Dreamship Surprise – Period 1

English Title: Dreamship Surprise – Period 1

Original Title: (T)raumschiff Surprise – Periode 1

Country of Origin: Germany

Studio: herbX film GmbH

Director: Michael Herbig

Producer(s): Michael Herbig

Screenplay: Alfons Biedermann, Michael Herbig, Rick Kavanian

Cinematographer: Stephan Schuh

Art Director: Christoph Steeger

Editor: Alexander Dittner

Runtime: 87 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction Parody, Comedy

Language: German

Starring/Cast: Sky Dumont, Michael Herbig, Rick Kavanian, Anja Kling, Hans-Michael Rehberg, Til Schweiger, Christian Tramitz

Year: 2004

Volume: German


In 2004 an alien is held captive in Area 51 for a general’s first viewing.  ‘Sir, you’ve never seen anything so terrible?’ The alien is revealed to be Spucky (Herbig) in a hybrid cowboy/Star Trek/Vulcan outfit, left behind from the year 2304 after a whirlwind time-travelling rescue mission to save the planet by destroying the UFO that landed in the Nevada desert in 2004. 300 years later Regulator Rogul (Rehberg) has declared war on Earth. In an emergency plenary session, Queen Metapha (Kling) reluctantly agrees to hire the crew of the spaceship Surprise to help defend Earth against the invaders. Captain Kork (Tramitz) and his crew are in the middle of getting in shape and preparing for the Miss Waikiki song and dance competition, a campy concoction of a Hawaian-style Club Med performance, and at first do not want to take on the mission. Instead of beaming the overweighed crewmates up, Schrotti (Kavanian) calls a Space-Taxi driven by Rock (Schweiger, who acts in a straight Bruce Willis/Schwarzenegger mode). They crash land and after a quick debriefing are sent on their way on a time machine sofa. Schrotti stays behind as Queen Metapha takes his place on the couch. Jens Maul (played as Darth Vada with a heavy Saxon accent by Kavanian), the regulator’s right-hand man and as it turns out also his son, fashions himself a time machine out of the construction blueprint and moped pieces and gives chase. After two amusing detours through medieval Britain and the old West, the crew indeed arrives in 2004 to have a tiny spaceship bump into them on arrival. Just as the US military is advancing on their position the time machine is set to take off but needs to shed Spucky’s exact amount of weight. In a tearful admission of requited love, Kork and Spucky part ways. When the three arrive in 2304, Spucky awaits them in a glorious purple/pink refashioned capital, having survived thanks to his genetic Vulcan/part Galapagos turtle make-up. The story ends at the Miss Waikiki tournament, where the crew performs the theme song one more time.


Michael Bully Herbig, best known for his record-breaking box office success, the Karl May Western parody Manitou’s Shoe (2001) and his TV show Bullyparade (1997–2002), based Dreamship Surprise on the recurring gay fan fiction themed Star Trek parodies from his show. Unlike the set-as-a-set design platform of Manitou’s Shoe, Herbig’s aesthetic in Surprise is a high-end production design, including convincingly replicated as well as CGI-based iconic interiors and exteriors from the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, among many others. In addition, Surprise combines German slapstick with superior special effects to create viewing pleasure for multiple generations at the German multiplex; for those in the audience who saw Raumschiff Enterprise (Star Trek) on German TV in the 1970s, but also younger members coming-of-age with Lukas’ Star Wars origins trilogy in the 1990s. Surprise dials Manitou’s Shoe gender-bending up a notch and creates a palimpsestic web of allusions and quotations. The resourcefulness of these allusions and the hermeneutical richness of their socio-political implications make this film a true spectacle. Not only does Star Wars wage battle with Star Trek, as generations of fans of either franchise have, but placed in the East-West-German context, Jens Maul’s time travel on a welded ‘tinkered’ moped when compared with the West-Germans’ ‘couch-potato’ travelling connects media reflexivity to the memory debate in Germany. Watching either East or West German television or cinema allowed both sides a glimpse not only into an Other(ed) space but also into an Other(ed) time. Herbig is arguing that while both travellers may have arrived at and in the same time and space after unification in 1989, the process by which they got there is as important to analyse as the departure or arrival points. Analysing the process and media-specificity has particular repercussions in the German context, when Regulator Rogul is wearing multiple emperors’ clothes: fascist, West German and US, and when East German Jens Maul/Darth Vada is revealed as his adopted son. Critiques of the film that argue against its presentation of stereotypes – gay, Ossie or Wessie – miss the point. What Umberto Eco contends for Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942) holds true for Surprise: ‘the clichés are having a ball.’ Besides Star Wars and Star Trek, Herbig and his co-conspirators rely on a vast fan-archive of US media, both accessed in the original from cinema, DVD and Internet, and in dubbed German versions from satellite/cable TV and local movie theatres: The Fifth Element (Besson, 1997), Back to the Future (Zemeckis, 1985), Terminator (Cameron, 1984), A Knight’s Tale (Helgeland, 2001), Men in Black (Sonnenfeld, 1997), Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996), Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976), and Westerns. In Surprise, Herbig’s crew erects a multi-layered adaptation system for treating these diverse sources; a system that combines faithful homage (design networks and generic codes), postmodern parody (gay fan fiction), slapstick (literal translations of commands, physical and situational humour), irreverent, accented appropriations (US/Russia axis of Star Wars morphs into West/East German axis), and media-specific reflexivity (Star Wars becomes an heteronormative fascist empire that is pitted against a queered Star Trek team, which saves the day). The musical score by Stefan Raab adds to this already intricate intertextual tapestry by connecting the Hammond-organ playing antics of the Regulator (Star Wars’ emperor) to the clavichord-seducing tactics of Lord William the Last (Sky Dumont, who also reprises his role of Santa Maria from Manitou’s Shoe in a musical interlude in the Wild West). 

Author of this review: Sunka Simon