Review: ‘Dreamship Surprise: Period 1’

Camp is hardly the word for "Dreamship Surprise: Period 1," a delish, widescreen send-up of every sci-fi blockbuster from "Star Trek" to "Star Wars," in which Earth's only hope lies in the hands of a bunch of screaming queens on a retro-'60s spaceship. Socko German hit is not as consistently funny or as varied in its humor as helmer-writer-star Michael Bully Herbig's previous genre spoof, oater "Manitou's Shoe."

Camp is hardly the word for “Dreamship Surprise: Period 1,” a delish, widescreen send-up of every sci-fi blockbuster from “Star Trek” to “Star Wars,” in which Earth’s only hope lies in the hands of a bunch of screaming queens on a retro-’60s spaceship. Socko German hit is not as consistently funny or as varied in its humor as helmer-writer-star Michael Bully Herbig’s previous genre spoof, oater “Manitou’s Shoe.” But it moves at sufficient warp speed and with enough visual spectacle to keep any open-minded movie fan entertained during its tight 87 minutes.

On home turf last year, “Dreamship” became the biggest-grossing German pic of all time, its $68 million (almost 10 million admissions) second only to the tally of “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” As with “Manitou,” much of the verbal humor, heavy on puns and regional accents, won’t travel beyond German-speaking territories. (English subtitles on print caught visibly wrestled with the challenges.) But the good-natured fun — with the campness pitched at mainstream rather than purely gay auds — generally manages to transcend the specific nature of many of the gags.

So far, it’s sold to almost a dozen territories, in Europe and Asia, though no major English-speaking ones. With no immediate plans for an Anglo-dubbed version, film’s best chances are at buff events and as a collector’s item on ancillary.

In scenes which are only clarified at film’s end, yarn opens in 2004 at a secret U.S. military base in Nevada, where a UFO crashes and disgorges an alien. Flash forward 300 years, and Earth is under threat of attack by the first colonists of Mars, now returning under the leadership of the evil Regulator Rogul Herzog (Hans-Michael Rehberg) and his Mr. Bean-crossed-with-Himmler sidekick Lord Maul (co-scripter Rick Kavanian).

Earth’s Council, presided over by young Queen Metapha (Anja Kling), decides the only way to save the planet is to send a team back in time and prevent the original colonization of Mars. Chosen for the mission is the crew of the starship Surprise — currently at the “ass-end” of space — led by Capt. Kork (Christian Tramitz), first officer Vulcanette Mr. Spuck (Herbig) and engineer Schrotty (Kavanian again).

However, saving Earth is the last thing on the minds of our three heroes, who are currently rehearsing a dance number for the upcoming Miss Waikiki Pageant in Honolulu. Only after they’ve been whisked back to Earth by hunky space-taxi driver Rock (Til Schweiger, spoofing his macho image) — in a visual effects sequence that’s a showcase on its own — are they persuaded to take on the mission, as the Regulator’s advance troops batter the planet.

Pic settles into a series of escapades as Kork, Spuck, the Queen and Rock attempt to travel back 300 years on a Time Sofa that’s never been properly tested. First trip misfires, landing them on Earth in 1304 (cue a Medieval spoof that plays like “El Cid” crossed with Mel Brooks), and next time they end up in the Wild West (“High Noon” crossed with spaghetti Westerns). Throughout, they’re also pursued by Maul.

Though the very un-PC joke about the mincing trio of Kork, Spuck and Schrotty quickly palls — with Herbig giving himself way too much slack as Spuck — the script stirs in enough action to keep the whole shebang on the move, with a neat tie-up at the end as the story returns to the opening. Both Kling and Schweiger, in straight roles, ground the humor, and veteran Sky du Mont adds character heft as a lubricious king in the medieval seg and (recalling his role in “Manitou”) a gunslinger in the Western episode.

Ralf Wengenmayr’s wall-to-wall score out-Williams John Williams in its symphonic sweep, and production design and costumes are on a consistently lavish level. Widescreen lensing by Stephan Schuh is top drawer throughout. U.S. and Western scenes were shot in Spain.

Dreamship Surprise: Period 1

Germany

Production

A Constantin Film release and presentation of a herbX film production. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Munich.) Produced by Michael Bully Herbig. Executive director, Michael Waldleitner. Directed by Michael Bully Herbig. Screenplay, Herbig, Alfons Biedermann, Rick Kavanian.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Stephan Schuh; editor, Alexander Dittner; music, Ralf Wengenmayr; songs, Stefan Raab; production designer, Claus Kottmann; art director, Christoph Steeger; costume designer, Anke Winckler; make-up, Georg Korpas; sound (Dolby Digital), Roland Winke, Michael Kranz; sound designers, Chrissi Rebay, Heiko Mueller; stunt co-ordinator, Mac Steinmeier; choreographer, Paul Haze; visual effects & animation, Scanline; visual effects supervisor, Thomas Zauner; casting, Rita Serra-Roll. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (German Cinema), Feb. 11, 2005. (Also in U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, Aspen.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Michael Bully Herbig, Rick Kavanian, Christian Tramitz, Anja Kling, Hans-Michael Rehberg, Sky du Mont, Til Schweiger, Stacia Widmer.

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