Showing posts with label Mel Brooks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mel Brooks. Show all posts

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spaceballs (1987) 2 of 4

** Spaceballs spoils itself, when the characters fast-forward a VHS of their own movie! **

Considering the amount of mockery it inspires, sci-fi hasn't been a fertile field for movie parodies.  In the parody golden-age of the 1970s and 1980s, both Young Frankenstein and The Man With Two Brains favor horror over sci-fi.  Woody Allen's Sleeper was derived from prose science fiction, thus its plot twists are more sophisticated than most serious s.f. films of the era. 

Dark Star (1974) remained sufficiently obscure as to be reworked, just a few years later, as the terrifying Alien.*  GhostbustersBack to the Future, Tremors, and Coneheads were sci-fi comedies, despite containing moments of parody.  Mars Attacks! went splat.  Only in 1999, with Galaxy Quest, was the genre successfully spoofed in a theatrical, English-language movie.   

Many questioned the timing of Spaceballs, a full ten years after the release of Star Wars (or A New Hope, if you insist).  It's more to the point to note that Mel Brooks left science fiction till last amongst his genre parodies, evidently because he had no particular understanding or affection for the genre.  If you look at Brooks's best films, all spoof the pre-1950 movies he saw as a child, with the partial exception of his Hitchcock riff High Anxiety.  By 1987, he was also well past his prime, witness his remaining spoofs going downhill from the title:  Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It

Mainly, Brooks understood that sci-fi and outer space were wildly successful, so we get lots of jokes about merchandising, home video, and sequels.  These don't parody sci-fi so much as 1980s Hollywood, and a space-mad society.  An exception, and one of the film's better jokes, comes when a starship commander orders the ship to "ludicrous speed," which mocks the blithe manner sci-fi throws around made-up terms like "warp speed" and "hyperspace."  (As indicated by the recent Nolan brothers film, many scientists believe interstellar travel is practically impossible.) 

Science fiction is rich for parody, of course, in its moralizing (how is it that every alien race reminds us of social problems on present-day Earth?), its Statue-of-Liberty reveals, and its recycling of adventure movies in the future, but Spaceballs mostly ignores these areas.  Instead, we get endless puns, most of them weak: a dog-man named "Woof," a "Druish princess."  The whole thing is too jokey: most of the gags would work as well on the radio. 

I'll admit Spaceballs offers some laughs, including the sight of stormtroopers "combing the desert" with giant combs.  The lack of CGI helps: it's funny that the production actually created giant combs marked "Ace/Genuine Hard Rubber."
* Also obscure: Flesh Gordon, Strange Invaders, The Stuff, and Space Truckers.  I'm excluding superhero parodies.