Made in 1987 and now getting the MGM Collectors Edition treatment on DVD, Spaceballs is writer/director Mel Books' parody of the original Star Wars trilogy. Bill Pullman plays a Han Solo type, Lone Star, who along with his half man/half dog sidekick, Barf (John Candy), has to rescue Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) from the clutches of the evil Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and his marauding race, the Spaceballs.
Okay, Let me get this out of the way first: I do not consider Mel Brooks a comedy genius. There, I've said it and I feel better for it. He retreads the same themes and jokes over and over and his directing like his writing, is mostly uninspired. Apart from The Producers which I'll admit was a pretty original concept, every film he does is more or less the same, with just a change in setting. Some are funnier than others, but how many parodies can one man make? If all you do are parodies then you become a parody if you ask me. In fact, on the basis of this film and his output since, I'm on the verge of committing comedy heresy and labelling him a hack! He may have been the original movie mickey-taker and certainly taught those annoying Wayans Brothers all they know, but I'm afraid Spaceballs committed the ultimate film crime: it bored me. While a sense of fun is evident in the movie to a certain extent, I found that most of the gags were very weak and tired. It's all so obvious and unoriginal. Maybe I've just seen too many of these spoof things. Everything seems to be the same. Instead of a feature you get a patchy excuse for a jumble of jokes. An overabundance of puns that you will either find hilarious or rotten depending on your point of view eg. characters named Pizza the Hut. Endless self-referencing with actors bumping into the camera lens and rubbing their head, characters knocking over the set, and characters talking about the film's merchandising. I also found a lot of the sight gags to be really trite: "Comb the area!" - cut to shot of men holding giant combs, "Jam the radar!" - cut to shot of jam hitting a radar, and so on. Gee whizz, enough already!
I should have been laughing at this, as I usually find childish things (and a lot of kids films) amusing and am partial to a bit of Red Dwarf on the sci-fi comedy front, but Spaceballs just didn't do it for me. This to me is the type of film that when you're a kid you feel obliged to say is hilarious due to peer group pressure or you'll be labelled 'square', but in reality you know it's all rather lame. The idea is funnier than its execution. Spaceballs looks as if it had a big budget with some of the effects work done being by the same people who did Star Wars (Industrial Light and Magic - Lucas' brigade). The effects and model work ranges from very good to rather naff which is okay I suppose for a spoof, as blatant model work can be quite funny - whether intentional or not. Visually the film has dated in much of the same way as the eighties sci-fi films it makes fun of, and like the original Star Wars that could be said to be part of it's charm. The acting is reasonable. No one stands out either in a bad way, or a good way. They all play yet another version of the character they usually play - so we have Rick Moranis playing a bespectacled small twit; John Candy a lovable fat oaf; Mel Brooks a smart ass spouting Yiddish slang; Bill Pullman a hero with bland good looks and Joan Rivers plays her usual shrewish rasp-voiced self (even as a robot!)
It's not totally without it's moments - there were a few good one-liners and when Mel Brooks accidentally sits on a bear (well, a man in a bear costume) and tries to use it's arms as a seat belt, I guffawed - but these moments were sparse amongst all the smugness and self-aware 'zaniness' of it all. Also, no Gene Wilder. A Mel Brooks film without Gene Wilder just isn't the same, it's like a Carry-on film without Sid James - they go together hand in hand. I still rate some Brooks films like Young Frankenstein and The Producers quite highly, but Spaceballs is just not my cup of tea. I found it a disappointment and that's from someone who loves revisiting eighties classics.