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Galaxy Quest (1999)


Once, the sci fi series Galaxy Quest was so popular that a rabid fanbase developed around it, with enthusiasts debating the science and theories behind the show until the cows came home. Today, hardcore fans still travel miles to attend Galaxy Quest conventions, each one itching for the chance to talk to one of their favorite stars. Some come from states away. Some come from distant countries.

And some even come from galaxies away…

Galaxy Quest is a sci fi comedy film directed by Dean Parisot, centering on the washed-up actors of a cancelled sci fi television program who discover that somebody has mistaken their adventures for documentaries. It stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, and Daryl Mitchell.

It has been seventeen years since the once-popular sci fi series Galaxy Quest was cancelled, but the actors playing the crew of the U.S.S. Protector are still the target of fanatic adoration by their fans, a fact which inspires a wide spectrum of reactions from the actors themselves. Jason Nesmith (Allen) continues to soak up the attention and adoration, while Sir Alexander Dane (Rickman) hates being eternally associated with his role of Dr. Lazarus, as he started off in Shakespeare. Regrettably, none of them have had any meaningful acting roles since Galaxy Quest, and all their work these days mainly consists of convention appearances and being commercial spokespeople – all in character, of course.

During one of the loved/hated/best avoided Galaxy Quest conventions, Nesmith is approached by a group of people who identify themselves a Thermians and request his help. He happily agrees, thinking they are bringing him to an amateur filmmaking session, but he soon find out that the Thermians are genuinely aliens, using devices to make themselves appear human. They have built their entire society around the Galaxy Quest “documentaries”, and want the crew of the U.S.S. Protector to help defend them against the genocidal warlord Sarris. Nesmith does what anyone would do in this situation: He has a panic attack. Now, he and his crew find themselves having to truly assume the television roles that they have come to hate so much, and find in themselves courage and ingenuity befitting the crew of the Protector, or else Sarris is likely to kill them all.

I loved this movie. Even though I’m not as big a Trekkie as some of my friends, I enjoyed picking out the references and in-jokes to the series it was riffing on, and the whole movie works as The Magnificent Seven meets Star Trek. The concept was sound, and the story was tight, even as it freely made fun of itself throughout. Trek veterans were originally leery about this parody, but were relieved to find the “affectionate” part of “affectionate parody” was solidly in place. George Takei actually called it a “chillingly accurate documentary” – ironic, given the core plot point that the Thermians believe that Galaxy Quest was itself a documentary. The interactions of the human cast, who start out hating their tired TV roles (except for the egotistical Nesmith) and eventually end up finding the spirit of each character again, are well-scripted and well-acted. Rickman as falled Shakespearian Dane is, of course, the deadpan snarker of the group, utterly despising the rubber headpiece he wears throughout, until the moment when he makes it quite clear to Sarris’ men that Dr. Lazarus has quite a bit of Worf in his Spock. Tim Allen’s feature-length comedies have historically been rather hit or miss, but here he is dead on as a Shatner clone, and Sigourney Weaver shines as the opposite of her role in the Alien series – instead of a brunette action girl badass, her entire role in Galaxy Quest is to be the blonde token female who repeats everything the computer says. The Thermians were well-characterized as well; while they might be pitiably naive about matters of fictional entertainment, their plight appears genuine and potentially tragic, while Sarris comes off as entertainingly evil, having his own reasons for exterminating this pacifistic race but likely just doing it because he can.

The special effects are also well-done in this movie, well-crafted with a certain degree of stylistic schlock to capture this modernization of the original Star Trek, using CGI where the original might have used a guy in a shitty-looking costume, and using a guy in an awesome-looking costume where the original might have used a rubber forehead alien (and using an actual human in a rubber forehead because he was a human in a rubber forehead on the show). The replica Protector look like a Star Trek set, but then, that was the point, and it enhances the effects with CGI exterior shots that match well with the spirit of the movie.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of Star Trek or merely a casual acquaintance of the franchise, I think you’ll enjoy Galaxy Quest. I pokes fun at itself and the overall concept of the rabid fandom in ways that simultaneously honors and parodies both. By Grabthar’s Hammer, watch this movie!

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