johnlink ranks SPACEBALLS (1987)

Having watched all of the STAR WARS movies again, it seemed fitting to hit up SPACEBALLS. This is one of those movies I have seen in pieces on TV and such, but have never watched all the way through. That seems hard to believe even to me, but it is true!


I watched SPACEBALLS (1987) on 1.5.16. It was my first viewing of the film.

Watching SPACEBALLS again, I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed. It seems like this would be one of those cases where you had to see it when you were young, only I had seen most of this. Perhaps it would be a non-topical movie, but STAR WARS is an ever present thing in our lives. There isn’t a lack of getting the references. And, sure, it is a little dated, but it isn’t the 80s-ness of this movie which makes it less than stellar.

Backing up, there are some absolutely all time top Mel Brooks moments in this film. Great lines like “I see your Schwartz is as big as mine” still induce laughs. The bit about this being a movie and the ‘video’ being on demand and available is both prescient and absolutely funny. This stunt-double bit is awesome. The ‘surrounded by assholes’ moment is top notch. So there are still lots of great moments.

I guess, watching this now, I feel like there is a lot of missed opportunity. The Yoda as Yogurt thing introduces the funny bit about the ever-present phenomenon of STAR WARS marketing (a joke which does work as it keeps showing up throughout the film), but is more like a moment which doesn’t fully land. Han Solo and Luke have been combined into one character, Lone Star (Bill Pullman). And Lone Star is great, but there is a ton of lost stuff that could have been done about the love triangle, or incest, or whiny Luke, or… whatever.


Of course, STAR WARS is not the only thing spoofed here. References to STAR TREK, RAMBO, ROCKY, ALIEN, TEMPLE OF DOOM, and PLANET OF THE APES all have brief moments of introduction. None hit too hard (save for the all-time great ALIEN bit and the solid PLANET OF THE APES moment) with the RAMBO moment being particularly oversold by a ‘hey, did you miss the reference’ comment by C-3PO stand in Dot Matrix (Joan Rivers).

And, really, it is that Dot Matrix character that most efficiently demonstrates what doesn’t work about SPACEBALLS. Rivers delivers every line as if it is a joke. There is no nuance, and no laughter. Nothing about the character is funny. By eliminating the R2-D2 component, too, this movie again misses an opportunity to play up the robot love or any number of AI possibilities.

Further, the movie very rarely plays up the visual world of STAR WARS. There is a moment in a hallway with the heroes fighting the villains which looks like STAR WARS. And there is the amazingly patient minute-plus take of the spaceship int he opening moment of the film which sells the miniature-as-spaceship motif. But, overall, this never looks like anything resembling STAR WARS. This is a movie which doesn’t particularly like the series it is spoofing.

And, so, SPACEBALLS feels like a movie made to capitalize on the success of a larger film, than it is a movie which needed to be made. And that hurts to say. Because Mel Brooks is an all time favorite. I saw TWELVE CHAIRS for the first time in the last couple of years and loved it. ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS is an all time comedy classic, for me. And I really thought SPACEBALLS would be that too. I just found myself not laughing, and feeling like it is a movie which doesn’t realize its potential.

The performances are fine. Pullman is funny. Moranis as Dark Helmet is at his best (this may well be his best role). John Candy as Chewie stand-in Barf has good moments. Daphne Zuniga provides a solid female presence as the Leia double Vespa. Mel Brooks is funny in the Emperor role, even if Yogurt has wasted potential.

Look, this isn’t all bad. There are a handful of truly classic Mel Brooks moments, so I hate to be too negative. Moranis makes it likable, and there are enough funny lines that this is never boring. I just sort of feel like this is a movie which doesn’t live up to its reputation. I always counted this as a top few Mel Brooks movie by default (even having never watched it top-to-bottom before). But I would count MEN IN TIGHTS, BLAZING SADDLES, TWELVE CHAIRS, and HISTORY OF THE WORLD all easily above it, and that is with me missing some major holes in the major Brooks canon.



The bonus point is for the score. Not the ‘music’ because the Spaceballs theme is pretty terrible. But the referencing of the original STAR WARS music, as well as hitting some other famous motifs (like JAWS), makes for a score which may be the best in spoof-movie history.


FINAL SCORE: 5 out of 10


~ by johnlink00 on January 5, 2016.

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