On Space Balls & Chardonnay

by Matt Leslie

Let’s get this out of the way; I love Spaceballs.  I have seen it several hundred times, wearing out my BetaMax version while I commit to memory every gag and bit contained within its 90 minutes.

I tell you this somewhat jarring nugget of information not as an insight into a peculiar childhood obsession, but to emphasize a point about something I know very well. However, I still find something new every time I re-watch it.

I was recently reminded of my long-time love affair with this film as it happened to come on T.V. at Metrovino last week. Each time I passed by the television, I would begin quoting lines in advance of the characters.  A party trick with limited real-world use, trust me.

Metrovino Spaceballs 2.jpg

To many, Spaceballs is just an irreverent satire of the entire Sci-fi genre, taking aim at the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises.  A space-themed adventure comedy about friendship, love, heroism, and the power-of-self, among others.  However, for me, this joke-saturated feature, epitomizes the layered comedy which encapsulates both the core ideas of the source material (Dark Helmet and Pizza the Hut) and simultaneously making apt observations of both current and future global matters.  One need look no further than the plot line of an abused planet Spaceball as a metaphor for our squandering of natural resources, political incompetence (ahem...) and even a scathing inward look at capitalism itself. 

If one were to leave off here, there’s no shortage of material to pass the 90-minutes without objection.  However, much like the Star’s Wars and Trek, the philosophical topic matter is deep.  If you are so inclined to scratch away the superficial top-layer of Spaceballs’ slapstick gags and curse words, what lies beneath is at times profound.  There are subtle references to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Being and Time, Das Capital and more besides.  In fact, the script is so cleverly written that each line is not only a joke but also one reference wrapped up in another and delivered in a way that leaves you, the unsuspecting viewer, non-the-wiser to Mel Brooks’s sarcastic, yet poignant comedy. 

Watching Spaceballs is enjoyable on the first viewing or the one thousand and first for precisely this reason.  I have long since committed to memory both the verbal and the visual gags, no doubt at the expense of knowledge much more valuable. Each time I watch, I find a new “something”.  Something that I had never noticed previously; a reference, a joke, an “easter-egg”, some background detail that makes me wonder how I had possibly missed it in the one thousand previous viewings.  As I have expanded my knowledge of the world, more and more of the subtle becomes apparent.

You may presently be asking yourself "so how are you going to dig yourself out of this weird ditch, Mr Leslie?"  On to the point du jour; though you may have tried Chardonnay, maybe it’s time to try it again. A re-watch of something you have experienced before.  Perhaps you have changed since the last time you had a delicious glass of Chardonnay; your palate, your food preferences, your general outlook on life, who knows?  Did you love the last bottle you had and need to keep the good times going? 

Much like Spaceballs, each visit to Chardonnay offers me up something that I didn’t know before, something to which I was not keenly aware. A newness that sparks my curiosity, making me dive back into the glass.  Just as I find the charm of Spaceballs is through its clever disguise as a cutting allegory for timeless themes while presenting itself nothing more than an irreverent comedy, I likewise discover the beauty and charm of Chardonnay, its chameleon-like presentation.   I suppose it’s the undeniable ability to understand something and simultaneously be positively surprised by it.