When one thinks about the filmography of writer and director Mel Brooks, a few words come to mind: silly, overt and shameless; just to name a few. The Jewish director has parodied just about every genre of film from westerns, “Blazing Saddles” (1974), to horror, “Young Frankenstein” (1974)..Nowhere is Brooks’ writing and directing style more apparent than in the 1987 film “Spaceballs,” his first and only deep dive into the science fiction genre.
“Spaceballs” takes much of its story from the popular “Star Wars” trilogy, which had concluded just a few years prior in 1983. The movie also makes many references to other science fiction movies such as “Alien” (1979) and “Planet of the Apes” (1968). The plot of “Spaceballs” is familiar science fiction fare, a space rogue named Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his hairy half man/half dog friend (John Candy), set out to rescue the princess (Daphne Zuniga) and restore peace to the universe. The cast also includes Rick Moranis, who plays a Darth Vader like villain named Dark Helmet, and Mel Brooks himself as the wise old Yogurt, a clear spoof on the character of Yoda.
The comedy of “Spaceballs” is what you would expect from a Mel Brooks movie. The humor is outrageous and the gags are silly; with jokes, at times, being very hit or miss. One joke that lands with hilarious absurdity is the opening; a long take of a massive space cruiser that never seems to end. Another is the infamous diner scene, taken straight from “Alien,” with John Hurt making a cameo appearance. For all its hits, the movie can still have misses. Gags are thrown around haphazardly at times and are painfully cheesy at others. One example of this is a character named Colonel Sandurz, purely for the throwaway line, “‘What’s the matter, Colonel Sandurz? Chicken?” The other, an all too literal “combing the desert” scene, that just falls flat upon second watching.
Overall, “Spaceballs” is a funny romp through space with many memorable moments and a handful of laugh out loud jokes. Its humor, while at times cheesy and eyeroll inducing, still manages to hit the mark more often than not, making it one of Mel Brooks’ most memorable pieces of work. It’s a film that knows how to not take itself too seriously, making it a parody worth watching.
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Christmas Day: “Jews in Space”
What: See the movie, “Spaceballs”
When: Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022, 1-3 p.m., with time to view exhibits.
Where: Jewish Museum Milwaukee
Cost: Free with museum admission. Advance purchase recommended. JewishMuseumMilwaukee.org.
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Writer Anna Witek is a 2020 graduate of Marquette University and was an active member of Hillel Milwaukee. She lives in Milwaukee with her fiancé Julio and cat Bella.