Galaxy Quest (1999) -vs- Spaceballs (1987)

Mark Sanchez, Featured WriterThe Smackdown

Okay. The Swine Flu might scare you from venturing out for the new Star Trek movie– so why not try another something familiar available on DVD? Galaxy Quest lands in a Deluxe Edition May 12 from Paramount Home Entertainment.  It remains an underrated pleasure ten years after the original hit the screen — and so what if it reminds you a little of Star Trek? Alright, much more than a little.

Repackaging grows new legs for a movie, and for many viewers, improves the experience with better sound, cleaner prints, and those behind the scenes features. In Galaxy Quest you hear the affection director Dean Parisot and writers David Howard and Robert Gordon clearly have for the material. The question: Does all that backstage chatter ramp up YOUR affection?

There’s also the matter of another movie already patrolling the universe for laughs. Mel Brooks called outer space “the last genre I can destroy” and worked over Star Wars in 1987’s Spaceballs. He came out with related features on a 2000 DVD. Mel couldn’t leave well enough alone and released a 2005 Collector’s Edition with even more goofiness.

This Smackdown! won’t argue the merits/demerits of those movies. Both have a strong fan base (count me in both) and they’re funny. This time, let’s go behind the screen to gauge those special elements on the Deluxe Edition/Collector’s Edition DVDs. It beats waiting for your fever to break.

The Challenger

Think Star Trek TV show… give the premise a big shove… and when it stops rolling, you have the skeleton for Galaxy Quest. Here, like like Starship Enterprise, you have a program off the air for years, and the Galaxy Quest cast is now riding the nostalgia circuit. After brushing aside a wave of costumed fans at a convention, Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) encounters a group of just-landed aliens — Thermians — who mistake those TV shows for “historical documents” beamed into space. They want the commander of the space vessel Protector to eliminate a very bad extraterrestrial. Jason talks his “crew” into signing up: Alexander Dane(Alan Rickman), Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) and Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) among others. They’re real actors, after all, and this is a gig. You can guess where this storyline is headed, and you’d be right.

The Defending Champion

No need to over think the structure of Spaceballs: Handsome hero, Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) with a big, hairy sidekick of disturbing  genetic provenance, Barf (John Candy). Beautiful Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) in distress, her mouthy servant droid, Dot Matrix (voice of Joan Rivers). There’s a very bad antagonist, Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and the wise little adviser Yogurt (Mel Brooks in one of two roles) who invokes the power not of The Force, but of The Schwartz.

Somehow the storyline here doesn’t matter much: The action to save Princess Vespa and the air on planet Druidia won’t be mistaken for anything in the Star Wars movies. Spaceballs carves out a special identity and following.

The Scorecard

Both DVDs offer the same basic version of their films that appeared in the theaters, no special Director’s Cut. Everything that makes you laugh or groan, or laugh AND groan, remains. I always laugh as Lone Starr stares off into space and says, “ahhh..That’s all we needed. A druish princess.” Mel Brooks says he’s proud and ashamed of that joke, and I believe him.

Spaceballs and Galaxy Quest are funny, technically adept, and exactly right for special edition DVDs. It’s in the extra material where you’ll find any margin for judging. Both provide long takes with the writers, directors and cast. The Collector’s Edition Spaceballs generously includes material absent in the earlier DVD release: Costume sketches, storyboards, character art, a tribute to John Candy. There’s even a Fun & Games section serving up film flubs, favorite quotes pulled from the movie, even a trivia contest with 25 questions for the incurable.

Galaxy Quest is certainly game. The cast is especially fun in describing how they managed to carve distinct personalities from source material whose equivalent characters are already well-known. The Deluxe Edition offers the usual items on special effects, trailers and previews — all well done — plus features you’ll see nowhere else: There’s a version of the movie presented in Thermian 2.0 surround sound. The entire movie, with English subtitles. Try that for awhile. Utterly unique. Or Sigourney Weaver — in costume, with other cast members — performing a rap song to her agent. Now I understand why warrant officer Ripley never sang in those Alien movies.

Well cast, well produced comedies with lots of extras in their second-generation DVD releases. Can we crown a winner? You bet.

The Decision

This is a little like preferring one meal over another because of the china and cutlery. But, as Yogurt put it, it’s all about the “merchandizing… merchandizing. Where the real money from the movie is made.” And that’s how come Spaceballs remains the winner.

Both movies do a first-rate job of poking affectionate fun at the earlier films they spoof. They developed real followings, and I’m not alone in following both. Both deliver the laughs, and Galaxy Quest may be the more clever movie. The difference comes in what you’ll find on the rest of the DVD.

The Deluxe Edition Galaxy Quest DVD tries hard, and there are no penalties for offering a Signourey Weaver rap or an audio selection for a language unspoken in this universe. In the arms race of extra features, the Collector’s Edition Spaceballs DVD has a little more firepower.

Own them both. You’ll enjoy both, but Spaceballs rules the comedy universe.


About Mark Sanchez 81 Articles
Oregon based media and communications consultant Mark Sanchez is on the fifth or sixth step of his recovery program from his career as a television news reporter. And that’s the way it is. Mark has been an Oregonian since the Reagan administration and shows no signs of leaving. He lives in Portland — a city that is famous for its transit system, its rain, its independent film community and, lately, for the TV series Portlandia, which Mark notes is about half-true, but to protect confidential sources he won’t say which half.

5 Comments on Galaxy Quest (1999) -vs- Spaceballs (1987)


  1. Rodney:
    It’s an earful.


  2. Mark,
    Fair point about the DVD extras, and you’re probably right in that regard with your decision. Here in Australia we’ve been treated to a non-anamorphic, movie-only version of SpaceBalls, and a trailer/EPK edition of Galaxy Quest, neither doing any justice to these classic films.
    Aside: I would LOVE to hear the Thermian Commentary for GQ, that sounds like absolute GOLD!!!!!


  3. I’m one of those people who — after enjoying “Blazing Saddles” — never quite could dial into a Brooks mood since. I’ve enjoyed “Galaxy Quest” on repeated viewings. It’s a class job from start to finish, as a story, production and acting stage.


  4. Rodney,
    I know just what you mean. Both movies are enjoyable, for different reasons. Mel Brooks is an acquired taste for many viewers; His material often hits big or completely misses. And really, Galaxy Quest may be the more clever film start to finish. I love both films and tried to confine the ‘SMACK to a comparison of the features on the “deluxe” DVDs of both. On that basis, the Spaceballs DVD offers a little more to enjoy. Get them both, enjoy both. Everybody wins.


  5. I have to say, I’m on the fence on this one. Most of the jokes in Spaceballs are hit-and-miss at best, but the film still rules. Galaxy Quest, while being less slapstick-hilarious, is still a highly amusing movie in it’s own right, skewering the “trekkie” mentality and the conventions of sci-fi. For me, I’d tend to lean towards Galaxy Quest for it’s more subtle, less wildly strained comedy. But heck, only just.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*