There are some movies that you just never get around to seeing and they can remain an unknown quantity for many a year. If any of these films were a big event at the time, or have become a major part of pop culture, then catching up with them can presents its own set of problems. For example the status of some cinematic classics or cult movies inevitably raises expectations, which then may be hard to meet. Then there can also be pressure not to fly in the face of popular consensus, leaving the viewer obliged to like a film or find merit in some way. I had this experience myself recently when I finally caught up with Spaceballs.
Mel Brooks already amassed an impressive body of work when he made this movie in 1987. So I was expecting Spaceballs to be of his usual high standard. Instead I found myself watching a rather weak Star Wars parody (with a few nods to other science fiction classics), littered with poor puns, childish humour and tortuously contrived sight gags. It raised a smile but little more and certainly paled into into insignificance compared to other genre satires such as Galaxy Quest or Family Guy Star Wars Trilogy. I really felt that this movie suffered from "the emperor's new clothes" syndrome, due to its pedigree. The late John Candy can usually lift most movies by his presence but not here. Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet really is the only character of any note.
I was actually far more interested in the films production values which were high for a comedy. There were some rather good optical effects and outstanding matte paintings from Apogee Inc. There's a nice shot of a space diner with various intergalactic Winnebagos in the parking lot. One of which is none other than the Millennium Falcon. It's a shame that equal attention wasn't spent on the screenplay. Perhaps Brooks thought that the very act of satirising Star Wars would be funny enough in itself, as it was considered somewhat sacrosanct by fans at the time. Spaceballs was after all only made four years after Return of the Jedi.
After finally catching up with Spaceballs after twenty nine years I would argue that this is far from the classic that some ardent fans claim it to be. Perhaps the term cult may me more appropriate in this case. My viewing experience has certainly confirmed once again that broad popularity is no guarantee of a good movie. Furthermore fond affection by fans should not be construed as a definitive litmus test. Humour is a very subjective thing and for me Spaceballs was somewhat lacking. However that not to say it’s a terrible film and the very points that I struggled with may well delight others. Perhaps the lesson is that when viewing a film that has an established status, try your best to adjust your expectations and take into account, historical context and the fan factor.