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The Philodoxer
Thoughts on writing and publishing, and the various sources of entertainment...
A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 07/15/2007
Spaceballs: The Book Review!

"But King Roland decided he had to give in. What if they were serious? Sure, no one had been serious for the first eighty or so pages of this book! But he couldn't take the chance...."

After having read in the ballpark of a thousand books, rare is the one that can grab me by the balls and take off juggling. Spaceballs: The Book is such a novel.

Spaceballs: The Movie

Again I return to that species of literature sprung from the precise blending of commerce and idiocy-the movie novelization. This year's 30th anniversary of Star Wars has led me to the latest gem in my quest for the best in this worst of all possible genres: the adaptation of Mel Brooks' Spaceballs, the classic 1987 movie send up of the original Star Wars trilogy. Written by Jovial Bob Stine (a.k.a. R.L. Stine of Goosebumps fame), this pearl has earned a place in the rare pantheon of derivative literature that gives the parent a run for its spacebucks.

The challenges of this book were unique. Satire is often called the most difficult of all genres to write. But to simultaneously tackle the task of adapting a visual screwball comedy into the intellectual world of print would seem to bode ill, for a slapstick feature like Spaceballs bombards viewers with a Gatling gun of faster-than-Ridiculous-Speed one-liners and sight gags. Meanwhile, a novel telling the same vaudevillian story must rely on descriptions ... time-consuming descriptions that better be damn funny page after monochromatic page.

The last good novelization I saw pull this off was the so-called adaptation of the Steve Martin vehicle The Jerk, and that "novel," crammed with pictures and resembling a 1st grade reader crossbred with a 99 joke book, didn't dare try to adapt the film into a conventional novel (not to mention its author, Carl Gottlieb, was one of The Jerk's original screenplay writers).

Despite this, Stine succeeds with Spaceballs: The Book. The jokes are funny, the punch lines timed, and above all else the pace breaks for no one. Sure, the line gets blurred between how much credit is owed to Brooks and how much to Stine, but that's the nature of this beast. Unlike the rote regurgitation of novelizations such as Ben Bova's THX 1138, Spaceballs: The Book takes advantage of the conventions of the novel to add an entire layer of entertainment to this story not present in the original film. Some jokes hit and some miss, but the same goes for the Spaceballs movie itself and satires in general, for that matter.

Forgivably, the book suffers one glaring setback. Under the imprint of kiddie publisher Scholastic Inc., the novel is castrated of the film's mild profanity and double entendres. Travesties include the murder of the Schwartz/genitalia gags and the punch line to the "desert combing" scene, although Stine is able to spin a saving substitute for "Major Asshole" and it's still open season on Druish Princesses. The novelization also has some exclusives, like an extended torture scene with Princess Vespa, a name for the Ludicrous Speed realm ("The Plaid Zone"), and new revelations about the mysterious Yogurt.

Spaceballs: The Book stands up to the test of being an eminently readable Star Wars parody, with or without knowledge of the film that spawned it. For lovers of Spaceballs, its 20th anniversary is a perfect opportunity to pick up this book and relive the madcap farce through a fresh helmet ... er, eyes.

Till next time, folks!

- Abel G. Peña

<< 07/01/2007 | 07/15/2007 | 07/29/2007 >>

Discuss this column with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum and at Pop Culture Bored.
Also, visit my website at www.abelgpena.com.


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