Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Favorite Era: History of the World Part I (1981)/Spaceballs (1987)

As was probably noticeable in my post on the best films of 1974, I'm a huge Mel Brooks fan.  One of the finest comedy minds of all time, he has one of the better track records you will find with only his last few movies not living up to his usual standards.  Two of his 80's projects are my favorites, his wonderfully ribald parodies of historical epics and science fiction blockbusters respectively.

History of the World Part I (1981)

First up is History of the World Part I.  A wonderfully tasteless 90 minute trip through the Stone Age right through the French Revolution, it is essentially an anthology picture consisting of five segments (two long and three relatively short) plus a preview for a sadly unmade sequel before the credits roll.  We've got an all-star cast, tons of jokes and endless irreverence.  Let's take a closer look.

The Stone Age
  •  Brooks sets the tone for the film right from the start as the deep, rich voice of Orson Welles narrates a bit about the dawn of man.  The theme from 2001 is heard as several early apes rise to their feet... And promptly begin to play with themselves until they pass out.
  • Welles narrates the rest of the segment which is basically a spotlight for the great Sid Caesar to play a caveman.  The segment is quite funny though a little repetitious.
The Old Testament
  •  This is basically just a brief joke about Moses (played by Brooks) originally bringing down fifteen commandments, only to drop one of the tablets, leaving him with ten.  Still funny as hell.
The Roman Empire
  •  This is the main bulk of the film, taking up about half of the total running time.  It's also the highlight of the movie as we get tons of sight gags, Dom Deluise as the emperor with the hilarious Madeline Khan as his wife, Gregory Hines in a very funny supporting role and to cap things off, Brooks' character getting to an Abbot and Costello routine with Jesus played by none other than John Hurt.  It's real great stuff.
The Spanish Inquisition
  •  What you could call our obligatory musical interlude, this is basically nine minutes of wonderfully tasteless humor that distills the Spanish Inquisition into a huge Busby Berkeley number complete with nuns doing a water ballet routine.  It's... Well, it's something to behold.
The French Revolution
  •  Not quite as funny but still worth the effort is the last segment which features more funny work from Brooks and some very funny stuff from Harvey Korman and Cloris Leachman.  It's a little more plot driven than the other segments but it still packs in the laughs.,
The end result is a funny though somewhat scattershot production that is great in places and in other places, not so much.  Happily, Brooks would close out the decade in grand style with...
Spaceballs (1987)

Even better is Brooks' spoof of science fiction epics like Star Wars as he takes more or less the same road he did in previous (and future) spoofs and ends up with a fantastically funny movie.  Basically a spoof of Star Wars primarily, it features hilarious turns from Rick Moranis (Dark Helmet), John Candy (Barf) and solid work from Bill Pullman (always an underrated comic actor in my opinion) and Daphne Zuniga.

Other sci-fi epics are spoofed as well with funny jabs at Planet of the Apes, Star Trek and Alien (cue another John Hurt cameo).  Add to that an astonishing amount of visual gags (Brooks must have seen what the Airplane guys were doing and decided to ramp things up a bit) and you get maybe the most jam-packed comedy Brooks ever did.  It's not his most incisive (that would be Blazing Saddles) or the funniest (that would be Young Frankenstein) but it's still hilarious.

Not much else to say, just that Mel Brooks is one of the best comedy directors of all time.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.