Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hardware Wars (Michael Wiese Productions, “20th Century-Foss," 1977)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This being a Vintage Sci-Fi movie night, of course there wasn’t just one movie: there was also an episode of the early-1960’s cartoon series The Jetsons (which I always liked better than The Flintstones, by the way — the future always turned me on a lot more than the past) which had been screened there before, in which Cogswell, arch-rival of George Jetson’s boss Spacely, is convinced Jetson has invented an anti-gravity machine when he sees the Jetsons’ dog Astro fly and hover about in mid-air (all that’s happened is Astro has swallowed a toy spacecar being flown by Jetson’s son Elroy) — and, in tribute to the release last Friday of the seventh Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens (it should have been called The Hype Awakens!), we got to see the screamingly funny 1977 ( dates it as 1978, which was apparently the copyright date, but I’m sure I saw it before that) Star Wars parody Hardware Wars. Though it’s presented in the form of a movie trailer, it’s actually 13 minutes long and a complete entertainment in itself, and anyone who remembers the original Star Wars movie (still the only one of the seven made so far I’ve actually seen!) will howl with recognition at the vividness of the parody. One reviewer went so far as to say Hardware Wars was “the only top-notch Star Wars parody out there” (no way! I happen to be an enormous fan of Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs), but while I wouldn’t give it that distinction it is a marvelous movie, though produced on such a miniscule budget (estimated on as $8,000, which is still twice as much as Michael Paul Girard had to work with 17 years later to do the feature-length Oversexed Rugsuckers from Mars!). The producers, Michael Wiese and Ernie Fosselius (in the latter man’s honor the production company logo was to “20th Century-Foss!”), wisely hired veteran voice actor Paul Frees (most famous for his contributions to Rocky and Bullwinkle and also the man who dubbed Toshiro Mifune whenever a script called for Mifune to speak English), who’d narrated an advance trailer for the real Star Wars and brought the right degree of breathless pseudo-authority to the story of this epic. The gags are pretty simple — the character names (“Fluke Starbucker,” “Augie ‘Ben’ Doggie,” “Princess Anne-Droid,” “Ham Salad,” “Darph Nader” and the robots “4-Q-2” and “Artie Deco”) are straight out of Mad magazine territory, and instead of looking like the robot from Metropolis 4-Q-2 (the articulate one) looks like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. The Millennium Falcon is a giant iron, and as it flies through space it’s chased by an Imperial toaster that tries to annihilate it by firing pieces of toasted bread at it. When the Empire’s Death Star blows up the planet Basketball (represented by … well, you guessed it), Augie goes into convulsions and Fluke asks him, “What is it, Augie Ben Doggie? Did you feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced?,” Augie replies, “No, just a little headache.” (In the actual Mad parody of the original Star Wars, the character said, “No, it’s that we just lost the Best Picture Oscar to Annie Hall.”) I remember that when I first saw Hardware Wars I was at the apex of my love affair with all things Wagner, and having been annoyed at how blatantly John Williams had ripped off Wagner for his score for Star Wars, I thought it was an example of turnabout-as-fair-play that Wiese and Fosselius scored their parody (“the first Star Wars ‘fan film’,” the proprietor of our screening called it) with real Wagner: a record of the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre played by the Württemberg Philharmonic conducted by Jonel Perlea (a recording I was unable to find on the usual online sources, by the way).