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Galaxy Quest : An Appreciation
© Shane Ivey
November 07, 2008

Galaxy Quest is a hilarious science fiction spoof. If you like the genre and you have even a vestigial sense of humor, you need to go see it.

Hollywood trends move in mysterious patterns, unknowable to the layman, incomprehensible to all but the most jaded and experienced insiders. They are certainly well beyond me. So I can't say why 1999 was the year of the Movies About Trekkies; I can only enjoy it.

First it was the documentary Trekkies, then the comedy Free Enterprise, with William Shatner as, of course, himself. Galaxy Quest (or GQ, as I like to call it, and far superior it is to that cigar-toting fashion rag) was the latest and biggest-budget of the lot.

Like Free Enterprise, it is a comedy about Star Trek and Star Trek fanatics. The movie creators hired no Trek stars to play themselves, and it invented a new show and new aliens, maybe to avoid licensing ugliness with Paramount. But there's no mistaking what's really going on. Underneath the special effects and the intentionally-familiar plotline, GQ is a clever, funny, heartfelt film about everyone's favorite "Western in Space," a terrific homage and satire.

The redundant Galaxy Quest slogan -- "Never Give Up! Never Surrender!" -- encapsulates the simple charm of Star Trek: the execution may be flawed, but its heart is in the right place.

The concept alone should be enough to get science fiction fans in the theatres. Galaxy Quest was an early-1980s sci-fi tv show which became a cult classic, spawning conventions and developing a legion of rabid fans, called Trekkies -- I mean, Questarians. When the show was cancelled, the stars were stuck: unable to parlay their success into mainstream stardom, they kept to the convention circuit, still working together, year after year. Their latest con appearance features a first-ever showing of a lost episode. There's not a dry Questarian eye in the house.

Oddball fans in Questarian jumpsuits ask the show's star Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), to join them for an important mission.

Naturally, the aliens are indistinguishable from hard-core Questarians, the type who seem to think and speak in-character at all times, and Nesmith assumes they're arranging another appearance.

Then he finds out it's all real and goes to his old co-stars for help. Why doesn't he go to the Air Force, or someone who might have skills in this area? Who cares? Action and comedy ensue.

Tim Allen's comic timing and delivery are on-target, as usual (his film efforts have are uneven, but I won't fault him his skill as a comic actor), and it helps that he's a science fiction buff in real life. He plays his overblown heroics with relish.

Sigourney Weaver co-stars blondely-and-buxomly as Gwen, the karate-kicking babe whose main function on the show was to repeat the dialog of the perfectly legible ship computer. Seeing Weaver in a comedy is refreshing; she has been doing angst and serious dramatic roles for so long that it's easy to forget her fame-building turn in Ghostbusters.

Alan Rickman is Alexander Dane, a frustrated English thespian typecast as the half-alien sidekick, Dr. Lazarus.

The film follows the all-too-fallible actors as they stumble through what amounts, in a broad wink at the audience, to a stock episode of their old show. Nice, peaceful aliens need help against brutal invaders, and only the heroic crew can save the day.

The heart of the movie is the fun it pokes at B-grade sci-fi. The characters run through the often-silly traps and conflicts that marked every Galaxy Quest episode, torn between a sense of the absurdity of it all and terror that, unlike the show, here they could really die.

Sam Rockwell is hilarious as Guy Fleegman, who played "Crewman #6" in one episode: he was a "Red Shirt," who existed only to be killed before the heroes could save the day. He spends the entire movie terrified that he's doomed to the same fate.

Visually, Galaxy Quest is outstanding, with impressive effects and costumes that contrast cleverly with the underbudgeted clips of the original show. Editing was smooth in all but one scene. Watch Weaver's dialog carefully in the piston-and-flame deathtrap. Seeing the flames and pistons, you hear her shout, "Well, screw that!" But if you watch carefully, you see her mouth a slightly different line -- I don't know about you, but where I learned English, "screw" never started with an "F".

If it was a mistake, it was a glaring but funny one; if it was intentional, they should have given another hint about it in the film.

The heart of Galaxy Quest, though, is in the relationship between stars and fans. The enemy aliens are intentionally generic, and the visuals and action sequences are just sweet frosting on the cake. The interaction is the core of the plot and what gives the film its humor. It recognizes the strange connection between them, the irrational trust that fans put in their favorite actors, the sense of responsibility that stars have for the people who adore them, and the consequences of abusing that adoration: the obsessive loyalty of fans is the stars' bread and butter, just as it holds down typecast stars who might yearn for something more out of their artistic careers.

The comedy drags a little in scenes designed to give the movie extra emotional weight, with heart-tugging dialog between stars and fans, human and alien, who are chagrined to learn that they are not really heroes.

That is all putting it a little too seriously, though. The movie is hilarious, from its take on the obsessiveness of fans to its constant parodies of Star Trek cliches.You've read enough. See this movie!


RevolutionSF producer Shane Ivey was an actor once. Now look at him! Look at him!

 
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