‘Spaceballs’: Idiotic Mel Brooks comedy looks better than ever in 4K Ultra HD
WASHINGTON — So let’s revisit a true Mel Brooks classic. We’re talking about his surprisingly idiotic parody of space fantasy and sci-fi films, “Spaceballs.” The film has finally debuted in the ultra-high definition format. Its new package, Spaceballs (Kino Lorber, Rated PG, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 96 minutes, $39.95), is crammed with extras.
“Spaceballs,” the first time around
My first viewing of “Spaceballs,” back in 1987 had me shaking my head and asking, was this really created by the guy known for “Young Frankenstein,” “Blazing Saddles” and “The Producers?”
Accessible mainly to 10-year olds, the laughs were always a bit too stale and far between for me. The dialogue felt forced and included too many crotch jokes as this mainly “Star Wars” skewering unfolded.
However, one can’t blame the cast.
Mel Brooks pulled together an eclectic group of legends and eventual legends. They were led by Rick Moranis as Darth Helmet, Bill Pullman as the cocky space pilot Lone Star, Joan Rivers as droid Dot Matrix, John Candy as the man-dog Barf, Daphne Zuniga as Princess Vespa and Dick Van Patten as King Roland.
The indiscreet charms of “Spaceballs”
The story found the citizens of planet Spaceball out of air and looking to extort the precious commodity from the peace-loving Druidia by taking its Princess Vespa hostage. It’s up to Lone Star and Barf to save the day with some help from Yogurt and the mystical power of the Schwartz.
Viewers will wince at classic Mel Brooks groaners such as Lone Star remarking, “just what we need a Druish Princess (rim shot please), or watching minions combing the desert using giant ACE combs or taking Darth Helmet’s flag ship Spaceball One to “ludicrous speed.” It also featured one of the worst theme songs ever written called, of course, “We’re the Spaceballs,” sung by the famed Spinners.
However, the humor did have a smattering of the creator’s more subversive and laugh out loud moments. For example, take Mr. Brooks as the wise merchandiser Yogurt, dressed as Yoda, or an appearance by John Hurt and his best Alien buddy and even a quick homage to “Planet of the Apes.”
But the film needed much more of that kind of lunacy showing off Mr. Brooks’ chops as the clever parodist.
4K in action:
By far, this best-looking version of “Spaceballs” that has ever existed in the galaxy offers an immediate payoff. It arrives in the purposely overlong pass-by of the longest spaceship in the history of movies, the Spaceball One.
The incredible uptick in clarity in this edition allows viewers to examine every piece of plastic taken from model kits and stuck on the ship. That’s especially later on when it transforms into Mega-maid with a vacuum.
Other moments to notice include the detail on Lone Star’s Eagle 5 flying Winnebago, a disgusting Pizza the Hutt with too realistic oozing cheese and sauce, and an outdoor desert scene on the moon of Vega. The sandy action here showcases clarity and color shading subtle enough to have Barf in his beige outfit clearly stand out in the sand, set against a crisp blue sky.
Suffice it to report, home theater connoisseurs will want this version of “Spaceballs” for their collection.
The 4K disc only offers a vintage but rather amusing optional commentary track from Mr. Brooks, with occasional giggling from co-writer Ronnie Graham.
Additionally, it has Brooks beginning by lamenting about not working with enough Jews; laughing at his actors in action; telegraphing the plot and reminding us that “poor jokes work for me”; and finally opining how proud he was of this collection of cheap jokes and how the special effects cost about $100.
But frankly, the legend’s commentary is often funnier than the movie.
Next up: All the extras from the 2012, 25th anniversary Blu-ray release (mostly culled from the 2005 DVD release). They’re found on the included Blu-ray version of the film.
Start with 17-minutes of Mr. Brooks focusing on the Star Wars comparisons. These are highlighted by his amusing interview improvisation, and follow that featurette up with a vintage 30-minute production segment. This includes interviews from many of the cast and crew and plenty of material from the director covering story themes, casting, special effects, costuming, make-up and cinematography.
Also important: a 21-minute, historically significant conversation between Mr. Brooks and co-writer of “Spaceballs,” Thomas Meehan. Both discuss the writing process, as often critically explained by Mr. Brooks. His decades of insight makes this segment mandatory viewing.
Finally, viewers can fondly remember comedian John Candy in an included 10-minute segment. Happily, it offers a brief glimpse of his too-short life, supplemented by interviews with him as well as acting friends and peers.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.