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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Spaceballs [Blu-ray]


(Mel Brooks, 1987)






Also part of the Mel Brooks Collection on Blu-ray



Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Brooksfilms

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment



Region: A

Runtime: 96 min.

Chapters: 32

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray Case

Release date: june 16, 2009



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 32 Mbps



English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; English DD 2.0. DUB: Spanish, Portuguese & Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1.French, German & Italian DTS 5.1.



English SDH, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch & Hunagrian



• Audio Commentary by Mel Brooks

• Additional Commentary Tracks in Mawgese & Dinkese

• Spaceballs: The Documentary – in SD (30:04)

• In Conversation: Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan – in SD (20:30)

• John Candy: Comic Spirit – in SD (10:02)

• Watch Spaceballs at Ludicrous Speed – in SD (00:00:29)

• Film Flubs – in SD (2:25)

• Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons – in SD

• 3 Spaceball Galleries: Behind the Movie, The Costumes, The Art

• Trailers

• Disc 2: DVD w/ OAR and 4:3 versions of the movie



The Film: 6
Spaceballs is what I guess people call a guilty pleasure. It's a loosely strung together movie whose very bodaciousness is its charm. All would-be parodies, take note. Mel Brooks can now feel that he has done his worst to the space opera genre, as he has done for the western (Blazing Saddles), horror (Young Frankenstein), costume drama (History of the World, Part 2), Hitchcockian thriller (High Anxiety) and silent movies (Silent Movie.) Brook’s movies are of remarkably variable quality, even considering that many are parodies, for which the bar is lowered accordingly. At his best (The Producers & Young Frankenstein), he imbues warmth into his characters that moves us despite the overt sex jokes and downright silliness.

Personally, I'm not a fan of parodies, and Spaceballs is no exception. The puns and spinoffs are often brilliant, but story and character kinda disappears. Spaceballs is arguably his silliest farce, where some of the puns astonish by their very existence (“May the Schwartz be with you.”) Nor should we spend much time trying to make sense of the senselessness of it all, yet we feel compelled to wonder “Why a Winnebago?” It fascinates us that we do not ask: “How a Winnebago?”

In turn, characters, situations and plot lines from Star Wars (mostly), Star Trek and Alien are borrowed, lampooned, skewered and left wriggling to die on a well-used paper picnic plate, long ago discarded. Yet how can we not be charmed by Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet? Rick is so woefully short for starters and when fitted with an oversize Darth Vader helmet, he becomes a little kid, lost in a movie several sizes too large for him. Or when Helmut and Colonel Sandurz check out a tape of the very movie they are in (released in advance by clever marketers) to try to get the jump on the opposition – this is genius. Or Joan Rivers as the voice of Dot, a female Beverly Hills fashion plate C3PO. Or John Candy as “Barf” – part dog, part man, his own best friend, as it were, who might have been a stand-in for Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion. Barf is Lone Starr’s (Bill Pullman) chief engineer and go-fer. Check out Barf’s 1950 urban garage tools at his “office” aboard ship. And let us not forget Mel Brooks as “Yogurt” the keeper of The Schwartz: Yoda never looked this good.

Let see now: the plot: Planet Spaceball, having used up most of its available air supply plans to steal Planet Druida’s carefull guarded atmosphere. To carry out his fiendish scheme, President Skroob (Mel Brooks) sends Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) and Dark Helmet (Moranis) to do the deed when suddenly opportunity strikes: Down on Druida, King Rowland (Dick Van Patton) intends to marry off his lovely daughter, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), to the sleepiest Prince in town. She leaves the barely conscious prince at the altar and flies off into the wild black yonder, accompanied by Dot (Rivers). This is a princess without a plan, she knows only that cannot marry the dullest man in the galaxy. Sandurz and Helmut attempt to tractor beam Vespa’s itty bitty spacecraft as Lone Starr zooms in for the rescue, after which the quartet take refuge on a planet whose surface bears a striking resemblance to Tatooine, down to the little Jawas that come across our escapees in dire straits.


Image: 6/8   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

More than little dark and thin in spots, yet all in all, by far the best this movie has looked on video in a parsec, to further misquote Han Solo. While there is sometimes little zero shadow detail, there are many scenes where blacks are strong enough to add snap, and space is relatively noise-free – which is good, since no one can hear you scream anyway. Grain is omnipresent as I'm sure it once was, (at least there’s hardly any DNR to complain of), resolution is a bit dodgy, sharpness is variable. It seemed that the only significant difference between the desert sand and the sky is the color. The parts of the image that are well lit, on the other hand, look decent, though far from exemplary. Flesh tones are pretty good, but hair is matted. It all reads worse than it is – or maybe it just looks better than it has any right to. I don't remember it ever having such sparkle.















Audio & Music: 7/8
The surprise is how really good the music track sounds in uncompressed DTS HD-MA: full-bodied, dynamic, lifelike, totally immersive – the stuff demos are made of. Effects, from the rumbling of the relentless space ship that lumbers across the film plane, to cavernous vocals, to laser blasts, to Brooks' smart dialogue work almost as well. The mind boggles.


Operations: 5
How many points can I deduct for the absence of a Play All for the 6 "Film Flubs" that altogether take up less than two and half minutes. Worse yet is that each "flub" contains about eight seconds of copyright information. This is not funny. I recommend giving this extra feature a pass or you will risk damaging the TV with the remote you will be throwing at it.


Extras: 4
The Extra Features are the same as on the most recent DVD, so nothing new here. That means you’ll want to pass on Brooks’ pointless commentary, which isn’t so much a commentary as it is a series of signposts. There are frequent nods to John Candy, who died seven years after the movie came out.



Bottom line: 7
Spaceballs is certainly a proper example of the genre: a very vaudevillian affair, this – a succession of sight gags and one-liners. Bill Pullman makes for a wonderfully laidback zenlike hero, and pretty much sleepwalks though the movie, as he was wont to do in those days, and hardly anyone does that sort of thing better. Daphne Zuniga, so deliciously snappy in Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing, has given up her sass for a robot. Image and sound quality are way better than I can recall ever seeing or hearing it under any circumstances. Now, what was that I was saying about puns and parodies?

Leonard Norwitz
July 1st, 2009






Also part of the Mel Brooks Collection on Blu-ray





About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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