The Smackdown. While the newspapers and magazines are full of “Best Of” lists for the past ten years, let’s get specific. It was a decade ago that the great “Star Trek” send-up “Galaxy Quest” came to theaters on Christmas Day of 1999. This year we put the film into the Smackdown ring against another comedy send-up “Spaceballs” which took on the other great space franchise, “Star Wars.” While fan boys and girls alike will be debating “Star Wars” versus “Star Trek” for generations to come, maybe just maybe we can get a clear winner out of the comic dopplegangers. Here we go!
Even both of these comedy treatments have a strong fan-base (count me in both) and they’re funny. True fans got a chance to appreciate that this year when “Galaxy Quest” came out with its special DVD much as “Spaceballs” did back in 2005. The Smackdown rules today focus on those special elements on the Deluxe Edition / Collector’s Edition DVDs.
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Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) encounters a group of just-landed aliens — Thermians — who mistake those TV shows for “historical documents” beamed into space.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. Let’s not forget our other 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.
No need to overthink 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 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.