Galaxy Quest (1999)
“Never give up, never surrender!”
There’s been a lot of talking about fanfic lately and Sunita had the brainstorm for me to review “Galaxy Quest.” I hadn’t watched it in a couple of months so it was youtube to the rescue again. It all came back to me courtesy of 11 episodes and I recalled just how much fun it is. Gotta get my own copy now.
Seventeen years after it ended, the actors who portrayed the crew of the NSEA Protector in the TV show “Galaxy Quest” eke out a living by appearing at Cons and big box store promotions where they sign autographs, complain about their lack of acting careers and bitch about the egomaniac Jason (Tim Allen) who portrayed the captain and grabbed the best lines, the best babes and always managed to lose his shirt during the episode. At the latest gig, Jason mugs as usual until he overhears some people mocking him and followers of the show. Disheartened, he initially blows off some geek fans who want to talk technical details, as well as a group of weirdly smiling people who he thinks are dressed as aliens.
Only they aren’t just dressed as aliens….they are aliens. Thermians from another galaxy who are seeking the help of Commander Peter Quincy Taggert and his crew, they’ve learned all about them from transmissions of “historical documents.” Now they need “Taggert” as well as Gwen DeMarco/Tawny Madison (Sigourney Weaver), Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus (Alan Rickman), Fred Kwan/Tech St. Chen (Tony Shalhoub), Tommy Webber/Laredo (Daryl Mitchell) and Guy Fleegman/Crew member number six (Sam Rockwell) to help save them from the evil General Sarris (Robin Sachs) who threatens to destroy them. Can Jason convince the others that this isn’t a gag? Will they be able to replicate on board the real ship what they used to fake each week on the show? Is there a way for the dedicated fans to help Jason and Gwen through the chompers alive? And what is the mysterious Omega 13 device?
Guy Fleegman: “Did you guys ever watch the show?”
I don’t seek out fanfic – no slurs being cast, I just don’t have time with all the books on hand I need to read – so I’m probably not the best judge of whether this is fanfic, homage, spoof, or a mix…you tell me. I do know that it’s funny as hell, inventive and manages to nail not only the actors in various SF shows but also the characters they play. Using Sunita’s words, personally I think that there are changes “sufficient to make the jump from derivative to transformative.” It might use SF shows as a starting place but it quickly goes beyond that and leaps into new territory. Yes, it pokes fun at the characters, the settings and the scripts of various shows and films but it doesn’t just rely on a series of tired gags to make the movie. It’s a damned good action picture in its own right.
Alexander Dane: “There were five curtain calls. I was an actor once, damn it. Now look at me. Look at me! I won’t go out there and say that stupid line one more time.”
Casting for the movie is spot on. This is an ensemble piece, a buddy picture that requires a certain “type” in order to portray all the various stock characters – the bombastic captain, the female relegated to a meaningless job whose main purpose is to show some cleavage, the Shakespearean actor reduced to wearing foam rubber “alien” makeup, the “was then” child actor who is typecast in his role and the unnamed actor who’s cast in the “red shirt” role that ensures he’s always killed off in that episode. I especially like Tony Shalhoub as Kwan, the laid back “engineer” who’s the first to embrace where he is and what his show character is supposed to be doing. And the Thermians! Oh, I love them. They’re so cute I want to hug them hard enough that their eyes pop. Okay maybe not when they’re au natural but when they’re transformed, they’re darling. Enrico Colantoni deserves special props as Mathasar.
Jason Nesmith: “This is great. Usually it’s just cardboard walls in a garage.”
The special effects are actually fairly good. The aliens on the ships look convincing, the gizmos with lights don’t look like a Light Bright display, plus the Rock Monster and Pig-Lizard are fabulous. And even if the effects are not quite to the blockbuster level, well, the whole set up is that the Thermian ship is based on what they saw of the old TV show.
Brandon Wheeger: I just wanted to tell you that I thought a lot about what you said.
Jason Nesmith: It’s okay, now listen…
Brandon Wheeger: But I want you to know that I’m not a complete brain case, okay? I understand completely that it’s just a TV show. I know there’s no beryllium sphere…
Jason Nesmith: Hold it.
Brandon Wheeger: no digital conveyor, no ship…
Jason Nesmith: Stop for a second, stop. It’s all real.
Brandon Wheeger: Oh my God, I knew it. I knew it! I knew it!
And you gotta love how carefully the movie treats the hard core SF fans – the ones who dress up, quote entire passages of dialog, have mapped out all the duct work of the inner bowels of the ship and love to get together and dissect the minutia of the show. While real show/movie fans will get more of the references and inside jokes, “Galaxy Quest” is also enjoyable for the Average Joe. The pace is fast, the dialog is thoughtful and clever and the actors’ comedic timing is almost always perfect and there’s even a romance! But it’s also got heart and is emotionally moving – something which Mel Brooks once said is needed to lift a movie above and beyond being merely a spoof.
This is a great fun, feel good, all together now experience. It’s also a love letter to the genre that’s well aware of the cliches and in fact embraces them. It may start out with the conventions of the past 45 years but quickly moves past them and becomes its own story, as I rediscovered when I watched it again.
Fred Kwan: “Come on. Group hug.”