Insomniacs Unite for: Spaceballs
By Bret Dorman
When I was younger I, like most young boys, liked the humor of MAD Magazine. It was silly and childish and I was a silly child. I wasn’t a devout reader or had a subscription, but anytime I could get my hands on an issue I’d read it front to back (which can hardly be said of any magazine I pick up now). But there was one issue that had me mad, not MAD. That was the issue where they had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the front and an Alfred E. Newman/Splinter hybrid.
The Turtles were my favorite. One of the three big movies of my childhood (along with Ghostbusters and Short Circuit). I watched the cartoon. I had the toys. The bed sheets. Even a Halloween costume. MAD could make fun of anything, anything EXCEPT the Turtles. That was sacred.
As I grew up my comedy taste became more refined (and self-admittedly a bit more snobbish). I was always interested in watching stand-up and ‘analyzing’ it and became more aware of roast humor and spoofs in general. I came to realize the best way to make fun of something is to really genuinely like it. The more you like something, the more you can play with it, laugh at it, and enjoy it. If you’re just making fun of something to make fun of it then the humor can only be as good as you are funny AND you have to really have some insightful things to say about what you’re making fun of otherwise you just sound like an a-hole. But when you are making fun of the movie from a place of the heart then you’re using that material as a jumping off board to bigger and better things. And you don’t sound like an a-hole.
That’s where Spaceballs comes in. Spaceballs isn’t making fun of Star Wars to show you how stupid it is, because they spend too much time being faithful to the source material as possible and fitting in as many references as they can. And that kind of humor I can un-snobbishly get behind.The Story: Dark Helmet (Rick Morranis) is trying to kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) so he can steal her home planet’s air. Lone Star and Barf (Bill Pullman and John Candy) are two space drifters who more or less need to save the Princess to save themselves. Also, the movie may not be made by a bunch of a-holes, but it does have a bunch in it.
When it comes to spoofing, Spaceballs takes several liberties with its Star Wars inspiration. By combining Luke and Han, they create a singular ‘loner’ character who just wants to save his own skin AND a character who learns ‘The Schwartz.’ By getting rid of R2D2 they save themselves the trouble of having a character no one can understand (which may have been good for a joke or two). Instead of focusing on galactic take-over and destroying planets the Spaceballs are going after one planet and taking its air. This condensing of subject material allows for more fun and play, like the jamming of the radar or ludicris speed bits.The comedy itself is mostly silly and juvenile. There are a lot of jokes about dicks and ‘assholes’ and people (well, just Lone Star I guess) getting hit in the face with a Mog tail. The idea of having Dark Helmet have a ridiculously over-sized helmet is cartoon-ish, but having Rick Moranis play the main ‘threatening’ villain of the movie is even more outlandish. Moranis had his fifteen minutes in Hollywood and has since faded away, but he made the most of those minutes. He’s a shining example of how even if you’re doing silly comedies and don’t take yourself too seriously you should always treat you’re work/craft seriously to get the best results. George Wyner as his right hand man Colonel Sandurz is a bit more straight laced and rehearsed while Moranis gets to be as silly and vibrant as he wants.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that spoofs can be divided into two categories. Straight up comedies and spoof-hybrids. Mel Brooks makes comedies, but uses other movies as a launching pad. Spoof-hybrids are like True Lies or Slither, movies that specifically make fun of their genres but also could seamlessly blend right in (True Lies is one of my favorites, doesn’t hurt that it has the Action God Himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger). And for the straight up comedy spoofs, I’ve noticed that a lot of the comedy just comes in simple word play. From Pizza the Hutt to ‘combing’ the desert, a lot of the humor is derived from simply paying attention to particular word choices and playing around with their meanings. Airplane! is another example (maybe the best example) of a movie that spoofs a genre (disaster movies) and one movie in particular (Zero Hour!) but a lot of the humor comes from those sharp word plays. Perhaps it makes sense if you watch a movie and like it enough to dissect it and play with it you would feel the same way about the English language in general?Lastly, Spaceballs gets just as many laughs from general silliness, spoofery, and wordplay as it does from breaking the fourth wall. This movie is a movie and it wants you to know it. Breaking the fourth wall can be tricky territory. Sometimes just pointing out that its a movie isn’t really funny (self-admitted comedy snob here, remember?) but Spaceballs actually uses the movie making as a way to advance the plot. Whether its watching the VHS to capturing the stunt doubles, this kind of device is the kind I can get behind. Its funny and the logic completely breaks down within the realm of the movie but works for us an an audience because in the end it is just a movie. A very funny sci fi movie with a Joan Rivers robot and terrific Alien cameo.
Why This Movie Is Perfect For Insomniacs: Midnight Movie Goers and Spoofs go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or peanut butter and chocolate. Or peanut butter and popcorn! Midnight Movies are the kind of movies people enjoy watching over and over, keeping them alive and relevant throughout the years. We like movies and respect them, so its nice to have a movie like Spaceballs that likes other movies and respects them while playing with our expectations and funny bone. This Friday and Saturday at midnight, as you enter Bow Tie Cinemas, buckle up, hold on tight, and get ready to go to plaid!
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