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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spaceballs 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray Review By: MattInRC

Spaceballs Blu-Ray Review
By: MattInRC

The terrific classic Spaceballs arrives with superior video and sound, and enough special features to impress even Dark Helmet.

The Movie - 4/5
It goes without saying that Spaceballs ranks among my top comedies. Rich with spoofiness and unapologetic in its slaying of Sci-Fi films like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Planet of the Apes, director/writer/actor Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles) created an instant classic filled with his always memorable Jewish shtick. Its jokes are like a freight train whose conductor doesn't care whether the brakes were checked prior to his departure, causing unending laughter to those of us who fondly remember its initial release in 1987. It's so absurd and ridiculous, thriving on the sustenance of a myriad of guffaws that one can barely keep up, while at the same time demonstrating a wonderfully ingenious self-awareness, that one is constantly brought to the edge of tears. For those of you who think raunchy spoofs are better suited in these days of dark conspiracy thrillers, Spaceballs reminds us that comedy doesn't always need nudity or Jerry Spinger-like dysfunction to encourage a hearty laugh.

After the moronic Spaceballs squander their remaining air supply, leader Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis, Ghostbusters) hatches a devious plan to capture Planet Druidia's Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga, The Sure Thing) in order to steal that planet's air supply. While Helmet looks like a shortened version of Darth Vader, he's no match for The Dark Lord: Helmet's accountant glasses and doll fetish remind us of our creepy neighbor. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Meanwhile, Vespa decides to play Runaway Bride by stealing off in her space-worthy Mercedes Benz rather than be married to Prince Valium (yes, he yawns and generally carries on near the point of narcolepsy); this leads her and robot assistant Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers) into the hands of Spaceball One, Helmet's ridiculously-elongated starship. After learning of the plot, space cowboys Lone Star (Bill Pullman, Independence Day) and his half dog/half man navigator Barf (John Candy, Planes Trains and Automobiles) are hired by Vespa's father (Dick Van Patten, Eight is Enough) to secure her release. Although their mission is successful, our odd collection of characters are forced to crash land on a distant planet, only to be saved by a Yoda-looking character named Yogurt (one of two acting roles played by Brooks) who tells Lone Star that he has the power to wield The Schwartz and become a great warrior. Brooks returns to play the baddie President Skroob as he, Dark Helmet, and Colonel Sandurz (Geroge Wyner, American Pie 2) watch their plans (and ship) disintergrate into one of the film's best spoofs.

It's no surprise why Spaceballs has become THE Parody flick: funny and uncompromising, yet surpassing every expectation placed upon it, our little film that could also tells the fairy tale story of a prince rescuing his love in the face of certain danger. It's difficult to translate such a story to the big screen when your centerpiece is a green-painted Jewish magician and 4' villain, but Brooks and writer Thomas Meehan (The Producers) hit every mark by taking our story beyond the typical loosely-organized plot surrounded by jokes. Sure, there are plenty of outdated references (Dot Matrix, the 80's Spaceballs theme), but it's all in good humor and still holds up 25 years later. Films like these aren't made any more, replaced instead by a raunchiness that, while sometimes funny, mirrors what must occur in a 12-year old boy's mind. Spaceballs never gets old or irrelevant, which is more than I can say for most of today's poor competition.

The Video - 4.5/5

Spaceballs arrives with a terrific 1080p MPEG/AVC transfer that surpasses any previous version. Colors on Planet Druidia are bright with just a hint of softness, while the interior decks of Spaceball One and the ship exteriors are stark and deeply detailed. Just watch that opening sequence as the ship carries on for a good 60 seconds to see what I mean. Flesh tones on our heroes are picture-perfect, while hair and details on clothing are sharp. There's no aliasing, banding, or edge enhancement, and it appears that a master print was probably used to complete the restoration. My only complaint (and it's a small one) is that some of the effects look dated here, especially those involving layered action sequences or laser beams from Dark Helmet's ring. I wish Spaceballs might have been given a new look ala Star Trek: The Next Generation or TOS. Either way, it's a minor issue and shouldn't keep you from purchasing it.

The Audio - 5/5
Spaceballs is presented in a superior HD-DTS Master Audio 5.1 track that's also a vast improvement in the two DVD releases I am aware of. Whether it be the exceptionally clear dialogue or the sound effects of Lone Star's Winnebago accelerating into hyper space, our audio experience is bettered in every way. We also hear a vast improvement to the film's surround track, which now features more beeps, boops, and blips than ever bfore. The LFE also gets a nice workout anytime Spaceball One or its alter ego Mega Maid appears to show off its...sucking power...rumbling to the menacing tone of its Jaws-like theme. It's great to see Spaceballs finally receive the lossless treatment it so richly deserves.

The Supplements - 4.5/5
Spaceballs accelerates to ludicrous speed with a nice selection of both new and old supplements, many of which were thankfully ported over from the DVD release. While almost all of these were shot in 480i, viewers will also enjoy a couple of shiny new featurettes:
Force Yourself! Spaceballs and the Skroobing of Sci-Fi HD, 16:35) - This all-new documentary focuses on the film's origins with Brooks leading the charge.
Audio Commentary by Mel Brooks - Brooks delivers his normal schmaltz in entertaining listeners about the many hidden gems behind producing a film, including how the original runtime (a stunning 2:20) was shaved to just 1:35. Perhaps one day that footage will appear in an expanded second BD disc.
Spaceballs: The Documentary (SD, 30:04) - This 2003 featurette brings the cast and crew back to discuss the experiences during the planning and shooting of the film. We also learn about ILM's role in the post-production and George Lucas' endorsement of Brooks' vision.
In Conversation: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan (SD, 20:30) - Our writers sit down in 2005 to discuss how the movie was written. The ship gets a little off course with Brooks dominating the conversation, but Spaceballs fans should enjoy the various insights that are shared. Look for Meehan's story about his 'Hitchcock' moment in the film.
John Candy: Comic Spirit (SD, 10:02) - One of the great comedy actors of the 70' & 80's, Candy's genius is highlighted with scenes from Spaceballs and interviews from the actors.
Watch the Movie in Ludicrous Speed (HD, 0:29) - Just like the title suggests, watch the entire film in less than 30 seconds. Again, another element of the movie that makes the overall experience so enjoyable.
3 Spaceballs Galleries - These three sections, titled Behind the Movie, The Costumes, and The Art, show off more than 60 photos from various scenes.
The Trailers (SD) - Two trailers are featured, one involving a Mel Brooks introduction (2:12) as well as the theatrical version (2:30).
Film Flubs (SD) - These six very short scenes highlight gaffs in the film's continuity.
Storyboards-to-Film Comparison (SD, 6:41) - Several scenes are highlighted alongside Harold Michalson's storyboard counterparts.
Our evaluation copy came as a single 50GB disc with an eco-amaray case.

The Final Word - 4.5/5
If Spaceballs is not among your top 5 comedies, then you need your helmet examined. A little dirty and a lot funny, Mel Brooks's instant classic reminds us that comedy can be funny and even a tad raunchy without going completely overboard. The home video release shines with a solid video and audio transfer, as well as many enlightening supplements that were ported over from the DVD release. It's a must-have for your collection, even if you have to 'comb the desert' to find it!

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