REMEDIAL SF 101: Spaceballs

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When I saw Spaceballs back in the late 1980's, I remember thinking it was funny.  When I watched it again last night, I couldn't help thinking about how it just didn't hold up--in fact, it's so lame that I kept praying somebody would take it out behind the barn and put it out of its misery.


There are a lot of really dreadful science fiction movies out there, but few of them are as intentionally bad as this one.


It's billed as Mel Brooks' Star Wars parody, but it's more like a series of random sci-fi gags interspersed with pop culture references and drawn-out, tiresome crotch jokes.  It moves with glacial pacing, as though anticipating leaving long pauses for uproarious laughter that never comes.  It's almost painful to watch as the actors deliver their lines with Bill Shatner gravity.


You know how some old guys get creepy as they age, and start telling dirty jokes at inappropriate moments--like at your kid's sixth birthday party? Well, that's kind of how "Spaceballs" is. There's way too much penisentric humor, it starts to seem like some kind of twisted obsession after a while. There's a big difference between being smart and being smarmy.


There are about five good jokes in this film, but mostly it suffers from trying too hard to be witty, and failing with embarrassing consistency.  Even the genuinely funny bits are dragged out until you're shifting in your seat and reflecting about how Young Frankenstein was probably the peak of Mel Brooks' creative career.


Having a big Hollywood name and a budget to match is no guarantee of making a great film.  The ultra-cheapie indie fan film "Hardware Wars" spoofed "Star Wars" much more perfectly, and in far less time.  "Spaceballs" also includes winks and nudges at such films as "Planet of the Apes," "Alien," "Rambo," "Bridge Over The River Kwai," "The Wizard of Oz," "Star Trek," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "It Happened One Night."  But despite featuring a flying Winnebago, it never manages to get off the ground, and leaves the viewer suffocating--which, ironically, is one of the central plot points, as the Spaceballs are attempting to suck the air from the pristine planet Druida.


This movie should have been a ten-minute short on a TV show like "Saturday Night Live," not a feature film clocking it at an hour and forty minutes.


To briefly summarize the plot, beautiful, headstrong Princess Vespa of Druida runs away from her arranged marriage to Prince Valium, who is as boring as his name implies, and nearly gets captured by Dark Helmet and the Spaceballs, who want to force her father, King Roland, to surrender the air of his planet.  She gets rescued in the nick of time by dashing space pilot Lone Starr and his half-man, half-dog sidekick, Barf, in their flying Winnebago, but they are forced to crash land on a desert planet where they are brought by a bunch of midgets in what look like brown Klan robes into the lair of Yogurt, a sage strong in the powers of the Schwartz.  Yogurt gives Lone Starr a magic ring and tells him he knows a secret about Starr that will be revealed later on.


Meanwhile, Dark Helmet and the commander of the Spaceballs dreadnought locate Yogurt's underground hideout and lure Vespa out with a trick image of her father.  They then coerce King Roland into opening the shield around his planet by threatening to restore Vespa's original nose. 


Lone Starr and Barf succeed in breaking into the prison and rescuing Vespa and her android duenna, Dot Matrix, and then figure out how to save Druida and destroy the Spaceball dreadnought using the power of the Schwartz.


After Starr returns Vespa to her father--and to continue the interrupted wedding to Valium--Starr learns from Yogurt that he himself is actually a Royal Prince, and thus can marry Vespa himself, which he does, having impressed Vespa with his sincerity by turning down the reward her father had promised them for her safe return.


And that's about it.  Trust me, the five good jokes are not worth sitting through this turkey to find.