I don't doubt this is the case for many fans of the best Brooks films--how many kids of the seventies saw Blazing Saddles before laying eyes on a real western, or Young Frankenstein before the bride of same? I point this out to place Spaceballs with those other, more acknowledged Brooks classics.
Although many considered it too little, too late from Brooks upon its 1987 theatrical release (Brooks' prior home run dated back to 1974), home video erases such pretensions of topicality. (Besides, did anyone complain that Young Frankenstien took dead aim at a series of movies from 30 years prior?) Actually, Spaceballs is weirdly effective as a distillation of the entire Star Wars trilogy plot: Luke Skywalker and Han Solo become one character, Lone Starr (Bill Pullman, a more game actor than he's often given credit for); he is accompanied by Barf (John Candy), a talking variation on a wookie, and they rescue Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) from Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis). Ewok and Jawa DNA is combined to form the chattering, helpful "dinks," and Brooks himself provides some Yoda with a smattering of Obi-Wan as the sage Yogurt.
If some of the jokes are a little cornball and eighties-bound -- would any other decade allow a cameo from funny noises guru Michael Winslow? -- others are gloriously meta, with extended riffs on a variety of Spaceballs merchandise including, ominously, Spaceballs: The Video, which the bad guys actually plop into their high-tech video monitors to keep the story straight. Star Wars is the easy-target framework, but some of the best bits are throwaway riffs on other sci-fi classics like Alien and Planet of the Apes. Brooks displays a canny feel for the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker style of movie parodies, never going in for the overkill like overly referential offshoots like Jane Austen's Mafia! (or Shrek, for that matter).
The cast isn't full of Brooks regulars like Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel, or Madeline Kahn, but Pullman, Candy, and Moranis slip into the shticky rhythms nicely, all doing some of their best comic work. It may sound like faint praise to say that the film's mock-swashbuckling plays well to kids, offering the twin pleasures of (a) sci-fi adventure and (b) goofy jokes on sci-fi adventure. But the comedy in Spaceballs, at its best, plays like the action in Star Wars, awakening a sense of pure enjoyment of movies -- the kinds of movies you once enjoyed and are secretly hoping to enjoy again.
So what's present here, and not in much of Brooks's work that followed, is a real sense of joy: It may have been released four years after Return of the Jedi, but no one had mounted a full-length Star Wars parody before, and everyone involved seems jazzed for the task. It's not the best or most original Brooks film, then, but it may be the most fun.
'Ball geeks can love up the new Special Edition DVD, with two discs of absurdity, Brooks style, to love. Among the copious extras are commentary from Brooks, outtakes, a trivia game, storyboards, and a tribute to the late John Candy.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 24th June 1987
Box Office Worldwide: $38.1M
Distributed by: MGM
Production compaines: Brooksfilms Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 16
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Mel Brooks
Producer: Mel Brooks
Starring: Mel Brooks as President Skroob/Yoghurt, Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet, Bill Pullman as Lone Starr, Daphne Zuniga as Princess Vespa, John Candy as Barfolemew 'Barf', George Wyner as Colonel Sandurz, Joan Rivers as Dot Matrix (voice), Dick Van Patten as King Roland, Michael Winslow as Radar Technician, Lorene Yarnell as Dot Matrix, John Hurt as Kane, Ed Gale as Dink #1