Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Spaceballs (1987)

Planet Spaceball is running out of air!  Its ruler, President Skroob, sends the powerful Lord Dark Helmet to steal the abundant air supply from Planet Druidia during the wedding of King Roland's daughter, Princess Vespa, to Prince Valium.  What, oh, what can be done?!?  Easy!  One must send noneother than space rogue, Lone Starr, and his sidekick Barf to the rescue!

"Spaceballs" made its premiere on June 24, 1987 to movie audiences all over America and ended up being a sensational comedic hit for director, Mel Brooks.  Did it win any awards?  No.  Was it even nominated?  Of course not.  But so what?  It was Mel Brooks!  This man gave the world hilarious and entertaining hits such as "The Producers" (for which he won an Oscar), "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein.," and "Silent Movie."  When Hollywood knew Mel was directing a film or writing a script for one or both, they knew they were in for something that was of comedic genius or of a silly story that only a fan could enjoy.  "Spaceballs," one of only three films Mel did in the 80s, was definitely a 96-minute thrill ride of nothing but laughs.

It's not just the script that makes "Spaceballs" a funny hit the millions have watched over and over again, but it's the costumes and the names of the characters as well.  This film starred a plethora of talent including (of course) Mel Brooks (playing both President Skroob and Yogurt), Rick Moranis (Dark Helmet), Bill Pullman (Lone Starr), John Candy (Barf), Daphne Zuniga (Princess Vespa), and Joan Rivers (Dot Matrix; voice only).  Co-stars included Dick Van Patten (King Roland), Jim J. Bullock (Prince Valium), and a cameos by John Hurt (himself), Dom DeLuise (Pizza the Hut; voice only), and Michael York (Ape #1; uncredited).

Grossing over $38 million in just the U.S. alone, here are some other bits of behind-the-scenes info coming at ya at ludricous speed...

1.  It took Mel Brooks six months to write the script.  Brooks came up with the idea for this film when he discovered he had yet to spoof space movies, since he already destroyed the western films with "Blazing Saddles," made fun of the horror genre with "Young Frankenstein," and gave silent movies the ax with "Silent Movie."

2.  Mel Brooks sent the script to George Lucas and was concerned that he would be offended, but Lucas called Brooks and gave him his trust after seeing "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein."

3.  President Skroob's name is an anagram of Mel Brooks who plays him.

4.  The castle on Druidia is King Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. It has been modified by matte painting with additional ramps. Neuschwanstein Castle has been featured in many motion pictures, and is the original inspiration for the castle at Disneyland.

5.  John Candy ad-libbed the line, "Oh, that's gonna leave a mark," after standing up without undoing his seat belt. 

6.  The Barf costume was operated by three people. John Candy operated Barf's tail using a hidden control in his paw, while two assistants each controlled an ear. Candy's costume was powered by a 30-pound battery that he wore on his back.  A full face mask resembling a wrinkled bulldog was originally constructed for the character of Barf, but Mel Brooks quipped that 'if they were going to hide John Candy behind a mask, he might as well hire someone else for half the price'. A nose and upper lip piece was tried next, which Candy approved but again Brooks did not. They finally settled on animatronic ears connected to a hairpiece, a small nose application and a patch over one eye just like the dog from the 'Our Gang' shorts.

7.  Princess Vespa's name is a joke in-and-of itself: Vespa is the Italian word for a wasp. In North American slang, the term WASP can connote a white vainglorious person of high breeding.

8.  The name Dot Matrix was taken from a type of computer printer which was very popular with personal computers in the 70s and 80s prior to the invention of Ink-Jet and Laser printers.   

9.  Six complete Dot Matrix suits were built for Lorene Yarnell Jansson to wear and all of them were used up due to breakage on set. For the interior scenes, the feet were outfitted with roller skates, but for the desert exteriors she was given flat-bottomed shoes. Dot's face was somewhat inspired by Joan Rivers who had already been contracted to provide the voice.

10.  Every time Dark Helmet has his face covered, his voice is lower and more basal, similar to James Earl Jones when he played Darth Vader. In the DVD commentary, Mel Brooks says that the idea of Dark Helmet's voice changing whenever his face was covered was actually Rick Moranis's idea.

11.  In the DVD Commentary, Mel Brooks talks about the various Jewish-related jokes (i.e. "Druish Princess", etc.) and how he felt ashamed for putting those jokes in the movie in the first place, but also felt proud for leaving them in the movie.

12.  During his scene, Michael Winslow did all the sound effects. In the commentary for the movie Mel Brooks jokes that they saved around a $1000 by letting him do this.

13.  In the scene where Dark Helmet is dressed in safari clothes searching for Lone Starr and the others with binoculars, he is on top of a floating vehicle. In reality, the vehicle isn't floating or suspended on wires of any kind, but on top of a platform that was surrounded by mirrors that reflected the sand around it to give it the appearance of floating.   

14.  The scene in which Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) is playing with his dolls was not in the script. Mel Brooks came up with the idea on the set one day, and told it to Moranis, who then improvised the entire scene, including the dialogue.   

15.  In one scene, Lone Starr says he was born "somewhere in the Ford Galaxy." This is a joke-reference to a model of car produced by the Ford company (the Ford Galaxie 500), as well as to Harrison Ford of "Star Wars."

16.  "Spaceballs" merchandise shown in the movie include: bed sheet, flame thrower, lunch box, cornflakes, towels, Yogurt figure, toilet paper, shaving cream, place mat, action figures. As part of the fair-use agreement between Mel Brooks and George Lucas, no legitimate Spaceballs merchandise ever existed in the real world. The lunch box and coloring book are simply The Transformers products with a "Spaceballs" logo stuck on them.   

17.  In the DVD commentary, Mel Brooks talks about how difficult it was playing the Yogurt character. The gold-colored makeup gave him a terrible rash on his face and neck (necessitating the shooting of all of Yogurt's scenes out of sequence), also his knees were hurting constantly since he had to walk around on his knees even though he was wearing kneepads. Brooks also goes on to say that in spite of the difficulties, he enjoyed playing the role as Yogurt tremendously and that it was all worth it.   

18.  During the self-destruct sequence, when the "Cancel Self Destruct" door is opened, the "Authorized By" line at the bottom has the name ALBIEZ. Peter Albiez was one of the special effects staff.

19.  The voice of the Self-Destruct Countdown is that of the film's script supervisor, Julie Pitkanen.

20.  The blasters used by the Spaceball stormtroopers are actually Calico M100 carbines with a scope attached.

21.  WILHELM SCREAM: When Barf holds up the curved tubes, deflecting the shots of four of the bad guys back at them, the fourth one screams what is called a "Wilhelm" as he is shot in the rear.   

22.  After King Roland gives the combination to the air shield of planet Druidia, and the light goes out and on again, the doctor is seen making out with the nurse. Dark Helmet then tells him to go the golf course and "work on his putts". This is a pun, as "putz" in Hebrew/Yiddish is slang for penis.

23.  The scene where the Megamaid sucks the atmosphere off the Druidian mountain is a parody of the Paramount Studios logo.

24.  One of the Dinks is played by Tony Cox, who also played an Ewok in "Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi." The ape at the end (who says "There goes the planet!") is voiced by Michael York, who is the stepfather of Rick McCallum, producer of the "Star Wars" prequels.

25.  George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic constructed the puppet of the chest-burster for the film. The main effects unit for the film was Apogee, Inc. This was the company headed by John Dykstra that split off from ILM in 1978 when Lucasfilm moved to Marin County. Thus, Spaceballs marked the first time since "Star Wars" that the two units shared work on a single project.

26.  According to Mel Brooks, this is one of the most expensive movies he has ever made: $25 million, with "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" a close second at $22 million. By contrast, "The Producers" cost less than $1 million to produce.

27.  Of all the many jokes in this film, Mel Brooks says that the two he is most proud of are the running gag about merchandising ("Spaceballs: the Breakfast Cereal", "Spaceballs: The Tee-Shirt", etc.) and Col. Sandurz's renting "Spaceballs" before it was finished.

And now you know.

Keep your hand off your Schwarz (his, too) and take a gander at these picture still from the film...






 Yogurt: And may the Schwartz be with youuuyoyoy - oh, what a world, what a world!

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