be the goofy radar guy portrayed by Michael Winslow or the comms officer who chose to go around Dark Helmet, this film manages to have some of the finest background characters in a comedy ever. This film it is also worth noting gets a lot of traction out of its more low-key humor with particular regard to the moments where every day phrases are taken to their most literal meaning possible. As a result to “jam” enemy radar means firing a jar of jam at the enemy and when ordered to “comb the desert” troops literally push a giant comb across the sand-filled landscape. Of course, to no one’s surprise, Mel Brooks doesn’t put things to stop there and sees instead the possibility of making the situation even more amusing by having a line that ponders whether it is a good idea to follow the literal rather than suggested decoding of the orders from his tongue-in-cheek-Palpatine rip-off Skroob. Plus when you factor in key moments that parody the music from such classics as Jaws and Lawrence of Arabia as well as potshots at films like Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and especially Alien whilst also breaking the 4th wall and delivering some snarky yet spot-on commentary about how crucial the marketing and merchandise sectors are to a film succeeding, this is one film which will leave you rolling with laughter from beginning to end.

All in all I think it  is safe to say that if you tried to claim that Spaceballs was the finest representation of what legendary filmmaker Mel Brooks is when he is at his absolute best would be a huge slap in the face to such works as Young Frankenstein, The Producers from 1968, and of course, Blazing Saddles. With that being said however, I definitely feel that to the vast majority of film going audiences out there this is the film of his which is easily the most accessible and known thanks to the fact that it is a parody of one of the finest sci-fi sagas of all time in Star Wars. Yet although it is a parody of that franchise, it is also a movie that manages to be both absolutely hilarious, but equally as important, a unique endeavor that also is quite capable of being its own thing. Suffice it to say then that Spaceballs not only manages to nail hook, line, and sinker just what a parody film is supposed to be all about, but it also most assuredly is far better than a lot of films of its ilk that have come out since then. Indeed it’s well-cast, the jokes work as well as they are supposed to, and it’s all guided and orchestrated by a man whose love and knowledge of how to make people laugh is truly timeless. Thus fasten your seat belt, make sure the entrance and exit is sealed tight, don’t allow the circus to come to town, keep every animal in the zoo (especially if the zoo in question is Jurassic Park), engage ludicrous speed, and watch this as soon as possible! Oh and may the Schwartz be with you! On a scale of 1-5 I give Spaceballs “87” a solid 4 out of 5.