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From Under A Rock: Spaceballs

December 12, 2015 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Spaceballs  


Being a movie critic isn’t just about seeing the negative; it’s about finding movies that you love, seeing the good in the not-so-good, wading through a sea of mediocrity to find true greatness. It’s about finding those movies that make us feel lost in the world of cinema, and promoting them and sharing them for others to enjoy. But it’s also about keeping a level head and not taking things too seriously; especially the things we love. And that’s why we’re watching Mel Brooks roast some of our favorite movies in a certain 1987 satirical comedy!

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show (determined at the discretion of my writing partner, Aaron Hubbard and I in alternation). This column is a companion piece to my podcast of the same premise, which you can check out here.

Last week Michael hugged Aaron’s face with Alien. This week Aaron puts Michael in Ludicrous Speed to see Spaceballs.

Released: June 24th, 1987
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham
Mel Brooks as President Scroob/Yogurt
John Candy as Barf
Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet
Bill Pullman as Lone Starr
Daphne Zuniga as Princess Vespa
Joan Rivers as Dot Matrix (voice only)

Aaron Hubbard: Is there any better way to celebrate being a week away from the brand new Star Wars, directed by the guy who made two Star Trek movies, one week after watching Alien, than watching someone make a complete mockery of all of them?

Michael Ornelas: …no?

Aaron: No. How did you handle the Alien gag?

Michael Ornelas: It’s like it was put there just for me. The John Hurt cameo was perfect…and then it started dancing and I shook my head so hard I got a migraine.

It Happened One Night in Space
Aaron: Besides being a parody of all popular sci-fi properties (up to and including Planet of the Apes), the main story of this movie is really a romance. Princess Leia was a princess in name, but not much in personality. Vespa is everything we think of with that word; beautiful, but spoiled and high-maintenance. Lone Starr is a classic rogue, and the result is that this story is more or less a timeless cliche… and still very different from the original source material. Romance was only a backdrop in those movies, and barely present at all (or completely absent) in Star Trek, Alien or anything else the movie references. Which I think adds some charm to this one that isn’t there in Mel’s other movies like Young Frankenstein and Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Michael: Yeah, and I think the story is what I appreciated most about the movie. “The Schwartz” wasn’t really down my alley nor was the humor (I like my comedy to have a reason why it happens, while Mel Brooks prefers a “why not?” approach). But story-wise, this movie made sense, and it was paced surprisingly well for a parody! And comedic styling aside, Mel Brooks is a solid storyteller because I always enjoy the way his movies progress.

Aaron: They are very brisk, but make the most of their time in that respect. The movie never feels boring or that’s it’s taking too long to get what it needs to get done, and I like that every loose end is tied up. Pizza the Hut eats himself. Lone Starr is a prince so he can actually marry the princess. We even find out what happens to our villains at the end of the movie; I kind of want to watch Rick Moranis interact with apes now.

The Art of Parody
Michael: While I’m not a huge fan of the “million gags per minute” style of comedy (as most of it tends not to be very smart), I think the smartest thing about this movie is the way it manages to parody Star Wars while still maintaining its own identity and memorable characters in their own right. This movie could have easily just been knock-offs of characters from the source material, but instead makes everyone different enough to feel original (except for maybe Lone Starr who’s just kind of “there”). Dark Helmet is the exact opposite (character-wise) from Darth Vader in that he is the furthest thing from a badass, and he’s a bumbling idiot too. I’d argue that Princess Vespa is more developed than Princess Leia ever was in the first Star Wars movie, and twice as capable.

Aaron: Lone Starr is I think blander by today’s standards because Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and the like are so influential in the action genre that even a parody doesn’t seem original anymore. Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly. Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. Just to name a couple off the top of my head. But I think in 1987 he was a more fresh take on the roguish adventurer than he is today. I think he has a lot of fun bits; his facial expressions whenever Barf’s tail whacks him in the head make it much funnier, and he has good chemistry with Vespa. Actually, their romance is better-written than Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala.

Michael: Well that bar is so low, you don’t even have to leave the ground to reach it. And I didn’t mind Pullman’s performance of the part. I think you nailed it though as to why the character didn’t resonate with me.

I think another important part of parody is what you choose to omit from the source material. Not everything can be included or else you start to sacrifice your original voice, and I think the decision to leave out a Luke Skywalker AND an Obi-Wan Kenobi character was wise.

Aaron: I agree. Honestly I don’t know if an Obi-Wan Kenobi character could really work in this type of movie. I will say this about the “gag a minute” style of Mel Brooks; even though I have seen this movie many times, there are still jokes I completely forgot about. “Spaceballs the bedsheet,” is a blink and you’ll miss it gag, and I for some reason completely forgot the ridiculous theme song at the end of the movie. Being able to return to something and find new things that make you enjoy it is always a nice feeling.

Comedy Legends
Aaron: Something I find interesting about this movie is that Bill Pullman was selected for the lead despite having absolutely no star power when he was cast. Part of the reason for that is Mel already had two of the very best comedians in small parts; John Candy and Rick Moranis. Both of these men have direct lines to my funny bone in pretty much anything they are in, and they are the most enjoyable parts of this film for me as well. Candy’s character is one note but I’m amazed how many jokes they managed to mine from the concept.

Michael: I rolled my eyes when I saw we were getting a joke with puke in it, but he was very endearing and funny as hell…but I think Moranis stole the show. Everything Dark Helmet did got a laugh from me. My favorite moments though weren’t character-driven, but rather directorial. I loved the long panning shot of the movie’s Star Destroyer equivalent that opens the film. I didn’t expect it to go so long, but I was in stitches by the time it was over. I loved the situational moment at the end when Vespa’s wedding is interrupted and the pastor insists that he’s going to marry someone this time. I love that Vespa’s husband-to-be was just okay with the events that transpired (and the visual of him being nudged out of the way. There was plenty to enjoy in Spaceballs, even when I didn’t grow up with it. Mel Brooks as a visual storyteller was the biggest comedic legend on set.

Aaron: Besides the spaceship, I think my favorite visual gag is the hair buns that are actually headphones, and combing the desert. Which is probably the part of this movie that I reference the most. I think that’s what I like most about this movie; it has some great lines that work well in context and are fun to work into everyday conversation. Ludicrous Speed in particular is something I throw out whenever I get a chance and a scene that I always laugh at without fail.

Michael: The one comedy legend in this movie that I didn’t really enjoy was Joan Rivers. I think she’s hilarious in real life and outside of the film, but without being physically there, her character simply didn’t work for me. It didn’t detract anything from the movie, but I could have done without her.

Aaron: If I recall, Joan was not particularly interested in this project and was mostly in it to cash a paycheck. Which I can understand; if you’re gonna have Joan Rivers in a movie, you should take advantage of it. I think it’s probably the biggest missed opportunity in the movie.

Aaron: I feel like Spaceballs is something that any fan of this type of sci-fi, adventure and fantasy tropes should watch at least once; it’s important to be able to laugh at the things we enjoy instead of taking them too seriously. It’s also a movie that’s always going to hold sentimental value to me; but I don’t think I enjoyed it as much this time as I did the last time I saw it years ago. One thing that especially bothered me were lines like “It looks like The Temple of Doom” which I felt were kind of insulting to my intelligence. If you have to explain the joke, it isn’t funny. But there’s still more than good bad here, and several moments that are always going to get a laugh.


Michael: I said it above, but the comedy in this movie isn’t my cup of tea, but the story was more than enough to keep me entertained for the duration of the film (and there were still a few comedic moments that hit me hard, so I’m not saying it’s a dud by any means in that department). The characters were memorable and unique, and the parody aspect of the film was solid.


Aaron: Like a grown man playing with action figures, for instance?

Michael: I embrace what I am.

What other science fiction comedies do you enjoy?

Next week:

Michael: Continuing our stretch toward the release that everyone is looking forward to next week (that being Tina Fey & Amy Poehler’s Sisters, of course), I’m going to pick an often-overlooked piece of Star Wars canon, and a definitive part of my viewing whenever I watch through the franchise…


Aaron: I am amped for this pick; I only caught bits and pieces of the series when it first aired on Cartoon Network and I’m sure it’s much more entertaining as a whole than it is in ten minute increments. I’m very excited to watch this series in its entirety.

Michael: And it’s been a couple years since I watched it myself, so I’m just as excited to revisit it. Anakin vs. Asajj Ventress is one of my favorite Jedi vs. Sith battles, and there’s so much more to enjoy.

What’s your favorite Star Wars property?

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The final score: review Average
The 411
"Spaceballs" is a great parody from one of the masters of the genre. It's a lighter take on the sci-fi and fantasy genres, but definitely a fun time. Mel Brooks brings plenty of great humor to the script and the scenery, while John Candy, Bill Pullman and Rick Moranis all help him deliver several classic one-liners. And the story isn't half-bad either.