I am getting this post written just under the wire. I signed up for so many events that all took place in the same week. I didn’t realize that this event was coming up so quickly. Oops. It’s only 10:00pm here on the West Coast, so I will just about make it.
The “Wilhelm Scream” is a famous sound effect, that is used so much at this point that it’s cliche. The Wilhelm Scream was first heard in the 1951 film, Distant Drums, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Gary Cooper. The scream usually used when someone is shot and falls from a great height, or is thrown via an explosion. This sound effect has been in circulation ever since its debut in the 1950s and has been utilized in countless films and television shows. One such film that the Wilhelm Scream can be heard in is the 1980s classic, Spaceballs.
Spaceballs is Mel Brooks’ parody of primarily Star Wars, but he manages to also parody Star Trek, Alien, The Wizard of Oz, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Planet of the Apes. However, the main focus of the parody is on the original Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas in fact, loved Brooks’ screenplay so much that he helped with the film’s storyline and production. Lucas’ involvement with the project had a caveat however, no Spaceballs merchandise could be produced as it would look too similar to Lucas’ Star Wars merch. Brooks agreed. He was then inspired to add the running Spaceballs merchandise gag–which is hilarious. The Spaceballs merchandise features a wide array of products–products that usually aren’t even considered when developing movie merchandise.
The following merchandise is featured in Spaceballs:
- Spaceballs: The T-Shirt
- Spaceballs: The Coloring Book
- Spaceballs: The Lunchbox
- Spaceballs: The Breakfast Cereal (with 100% sugar!)
- Spaceballs: The Flamethrower, “A Children’s Toy” (“Children love this toy,” Yogurt says).
- Spaceballs: The Doll (which is a doll of Yogurt)
- Spaceballs: The Towel
- Spaceballs: The Plate
- Spaceballs: The Shaving Cream
- Spaceballs: The Toilet Paper
- Spaceballs: The Sheet
- Spaceballs: The Placemat
- Spaceballs: The Wallet
Dark Helmet is also seen playing with Spaceballs action figures. It is unknown where these were procured, as Spaceballs: The Action Figures were never seen.
Anyway, this film follows a similar plot to the original Star Wars trilogy. I am not the biggest Star Wars fan (though I inexplicably own 3 Star Wars T-Shirts), but I have seen each film in the original trilogy. While I was able to draw parallels between the main characters in Star Wars and Spaceballs, I am not even going to attempt to identify some of the more subtle homages that Mel Brooks might have included. The basic plot of Spaceballs is that planet Spaceball, led by Dark Helmet (a Darth Vader parody, played by Rick Moranis), is planning on stealing all the fresh air from the nearby planet, Druidia. It seems that President Skroob (Mel Brooks) has squandered all of planet Spaceball’s fresh air.
President Skroob tells Dark Helmet to kidnap the princess of Druidia, Princess Vespa (a Princess Leia parody, portrayed by Daphne Zuniga) on her wedding day. She is planning to marry the very sleepy and dull, Prince Valium, who is always yawning and sports an unfortunate Prince Valiant haircut. With the people of Druidia distracted by the kidnapping of their princess, Dark Helmet will be able to swoop in and steal their air. The captain of Dark Helmet’s enormous ship named Spaceball One (which later changes shape into that of an enormous maid with a vacuum) is Colonel Sandurz. Dark Helmet’s plans are thwarted however, when Princess Vespa bails on her own wedding, not able to accept the idea of marrying Prince Valium. She escapes in her Mercedes spaceship with her droid assistant, Dot Matrix (a C3PO homage, voiced by Joan Rivers).
Later, Vespa’s father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten) contacts a mercenary, Lone Starr (A Hans Solo-esque Bill Pullman). Lone Starr is traveling with his “mog” (half man/half dog) companion, Barf (A Chewbacca parody played by John Candy). They drive a spaceship that looks like a Winnebago with wings. Roland offers Lone Starr and Barf money to find his daughter and return her to Druidia safely. Being a million dollars in debt to gangster Pizza the Hut (obviously Jabba the Hut or Madame Trash Heap from “Fraggle Rock” ?) and his henchman, Vinnie, Lone Starr accepts the job. Roland agrees to pay Lone Starr the million dollars if he finds Vespa.
Lone Starr and Mawg quickly find Vespa and Dot Matrix and bring them aboard their ship. Of course, Vespa is a snob at the beginning, and Dot Matrix is there with her “virginity alarm” to ensure that Vespa’s virtue remains intact. It soon becomes obvious however, that Vespa and Lone Starr will end up falling for one another. The Winnebago gang are eventually forced to land on the desert planet of Vega, after running out of fuel. They try to make their way across the desert, but eventually collapse due to dehydration. They are soon rescued by the Dinks, who whistle the “Colonel Bogey” march, which I remember playing in band in the eighth grade. The group is eventually led to a large corridor. In a scene reminiscent of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the group meets The Wizard, the leader of planet Vega, a Yoda-like creature by the name of Yogurt (Mel Brooks) is revealed. He soon lets the group in on his merchandising plan for Spaceballs.
While meeting with Yogurt, Vespa and Dot Matrix are tricked by Dark Helmet and brought to the Spaceball prison complex via the Spaceball One. To save Vespa and Dot Matrix, Lone Starr and Barf beat up a couple guards (similar to the Stormtroopers except with big round helmets) and steal their uniforms. They are able to break into the prison and rescue Vespa and Dot Matrix. On the way out, Barf finds himself in combat with the guards. This is where our Wilhelm Scream can be found. In this scene, Barf runs out of ammo and removes some piping from the wall of the ship. Using the piping, Barf reflects the gun shots back at the guards, hitting them. When the fourth guard is hit, he is thrown backward and lets out the famous Wilhelm Scream.
This film is hilarious. It doesn’t even matter if you aren’t a big sci-fi film fan (I’m not). Most people will get the film references. There are even random references to things that aren’t sci-fi. Mel Brooks has the alien from Alien singing and dancing a la Michigan J. Frog from one of my favorite Looney Tunes shorts, “One Froggy Evening.” I can see if Mel Brooks’ humor isn’t for everyone. There are parts of the film that are very crass and could be considered un-PC. I don’t care, because I love Mel Brooks. I read the reviews on Spaceballs, and there are many unfavorable opinions of this film. It just confirms what I’ve always thought: don’t let another person’s opinion influence your opinion on a film. If you like it, that’s all that matters.
3 thoughts on “The Wilhelm Scream Blogathon- “Spaceballs” (1987)”
Thanks for bringing this film to the blogathon, I’m with you not a Star Wars fan… but love a good parody. This is one I enjoyed probably more for those other pop culture references and it’s got a great cast too.
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If this film has a tribute to Michigan J. Frog, then I’m in!