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The Fifth Element (1997)

05/23/2011 1 comment

What do you get when a teenaged art student writes a sci fi film?? What do you get when a French director noted for his contributions to the cinema du look style direct it? What do you get when they’re both the same person? You get this.

The Fifth Element is a Friench sci fi film co-written and directed by Luc Besson, starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, and Chris Tucker.

In 1914, when planet Earth is on the verge of World War I, an alien race called the Mondoshawan arrives at an ancient Engyptian tomb to retrieve a weapon capable of fighting a Great Evil that appears every five thousand years: four stones representing the four classical elements, plus a fifth element that can unite the other four. They promise to return when the Great Evil returns, presenting a key to be kept safe until then. Fast forward 349 years. Planet Earth is now a bustling, futuristic, visual cacophany, and the Great Evil is drawing closer, eating a Federated Army starship. The Mondoshawans attempt to return to Earth with their anti-evil weapon, but their ship is ambushed and destroyed by Mandalores, a race of shapeshifting mercenaries hired by one Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg. In the remains of the Mondoshawan ship, Earth’s scientists find a sample of astonishingly complex genetic material, and reconstitute it into a supreme being named Leeloo, who escapes and winds up in the company of Korben Dallas, an ex-Army Major with the Federated Army Special Forces turned cab driver. After the situation is explained to him, Dallas is ordered to recover the stones from their current holder, an opera singer. Dallas isn’t so sure about the saving-the-world thing, but he thinks Leeloo is hot, so what the hell. And a very beautiful action movie ensues.

The first thing you will notice about this movie is its beauty. The Fifth Element is a definite treat for the eyes, giving you plenty to see as the story unfolds. The future Mr. Besson offers us is colorful and chaotic, from the costumes to the sets to the vehicles, with everything enhanced with CG just enough that the effects don’t get in the way. New York City of 2263 is just as busy as its modern counterpart, but in three dimensions – perfectly understandable in a setting with flying cars – leading to a unique twist on the car chase seldom seen in science fiction. The costumes are garish and exotic, offering a unique flavor to the setting without making the eyes bleed, though this is turned up until till the dial breaks with Chris Tucker’s near-brush with drag queen fashion as Ruby Rhod (incidentally, the costumes he wears during the Phlogiston scenes are not the most garish the costume designer had cranked out; those were shown to Tucker first to make the actual costumes seem tame by comparison). Pair the Technocolor palette with a handful of unique alien designs (without having the whole movie crawling with weird races), and The Fifth Element is a lot of fun to watch without even touching the story.

Fortunately, unlike some other pretty movies I’ve seen, the plot rises to meet the challenge and doesn’t drown in the spectacle, offering a unique take on the “saving the world” plot, set against the flashy backdrop of this colorful future. The action parts are about average for 90’s Bruce Willis, with gunfights, bad guys, car chases, and snarky one-liners tossed about. Dallas is delightfully deadpan about the whole thing: with his history in the Special Forces, absolutely nothing phases him about getting chased by cops after an alien woman falls into his cab from about five stories up, hostile Mandalores shooting at him while opera plays in the background, or even the impending destruction of Earth by a Big Ball of Hate. He assesses, he reacts, he powers through, and he goes about his business. One unusual point that I didn’t notice for a long time after I watched this movie for the first time, though: You have the hero, Korben Dallas. Fine. You have a human antagonist serving the Hateball, Zorg. These two people never meet. At all. They’re never in the same room with each other at any time in the movie. They never see each other. This seems like it wouldn’t work, until you realize that the movie isn’t about Dallas vs. Zorg, but rather Dallas vs. the Hateball. Zorg becomes an incidental pawn in the Hateball’s plans, and while he’s entertaining to watch, he’s only a part of the grand scheme for the annihilation of all life. Brilliant.

If you’re tired of the same old sci fi action movie with the same cookie-cutter settings and conventions, check out The Fifth Element. It’s sheer eye candy, backed by a solid plot that will entertain any sci fi fan.

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

05/16/2011 1 comment

I’ve noticed an interesting rule of low-budget sci fi franchises set in the future: When time travel to a recognizeable period is involved, the most common temporal setting is modern times. It makes sense from a budgetary point of view: recreating a certain historical period can be expensive, and it’s hard to get all the details exactly right. Naturally, it will transpire that the modern day has the thing or resource needed by our visitors from the future, with no easy way to communicate what it is or why they need it. Here we have this basic plot, only with a Hollywood budget. How well did it do? Let’s find out.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a sci fi film set in the Star Trek film franchise, the fourth film in the series, a direct sequel to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and the third movie in the story arc known to fans as the Star Trek trilogy, finishing the storyline started in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy, and stars Nimoy, William Shatner, Catherine Hicks, Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelly, Walter Koenig, and a couple of humpback whales.

It is the year 2286. The crew of the starship Enterprise (destroyed during the events of The Search for Spock), are living in exile on the planet Vulcan while their recently resurrected crewmate Spock is still recovering from his resurrection and having his katra re-integrated. So far, his Vulcan components are repaired and functioning just fine, but he is still having trouble coming to terms with his human half. As they are headed back to planet Earth in their stolen strategically re-purposed Klingon Bird of Prey to face trial for Kirk being a heroic badass and saving the day disobeying orders and stealing the Enterprise, they receive a distress call from Starfleet, telling them of a cylindrical probe approaching Earth (because Earth is the center of the universe), sending out a signal that has toasted the electronics of many crucial systems and has the potential to destroy the planet. One odd detail: the probe is being aimed at the ocean, not at any of the land-based civilizations. Spock determines that the signal is actually the song of humpback whales, a species rendered extinct on Earth 300 years ago. Well, arse. Since there are no whales, there can be no response, means that Earth is screwed – unless Kirk & Co. travel back in time to pick up a whale to talk to the darn thing. They slingshot around the sun to get the speed necessary to travel back in time, and arrive in San Francisco in 1986. Once there they find they’re in luck – two humpback whales are in captivity nearby – but at the same time they have a few more problems to solve before they can bring their aquatic diplomats back to chat with the probe, and of course, hilarity ensues.

This was a fun little movie. While it doesn’t have the intense drama of Khan or the cultural development of Spock, it does have a simple plot made believeably complex by the expected problems of being from 300 years in the future, trying to get what you need to save Earth in your home time, without beating the viewer over the head with the Save the Whales message. Spock’s continued post-resurrection disorientation provides some of the funniest moments int he film, and watching the Enterprise crew running around San Francisco, year 1986, was a riot, even during perilous situations that could have completely jeopardized their mission. Interesting bit of trivia: during pre-production the filmmakers were concerned about filming in San Francisco, thinking the locals would see the actors running around and interfere with filming. As an experiment, they sent some extras touring the city in Starfleet uniforms. Nobody noticed. This is reflected in the film itself when people dismiss Spock as a recovering hippie, and Chekhov and Uhura are largely ignored while trying to get directions to the Alameda Naval Base so they can recharge the Bird of Prey’s dilithium crystals (almost completely out of juice after travelling back 300 years). Incidentally, the woman who ultimately stopped to help was not an extra, and they had to chase her down and have her sign a release so they could use the footage.

It seemed that most of the cast acknowledged the comedic potential in the plot, and they were bang-on in delivering it, staying straight-faced trying to solve their problem while the audience was rolling on the floor laughing. I especially offer mad props to Nimoy, who had to stay absolutely deadpan during some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Scotty’s encounter with a PC that lacked voice recognition capabilities, Kirk and Spock’s encounter with a jackass on the bus with a loud boom-box, and Chekhov’s encounter with Red Scare-era naval officers were just a handful of great scenes sprinkled liberally throughout this movie (though given the political climate I’m left to wonder how much trouble the Russian-born Chekhov could have potentially been in, given that he was caught in the bowels of a nuclear sub). ILM’s animatronic whales were impressive, too – so impressive that the crew got bitched out by conservation and animal rights groups who thought they’d filmed the scenes with real humpback whales. This is why ILM is a god.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home brings a satisfying conclusion to the story arc started in Khan, offering thrills and laughs in equal measures against a backdrop of yet another potential apocalypse. I highly recommend watching this one, but for best results you should only do so after you’ve seen the previous two.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

05/13/2011 2 comments

In many long-running franchises, there is often a movie that the filmmakers intend as the “end” of the franchise, only to have it be so successful that a sequel (or multiple sequels) is made. Saw III. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Some of these are obvious – others less so. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was intended to be the last of the Star Trek movies, ending as it did with the heroic sacrifice and funeral of Spock. As expected, it was so popular that the studio wanted to make a sequel. How well did they do? Let’s find out.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is the third movie in the Star Trek film franchise, based on the original Star Trek television series, and serves as a direct sequel to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy (his condition for returning to the franchise), and it stars William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, the Enterprise had just had its ass kicked across half a solar system by Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered superhuman tyrant who hated Admiral Kirk with the intensity of a thousand desert suns for a bunch of stuff Kirk indirectly caused. The casualties of this battle included half of Captain Spock’s fledgling crew, and Spock himself, who sacrificed himself to allow the Enterprise to escape Khan’s impending detonation of the Genesis device in a final last-ditch attempt to reduce Kirk to atoms. Khan’s plan failed, but the Genesis device appeared to work as designed, causing a nearby lifeless planet to burst into life, the same planet around which Spock’s funeral torpedo was placed into orbit. Now for the problems: Dr. McCoy has started acting a bit loopy, and is detained for observation. Starfleet Admiral Murrow orders the Enterprise to be decommissioned, and its crew are not to speak of the results of the Genesis detonation due to political concerns. Kirk’s son David and the Vulcan Saavik investigate the blooming Genesis planet, and find an inexpected life-form: a Vulcan child, minus his mental operating system. Finally, Sarek, Spock’s father, confronts Kirk about Spock’s death, and the two managed to piece together the reason behind McCoy’s erratic behavior: McCoy is carrying Spock’s katra, which Spock transferred over to him just before his sacrifice. Spock’s katra and body must be reunited in order to properly lay Spock to rest on the planet Vulcan, before the strain kills McCoy. Kirk has explicit orders not to go near the Genesis planet, where he suspects Spock’s body to be (and where it technically is), and his ship has been decommissioned. Will this stop him? Hell no – he’s Admiral Goddamned Kirk! Naturally, Klingons ensue.

I hadn’t seen this movie in a while, and all I really remembered about it was Kirk and Kluge battling on the crumbling Genesis planet. However, when I watched it recently, I was quite pleased by how well it followed up on the tragic events at the end of Khan and led nicely into The Voyage Home (mainly by explaining why Spock was so loopy during most of the latter). Did the Federation really think that Kirk would do something as silly as follow orders when to do so would put several of his close comrades at serious risk? Hell no! And the events on and around the Genesis Planet went a long way towards establishing the Klingons as a race, and offers the first glimpses into the Klingon language, since developed fully by Marc Okrand. We also get a look at Vulcan spiritualism and culture, and how it ties into the race’s natural processes. The ritual of Pon Farr is glimpsed when Saavik finds herself helping adolescent Spock through a rather violent puberty, and expanded materials have implied that she conceived a child by him offscreen. In all, the cultural development of the Vulcans and Klingons is excellent, and would play a significant role in later movies.

There were a few surprises in the casting here. Saavik, previously played by Kirstie Alley in The Wrath of Khan, is played here by Robin Hooks, who fared decently well in the role. Also, I recall staring at Kluge for about half the movie, thinking, “I know that guy, I know that guy, I know that guy”, before it hit me – that was Christopher Lloyd under all that makeup! It especially comes out when Kluge starts getting upset, but he did very well outside his usual spectrum. The crew of the Enterprise remains tightly knit by years of mutual experience (in-universe and out), even considering the conspicious lack of Spock through much of the film, and it was fun seeing McCoy getting in disputes with his unwanted katra passenger, considering how much the two had bickered when Spock was alive and in one piece.

Star Trek: The Search for Spock followed well in the footsteps left behind by Wrath of Khan, and easily continues the story of the crew of the Enterprise, as well as developing two of the major alien races of that universe. I recommend this to all Trek fans and everyone who enjoyed Khan.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)


No one fights like that Khan
Douses lights like that Khan
In a wrestling match nobody bites like that Khan
For there’s no one as burly and brawny
And you can see he’s got biceps to spare
Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny,
And ev’ry last inch of him’s covered in hair!

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a science fiction film directed by Nicholas Meyer based on the television series Star Trek and serving as a sequel to both Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Star Trek episode “Space Seed”. It stars William Shatner, Richardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Walter Koenig.

As Admiral James Kirk oversees the training of Captain Spock’s hopeful future crew through the Kobayashi Maru simulation, the U.S.S. Reliant searches for a lifeless planet on which to test out the Genesis Device, a torpedo that can terraform planets for human colonization but can also destroy planets. When Commander Pavel Chekhov and Captain Clark Terrell beam down to a likely candidate, Ceti Alpha VI, they instead find a genetically engineered tyrant, Khan Noonian Singh, whose band of supermen were exiled there during the events of “Space Seed”. It appears that since that time, a lot of bad shit has gone down for Khan et all, including the death of Khan’s wife, and he swears revenge. He implants Chekhov and Terrell with mind-controlling alien larvae to compel them to help him take over the Reliant, and from there hatches a plan to ensnare Kirk and destroy him once and for all. Kirk, meanwhile, is on a training mission with Spock’s new crew when they receive a distress call from Regula I, the space station developing the Genesis device. Kirk being Kirk, he comes to the rescue, setting off a deadly game of cat and mouse between old enemies, amid revelations between old friends…

Wrath of Khan is considered by most to be vastly superior to The Motion Picture, and it’s easy to see why. Building on a sequel hook set at the end of “Space Seed”, Khan weaves a tale of tragedy and revenge that pretty much blows the first movie out of the water. Much of Kirk’s old crew is moving on to newer things, but they quickly band together against a common threat, mainly because they’re familiar with each other and simply work well together. Everyone is forced to think on their feet in a deep-space game of speed chess that could potentially cost the lives of Spock’s entire crew. Kirk has clashed with Khan before, and he knows the tyrant’s weaknesses, but the reverse is also true, making the conflict seem very real as the stakes are raised again and again.

The cast is still tight here, having learned how to adapt from TV to film through the previous film. Kirk remains a badass, even as he witnesses the extent to which this madman will go to get his revenge, threatening an adult son Kirk has only just met. Khan is also a badass, albeit one with a laser sight trained on Kirk and everything he holds dear (and incidentally, that was Ricardo Montalban’s real chest exposed by his costume, rumors of prostheses aside). Chekhov barely escapes being shoved into the comic relief corner here, as he serves as a plot device to hook in his old Captain; fortunately his loyalty to Kirk is such that Khan is ultimately unable to use him as an assassin. The subplot involving Carol Marcus and the son she bore with Kirk seems like a natural extension of Kirk’s notorious womanizing rather than just another plot device, and to Kirk’s credit he does adapt to fatherhood reasonably well under the circumstances.

In all, Wrath of Khan easily outshines The Motion Picture both in terms of plot and characterization, and is a worthy addition to the Star Trek franchise. Absolutely see this one.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)


Star Trekkin’
Across the universe
On the starship Enterprise
Under Captain Kirk
Star Trekkin’
Across the Universe
Boldly going forward
Coz we can’t find reverse!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a science fiction film based on the original Star Trek television series. It was directed by Robert Wise and stars the core cast of that series: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.

In deep space, a Starfleet monitoring station detects an alien force hidden in a cloud of energy, headed for Earth. As Space Anomaly #237 continues on this route, it eats three Klingon ships and the monitoring station in question, prompting Starfleet to recommission Admiral James T. Kirk, currently languishing as a desk jockey in San Francisco as Chief of Starfleet Operations. While the Enterprise is undergoing a refit under the supervision of a new commander, Captain Decker, Kirk’s superior experience with Hinky Shit in Space makes him a superior choice of captain in this case, and Decker is unhappily kicked downstairs while Kirk’s old crew is hunted down and reassembled for the mission, including Spock, who was undergoing a Vulcan ritual to purge all emotion from him when he felt a consciousness that he believes emanates from the cloud. A new addition to the crew is the navigator, Ilia, a member of an alien race that pumps out mad pheromones but, per regulations, she has taken a vow of celibacy so she doesn’t disrupt the crew. When the Enterprise intercepts the cloud, it probes the enterprise and abducts Ilia, replacing her with a robotic double with a single mission: to gather information. All the while, though, the cloud continues barreling for Earth, hell-bent on completing a mission started over 300 years ago, and it is a race against time for the Enterprise to find out what this mission was, and how to help the alien entity fulfill it before it destroys the planet Earth.

When Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Gene Roddenberry recognized the potential that the franchise still held and lobbied Paramount to continue the series through feature-length films. Based on the continued success of Star Trek in syndication, the studio started bashing away at a Star Trek film in 1975, but the project hung in limbo until 1978, after the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind convinced them once and for all that sci fi films other than Star Wars could be successful. Consequently, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (expanding a plot intended for the pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, a show that ultimately never materialized) became a Proof of Concept that Trek could work in the film medium. As far as that went, ST: TMP fared well. It opened the door to more impressive films like Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and a multi-film story arc involving the heroic sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Spock.

That said, it’s not a perfect film. The special effects were decent for 1979, especially considering that CGI wouldn’t even be a twinkle in Hollywood’s eye for two more years, but the Chromakey effects seem dated by today’s standards. The acting is pretty good, though, and the story keeps you engaged throughout without lagging or padding. I suspected right off that Ilia and Decker were going to be one-off Red Shirts for the movie, but the way they executed their final fates was imaginative and ingenius. The ultimate identity of the being V’Ger came as a nice surprise, too, and helped to link the Trek Verse with the “Real World”, albeit centuries in the future. There were a few points I didn’t immediately understand, having only seen a handful of episodes from the original series, but my roommate, a huge Trek fan, was able to help me fill in the gaps.

While it is not necessary to watch this film to understand the later entries in the Star Trek film series, I would recommend this to Trek fans as a glimpse into the beginnings of the Star Trek film franchise. While many points may go over the heads of non-Trekkies, it fares well as a stand-alone science fiction story, and I think most fans of the genre will enjoy it.

Blogger’s note: “Star Trekkin'” is owned by The Firm, copyright 1987. I am using it here without permission. All rights reserved, live long and prosper.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

04/04/2011 2 comments

Okay, raise your hand if you watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. The whole thing? Good. Keep your hand up if you understood 2001: A Space Odyssey. Uh huh. Keep your hand up if you understood it without reading the tie-in novel? Yeah. I thought so. That’s why Arthur C. Clarke wrote a sequel, which was naturally made into a movie, in an effort to help explain what the hell was going on to audiences who have been confused for the last 16 years. Did it work? Let’s find out.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is a science fiction film directed by Peter Hyams that serves as the sequel to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. This film was adapted from Clarke’s novel 2010: Odyssey Two, which also serves as a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Steady… no use getting confused already.) It stars John Lithgow, Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Kier Dullea, and the uber-creepy voice of Douglas Rain.

Nine years have passed since the epic mind-screw that was the failure of the Discovery One‘s mission to Jupiter, caused when HAL 9000 lapsed into Killer Robot territory and killed four out of the five crewmen, while the fifth, David Bowman, disappeared into an alien monolith about 2 kilometers long orbiting Jupiter and suffered an acid trip so bad that he evolved into a giant space fetus and left audience horribly, horribly confused. Somehow, the blame for all this (though maybe not the giant space fetus thing) has landed on the shoulders of one Dr. Heywood Floyd, who resigned his position as the head of the National Council of Aeronautics in shame. Tension has been growing between the United States and the Soviet Union (which in this timeline still exists, complete with Cold War, in the year 2010) as both nations prepare to go find out what the hell happened aboard the Discovery, with a slight wrinkle: The Russians will have their ship, the Alexei Romanov ready first, but American technicians will be needed to parse out the nature of HAL’s malfunction and to operate the American Discovery. Since the Discovery‘s orbit is decaying, it is likely to crash into the moon Io before the Americans are able to get their shit together, Russia and America decide to team up to find out what the hell happened. Once there, they make a few interesting discoveries: one, there is chlorophyll on Europa. Two, Europa gets really mad when they try to figure out where the chrorophyll came from. Three, HAL wasn’t homicidal, he just got confused when told to conceal information about the monolith and decided the best way to follow his orders was to kill everyone. Four, David Bowman is back. Sort of. Five, something wonderful is about to happen. And six, Dr. Floyd discovers the best way to get close to a hot cosmonaut who can’t speak English is to just be handy during a terrifying aerobraking maneuver. Down on Earth, however, tensions between America and Russia continue to intensify, and the force of both countries are starting to get ready to seriously throw down. However, when it appears that “something wonderful” is manifesting as countless thousands of little monoliths devourin Jupiter, the respective crews of both ships will have to work together to get clear of Jupiter, lest something wonderfully annihilate them all.

Good news: This is a straightforward narrative. You can all relax on that account, secure in the knowledge that you won’t have to watch it with a team of philosophy majors and compare notes afterwards. HOWEVER – you do have to have at least a vague idea of what happened in the previous film. They do recap what happened, as far as anyone on Earth can tell, but for obvious reasons they don’t explain anything about part four (remember, the acid trip?). You can catch up pretty quickly, though, so that’s good. However, something strange happened between 1968 and 1984: the space effects got slightly worse. They didn’t have greenscreen effects in 1968 (so far as I know), so they worked around it, to great effect. They did have greenscreen effects in 1984, though, and they used them to add a bit of realism to the spacewalking effects. They mostly succeeded, but if you know what to look for you can see the outlines. Not bad, though, and it gets a pass. Also, they get bonus points for getting Kier Dullea and Douglas Rain to reprise their respective roles as David Bowman and HAL 9000, though creepily Dullea doesn’t appear to have aged at all in 16 years. The addition of Roy Scheider, previously seen in Jaws was also a good choice, and would set him up for the sort of “wonderment of exporing new worlds” vibe he would give off in seaQuest DSV.

They also explain a lot of the trippy stuff that happened in the previous movie, which is good, but I can’t help but wonder if that would have even been necessary if the first movie had simply been a bit more straightforward. It doesn’t help that moth movies were trying to compress about two hundred pages of narrative into two hours of movie, but in that respect I think 2010 manages a clearer interpretation than its cinematic predecessor. It doesn’t jump around (let alone the first one’s jump of several hundred thousand years), and it follows a straight path to a definite conclusion. The story is tight and linear, and it actually makes itself understood. Yay.

If you liked 2001 but were left a bit light on explanations, try out 2010. It’ll help you understand most of what happened in 2001, and brings the whole story arc to a very impressive conclusion.

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!