Reviews

In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Laugh: 'Spaceballs: The 25th Anniversary Edition'

Does Spaceballs still hold up today? After revisiting the film for the first time in many years, my answer is yes. This Blu-ray disc also does a nice job of of digging into the making of it through copious bonus features.


Spaceballs

Director: Mel Brooks
Cast: Mel Brooks, Rick Moranis, John Candy, John Rivers, Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga, Dick Van Patten, George Wyner
Rated: PG
Release date: 2012-08-07

Mel Brooks' movies were a key part of my childhood. Looking back on them, though, would their humor translate to a modern audience? I decided to find out by exposing my kids, ages ten and five, to Spaceballs, a film that's okay for them content-wise (well, except for the "Keep firing, assholes!" scene, as I discovered when my five-year-old quoted it the next day) and also accessible, given their love of Star Wars.

The result of my admittedly unscientific test: today's kids can still find plenty to laugh at in a "quaint" movie like Spaceballs. (Then again, my kids might not be the best sample set, since they've been regularly exposed to folks like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.) I hadn't seen Spaceballs in many years before sitting down to watch this Blu-ray with the kids, and I have to admit that I think it holds up better than I thought it would. The jokes still work (some of them are even more relevant today, such as the merchandising jab), and the production values aren't bad for a movie that probably had a fifth of a typical science-fiction film's budget back then.

Fun fact from the bonus features: Mel Brooks says Spaceballs has done better on home video than any of his other movies. Not-sure-I-believe-it fact from the bonus features: Bill Pullman's claim that Spaceballs is a cult hit on college campuses. I graduated from college in 1992 and don't recall anyone even mentioning the movie while I was there; maybe it achieved that status during the '90s.

The bonus features on this disc are a mix of old stuff and new; you can tell the old stuff because not only does it have that late '90s/early '00s look to it, but it also appears windowboxed on a widescreen TV (and thus it's not high-def). Everything has been ported over from the original Blu-ray release (much of that was likely brought over from the earlier DVDs), and there's one new featurette: Force Yourself: Spaceballs and the Skroobing of Sci-Fi, which features Brooks reminiscing about the film for 15 minutes or so. Rudy DeLuca pops in to talk about his character and relate an anecdote about the Pizza the Hut costume catching fire while filming (Brooks wanted to get one more take before extinguishing it).

Brooks appears solo on the commentary track, which is a bummer since it's not that great. He needed someone else to bounce his observations off, or at least someone to joke around with; too often he sits there talking about what we're watching with him, which is the bane of all commentary tracks.

The rest of the bonus features do a nice job of digging into the film's history. While you might not think Spaceballs is worthy of much in the way of documentary materials, there's actually a lot of interesting stuff in here. Spaceballs: The Documentary is a 30-minute look back on the making of the film, with comments by most of the cast, except, of course, John Candy (a comedian who left us way too soon) who gets a nice retrospective in John Candy: Comic Spirit.

In Conversation: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan features the co-writers reminiscing about not only the film but also their writing careers, both apart and together. They wrote Spaceballs with Ronny Graham, who sadly passed away before the conversation was filmed; he receives plenty of accolades, though.

Moving on, three stills galleries serve up plenty of behind-the-scenes photos and costume design sketches while the film's desert scenes receive a storyboard-to-film split-screen comparison. There are also two trailers, one of which has an introduction from Mel Brooks that was used to convince theater owners to book the movie back in 1987. If you want, you can also watch the movie at ludicrous speed, which races through the whole thing in about half a minute.

Finally, there are six film flubs that point out various mistakes, such as a spaceship crew member who covers his crotch before he's supposed to. Unfortunately, they can only be played one at a time; I'm not sure why there couldn't be a Play All function built into that.

If you already bought the previous Blu-ray version of this film, or even one of the earlier DVD editions, you've probably had your fill of Spaceballs, so I don't know if one new bonus feature is worth another purchase. Personally, I've never owned this film on home video, and it was fun to learn a little bit about it while discovering that today's kids enjoy some jokes from yesteryear.

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-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

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-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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