So, thinking on what to do with our new blog, I’d been pondering a weekly or monthly segment on popular media, somewhere that I can formulate and share my thoughts with all of you. Recently, I’d found that LuckyBlue had never seen Spaceballs (or any Mel Brooks movie) and we decided to watch it together. After watching what could possibly be my favorite single scene in a comedy ever, I felt inspired to write about it! We’ll see if this becomes a recurring segment.
The scene in question is here:
In this parody of Star Wars, Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) is trying to find Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) but is out of leads. In order to progress the plot, Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) suggests a new technology in which you can rent the VHS release of a movie before the movie is even finished filming, all so they can fast forward to the part where they find Vespa and cheat. What begins as a typical Mel Brooks style gag evolves into a “Who’s on first?”-esque banter that never fails to make me laugh.
What makes it so great
Anyone who has ever seen a Mel Brooks film knows to expect visual gags, fourth wall breaks and recurring jokes, often piled atop one another. This scene is a microcosm of his works. We begin with the absurd, fourth-wall-breaking idea of fast forwarding through the movie, followed by a wall of such movies littered with references to other Mel Brooks films and Rocky 1-14. The wall itself is named “MR. RENTAL” at the top, a recurring joke from earlier in the film. There’s no attention brought to it; it’s just there for keen viewers to spot and chuckle at.
Colonel Sandurz (heh) gives his usual military orders in a quick exchange that’s repeated throughout the movie in various ways. (“Prepare to fast forward!” “Preparing to fast forward!” “Fast forward!” “Fast forwarding, sir!”) We’re then treated to a surreal view of the movie we’ve just watched on a small CRT monitor, which is great in itself, but the scene really gets me at the 1:17 timestamp when they see themselves in real time with the movie. The physical comedy of Helmet’s and Sandurz’s coordinated looks back to the camera combined with the infinitely repeated image onscreen sets up one of my favorite scripts in media:
Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
Sandurz: Now. You’re looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.
Helmet: What happened to then?
Sandurz: We passed then!
Sandurz: Just now! We’re at now, now.
Helemt: Go back to then!
Sandurz: I can’t.
Sandurz: We passed it.
Sandurz: Just now.
Helmet: (pause) …When will “then” be “now”?
The emphatic seriousness of Wyner’s performance constantly contrasts Moranis’s childish lampoon of Darth Vader throughout the film, and this dialogue plays it out in quick succession. The fast banter back and forth is well rehearsed and perfectly executed, and rather than offering a quotable one-liner, it offers an entire conversation, each line only a handful of words long, that I can recite from memory like a one man show.
How it influenced our work
Mel Brooks’s love of background visual gags separate from the current action is something we’ve replicated many times in Mobile Suit Abridged, from Heero’s Archangels poster in ep.4 to the friends lists of each Sowing Discord.
But what I truly learned from this scene is the importance of confident execution, sharp writing and quick pacing. This is best exemplified in, coincidentally, my favorite scene we’ve made in MSA:GW, from ep.5:
While I don’t dare say our work is equal to Moranis’s and Wyner’s performance, I can see their influence on how I wrote this scene. Heero and Trowa exhibit a similar grounded seriousness to Wyner’s Colonel Sandurz in opposition to Duo’s and Quatre’s goofier personas. In place of the “MR. RENTAL” anachronism that confuses Helmet, we use the distinction between Oz and the Alliance to confuse Duo and Quatre. This serves its own purpose for our show, as the way Gundam Wing explained Oz vs. the UESA was muddled and often confusing for viewers. Spaceballs uses their scene to avoid plot they don’t need; we use ours to avoid boring exposition we don’t need.
But the physical side of the Spaceballs performance is one that’s nearly impossible to replicate in an abridged series using animated source footage from 25 years ago. What sold me on this scene when we made it was the turning heads, which I animated the best I could at the time. Having each head turn toward the one they’re talking to for each line adds a level of absurdity while keeping the frame still and focused to allow viewers to really absorb what they’re saying all the way to the best comeback I’ve ever written: “Oh eat a Hamlet.“
That’s it for my first (maybe only?) “Movie Blog Mondays”. Did you enjoy the analysis of the movie in question? Did you like the dive into its influences on our show? Let us know in the comments! I’d love to learn what our community wants to read more of as I shape our blog into regular segments.