Release Date(s)1987 (April 13, 2021)
Studio(s)Brooks Films/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
[This 4K review is by Bill Hunt, but portions are by Greg Suarez (from his review of MGM’s 2000 DVD release) and Tim Salmons.]
Planet Spaceball, an evil empire controlled by President Skroob (Mel Brooks) and his wicked minion Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), is in grave danger of running out of breathable air. Across the galaxy, the peaceful Planet Druidia is celebrating the marriage of Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) and has an abundance of air. So when the princess runs away from her wedding (she’s not in love with the groom, Prince Valium), Skroob and his Spaceball forces set out to capture her and hold her for ransom. Desperate to respond, Druidia’s father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten), recruits the help of space cowboy Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his half-man/half-dog sidekick Barf (John Candy) to rescue his daughter and stop the evil Spaceballs from destroying his planet.
Directed by Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, History of the World, Part I), Spaceballs is a straight-up spoof of George Lucas’ Star Wars, with nods to Star Trek, Alien, Planet of the Apes, The Wizard of Oz, and other popular sci-fi and fantasy films thrown in along the way. As such, it’s intended for a mainstream audience and so the satire is far less edgy that you’ll find in some of Brooks’ earlier works. Of course, that doesn’t keep him from breaking the fourth wall once in a while, nor from poking fun at the business side of the industry (particularly the then new phenomenon of film merchandising pioneered by Lucas). But though the comic pacing here isn’t exactly modern, the leads keep things moving forward nicely, the supporting cast (including George Wyner, Michael Winslow, Rudy De Luca, Dom DeLuise, and Joan Rivers) does its best to assist, and there are enough sight gags to ensure that genre fans will be entertained from start to finish. Points for the John Hurt cameo too.
Spaceballs was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses, and was finished photochemically at the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has taken advantage of a brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative. They’ve also done a bit of digital clean-up and graded the color for high dynamic range as well (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are included here). Without question, the result of this effort is that Spaceballs looks better than you’ve ever seen it before. Right from the opening shot, every bit of “greebly” detail is visible on the hull on Spaceball One (and as we all know, it brakes for nobody). Once you’re aboard, the HDR gives added luster to the crew’s shiny white and black Spaceball hats and the gleaming facets of Dark’s Helmet. Colors are natural, accurate, and have a bit of extra vibrance, visible in skin tones, Dot Matrix’s metallic plates, and Yogurt’s golden cheeks. Plaid speed has certainly never looked quite so delightfully plaid. Grain is light to moderate but organic at all times, and the detailing is fine enough that you can read the individual beverage selections on the Mr. Coffee station. This image isn’t exactly reference quality, but it’s a real treat.
Sound-wise, the 4K disc offers essentially the same English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track found on the previous Blu-ray release, however it’s worth noting that the soundtrack’s long-standing pitch issues have finally been corrected. The soundstage is nicely wide, but front-focused, with the surrounds mostly utilized for a bit of occasional panning and light atmosphere. Bass is solid—again, you notice it right from the opening shot in the low rumble of spacecraft engines. The mix renders shifts in location well too, from the cavernous quality of Spaceball One’s command deck, to the head-in-a-tin-can sound of Moranis’ dialogue inside his closed helmet. Overall clarity and tonal quality is generally good, with a few exceptions here and there, though you can tell there’s been a lot of dubbing after the fact. There’s also an English 2.0 stereo mix in DTS-HD MA format which preserves the original theatrical sound experience, a nice lossless upgrade from the 2012 MGM Blu-ray (which had its stereo mix in Dolby Digital only). Again, the pitch issues have been corrected. And there are optional English subtitles available.
The only extra on the 4K Ultra HD disc itself is as follows:
- Audio Commentary by Mel Brooks and Ronny Graham
But the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray (mastered from the same 4K scan), a disc which also includes the commentary and adds the following special features:
- Force Yourself! Spaceballs and the Skroobing of Sci-Fi (HD – 16:44)
- Spaceballs: The Documentary (Upsampled SD – 30:04)
- In Conversation with Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan (Upsampled SD – 20:30)
- John Candy: Comic Spirit (Upsampled SD – 10:02)
- Watch Spaceballs in Ludicrous Speed (HD – 0:30)
- Film Flubs (Upsampled SD – 1:24)
- Storyboards to Film Comparison (Upsampled SD – 6:41)
- Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery (HD – 36 in all – 6:06)
- Posters & Art Image Gallery (HD – 16 in all – 2:46)
- Exhibitor Trailer with Mel Brooks Introduction (Upsampled SD – 2:12)
- Teaser (Upsampled SD – 1:19)
- Trailer (HD – 2:36)
- The Producers Trailer (Upsampled SD – 2:11)
- Life Stinks Trailer (Upsampled SD – 2:01)
- Delirious Trailer (HD – 2:23)
- Once Upon a Crime Trailer (HD – 2:21)
The commentary with Brooks and co-writer/actor Ronny Graham comes from the original 1996 Laserdisc release, and has carried over to nearly every disc-based home video release of the film since. It’s fun and lighthearted, as Brooks enjoys the film while watching it, occasionally cracking jokes but also discussing its creation. The 2012 featurette Force Yourself! finds Brooks and Rudy De Luca reminiscing about the production. Spaceballs: The Documentary is a 2005 making of that features most of the main cast and crew chatting about their experiences on the film. In Conversation features Brooks and co-writer Thomas Meehan discussing the genesis of the script and the process of developing and fine-tuning it. John Candy: Comic Spirit is a loving tribute to late actor by the cast and crew. Film Flubs points out several goofs (which have thankfully not been altered for the new 4K master). Both still galleries—the only new features on this release—are presented with the film’s score (which surprisingly includes an unused cue). The Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery features 36 on-set stills of the cast and crew, as well as special effects in progress. The Posters & Art Image Gallery features 16 shots of one-sheets, concepts, and character paintings. Rounding out the extras are four trailers for other Kino Lorber Blu-ray releases. Not carried over from previous releases are a small bit of behind-the-scenes footage, additional costume and art galleries, a trivia game, and the tongue-in-cheek Mawgese and Dinkese audio commentaries.
Growing up in the 1980s, who could have imagined that we’d one day have the chance to see Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs of all things looking and sounding this good at home? Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ new 4K Ultra HD release offers the film in better picture and sound quality than any of us really deserve. It’s a hoot, and definitely recommended for fans.
- Bill Hunt, with Greg Suarez and Tim Salmons