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Friday Film Review: Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest (1999)
Genre: SF/Homage
Grade: B+

“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seeking the help of Commander Peter Quincy Taggert and his crew, they’ve learned all about them from transmissions of “historical documents.”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.”

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

34 Comments

  1. Dabney
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 06:04:23

    I adore this movie. I think it’s one of the best comedies ever made. And it appeals to such a broad age group in ways that many don’t. I could rave and rave about this film, but, if you’ve never seen it, do. It’s hilarious, wonderfully witty, well-cast and acted, and sends up the genre with enough love to warm even a sci-fi hater’s heart.

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  2. Julie L.
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 06:36:43

    I totally love this movie! Such a sleeper comedy but it is hilarious! I remember seeing it in the theatre after trying to get into another movie that was sold out. DH and I knew nothing about what this one was about, but shrugged and bought tickets for it anyway. What a pleasant surprise, we laughed and laughed and it has since been one of our all time favorites!

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  3. Lynn M
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 07:45:52

    Fantastic movie! I always grin ear to ear the whole time I’m watching it. Jayne S. is so right – they absolutely nailed the casting. And the nods to all of the scifi TV shows and movies that Galaxy Quest is based on is spot on. Thanks for reminding me of this great movie. I’m thinking I may have to unearth the DVD.

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  4. Has
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 07:58:50

    I love love love this movie! I think its more of a homage parody than a fanfic – but it does highlight fandom and its subculture and in a fun way which appeals to sci fi fans and non fans. But I loved the idea of a sci fi tv cast getting caught up in a real alien adventure.

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  5. Amy Kathryn
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 08:21:47

    I bought this recently when I saw it in the $5 bin at the store since I had such fond memories of it. As a low key trekkie, I loved the dual homage/parody of the movie. The casting was wonderful. It has definitely held up for me.

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  6. Bren
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 08:30:18

    I absolutely love this movie. SO hilarious. Alan Rickman is priceless as Dr. Lazarus. Tim Allen’s pseudo Kirk is beyond hilarious and Sigourney Weaver is just her usual awesome self. In fact, this movie is far better than many of the later Star Trek (The Next Generation cast) movies!

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  7. Kati
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 08:37:10

    This movie has everything I want and nothing I don’t. Rickman is sublime in it. I pull it out whenever I need a serious laugh.

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  8. Avery Flynn
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 08:39:27

    I love this movie. It is so funny, thanks in no small part to Rickman. The man is amazing.

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  9. Jayne
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 08:43:36

    @Kati: @Avery Flynn: The expressions on Rickman’s face throughout the film are perfect and hilarious.

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  10. Jaci Burton
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 09:02:22

    I adore this movie so much. I’ve been a Star Trek fan since Star Trek was born, and paying homage to SciFi fans in this way was just priceless. And any movie that has Alan Rickman at his comedic best is pure gold. Tim Allen riffed off Shatner perfectly. It’s one of my favorite movies. And the “Never Give Up, Never Surrender” has always been one of my favorite lines. I highly recommend it.

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  11. Stacie
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 09:05:58

    I love this movie too! I remember seeing at the movies with my mom when it first came out. She screamed in the movie when the bad guy popped out. LOL. No one else in the entire packed theatre screamed. I was embarrassed at the time, but now it’s a fond memory of a girl’s night out.

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  12. JMS
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 09:11:17

    This makes me want to watch the movie all over again – it was very funny, but so well done! I am also a sci fi junkie, and loved all the Star Treks. I don’t, however, dress up or go to conventions (or collect anything). Such a great cast too – Alan Rickman and Tony Shaloub are such great actors.

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  13. Darlene Marshall
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 09:18:17

    “Gilligan’s Island?”
    “Those poor people!”

    So much love for Galaxy Quest! When I first saw it it rang all my bells: fan of Original Trek back in the day, and the James Blish novelizations, and the original material Trek novels written by SF authors like Jay Haldeman, and the fanfic you could only buy in mimeo (remember mimeo?) at cons. Then there was my involvement in SF conventions, continuing to this day. These are my peeps! Finally, I saw the original SNL “Get a Life!” segment with William Shatner and knew it was spot on.

    But what I enjoyed most about Galaxy Quest was how at its core it was about love–loving oneself and the people who support you, and getting over cultural differences to love the other.

    Thanks for the great memories!

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  14. Karenmc
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 09:43:45

    Oh, I love this movie. It was such a happy surprise when I saw it years ago, because, come on, it could have been so awful. The cast is hilarious and quite willing to make fools of themselves, and the script is delicious. Gonna have to see it again now.

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  15. MaryK
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 10:11:32

    “This is all just a big misunderstanding.”

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  16. P. Kirby
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 10:11:38

    Galaxy Quest is one of my all-time favorite movies; it’s my go-to movie when I need a pick-me-up after a looong, shitty day. Because it makes fun of genre tropes, it gets quoted a lot when husband and I watch other, more serious SF. As in, “Oh, boy, it’s the ubiquitous, spinning fan thing at the bottom of a deep chasm in the ship.”

    It’s also the first thing I thought of when ya’ll started discussing fan fiction.

    Alan Rickman is awesome: “It’s like throwing gasoline on a flame,” he observes dryly as the Thermians adore Nesmith. Great cast. Great movie.

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  17. Sunita
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 10:35:03

    Thank you, thank you for this, Jayne! It was really Maili’s idea (credit where credit is due), but I love this movie so much. I can’t remember how I ran across it, but TheHusband and I watch it a couple of times a year. It made me like Tim Allen, which I didn’t think was possible.

    We’ve driven by Goblin Valley, where the Rock Monster scene was filmed. But we haven’t gone all the way in. Too scary. What if those babies really exit?

    TheH wanted to know why it was only a B+. I told him it was because it’s the quintessential B movie. So a B+ is really an A, right?

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  18. MaryK
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 11:11:03

    What I really like about this movie is how it sort of moves from parody to homage through the course of the movie and how at the end they’re all revitalized and dedicated – a complete turnaround from how they were at the beginning.

    There are lots of scenes I love, but my favorite is when Rickman’s character says the oath for the dying alien after he’d been so adamant that he’d never say the line again.

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  19. leslie
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 11:40:46

    Love “Galaxy Quest”. Just thinking about it makes me laugh. I’ve made so many people watch the DVD. Alan Rickman is such a great actor. I loved him in “Truly, Madly, Deeply”. Sigourney Weaver is a great comedic actor. She was also great in “Working Girl” and “Ghostbusters”.

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  20. carmen webster buxton
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 12:08:06

    Best. Movie. Ever!

    I absolutely love Galaxy Quest! There are so many wonderful characters and little clever bits that you can watch it several times and still appreciate it every time! I love that Alan Rickman’s character says he loathes playing the alien Dr. Lazarus, but the one time we see him at home, HE IS STILL WEARING THE HEADPIECE!

    I also like that while the movie poked fun at hard-core fans who go to conventions, it’s very affectionate fun. The kids who have the interior of the ship all mapped out are the ones who save the day, after all.

    Love it!

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  21. library addict
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 12:45:01

    I agree it starts as a sppof and turns into a homage. Just a lovely film that works on may levels.

    Plus Alan Rickman, ’nuff said.

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  22. library addict
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 12:47:32

    Oops, many levels (the edit function isn’t working for me).

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  23. Jez Morrow
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 13:20:36

    I confess to being one of those hard core fen who got skewered so lovingly in this flick. Galaxy Quest won the Hugo that year at the SF WorldCon. David Howard, the writer, hoisted his Hugo in his fist and called “Never Give Up!” and the whole crowd of us geeks, well you know what we said. Thanks for the revisit.

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  24. sarah mayberry
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 16:42:23

    Like everyone else, freakin’ love this movie. So awesome, in the way it both gently takes a poke at sci fi but also revels in it. I think about little lines and moments from it all the time. Is awesome.

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  25. Jane Davitt
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 18:39:03

    Love it and this made me realize I only have it on a video and we no longer own a VCR. We had a $15 Best Buy coupon so I went out and used it to buy a GQ DVD this very afternoon.

    I remember as an Ethan (BtVS) fan searching for Robin Sachs all through, not realizing who he was. Doh.

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  26. SonomaLass
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 21:03:13

    One of the movies we own multiple copies of at my house. Everyone loves it, geek group that we are. Now I want to watch it for the umpteenth time!

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  27. Nonny
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 21:07:49

    I adore this movie. Definitely agree with the others who call it a homage/parody.

    I’m a second generation Trekkie who grew up dressing up as Jadzia Dax and doing the con circuit with my mom. :) We laughed so much when this came out, because so much of it is true.

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  28. Hannah E.
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 23:05:46

    I definitely wouldn’t classify Galaxy Quest as fanfic. It’s a loving spoof of an entire genre, not just one show/movie. But even spoofs which target a single source aren’t generally considered fanfic. For instance, Space Balls isn’t Star Wars fanfic. It’s a Star Wars spoof. Big difference.

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  29. KarenH
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 01:50:45

    Awesome, awesome, awesome movie! This movie never fails to make me laugh and snort and laugh some more. It’s a go-to favorite any time I’m sewing, because it’s impossible to get frustrated with quilt points that won’t match up right while it’s playing.

    “whoever wrote this episode should DIE!!!!”

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  30. Kate Hewitt
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 03:01:41

    This is one of my favourite movies. The casting is perfect and there are so many laugh-aloud moments. And I just got to share it with my children for the first time last week, which was even better. Thanks for the review.

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  31. dri
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 05:08:16

    I was so sure I was going to hate this movie but omg yes, it was just so wonderful and so full of heart, ultimately.

    Mind you, my favourite fandom movie is still Velvet Goldmine but that’s more about the relationship between musician and music fan. :p

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  32. Maggie Kingsley
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 08:14:17

    Oh, this is one of my – and my family’s – all time favourite movies. And it’s not just a spoof. OK, so it uses all the SF cliches, while putting a spin on them, but it also works as an original film. You really care about the characters, want them to win/succeed. And those lines…. Every time we drive on a road full of potholes, there’s a chorus of, ‘Can you possibly try not to hit every single one of them.’
    And the miners/minors
    And the, ‘At least he’s outside’ from Guy’s mother when he dashes off with the fireworks
    And Alan Rickman’s dead pan, ‘Are we there yet?’ after Guy has had his panic attack
    And Sigourney Weaver’s comment of,’Whoever wrote that episode should DIE!’
    Wonderful!

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  33. Lucy Francis
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 10:01:30

    I love Galaxy Quest! It’s a family favorite, though the kids didn’t appreciate it quite for the same reasons that I do…well, until they grew up. Now they get it. The fandom aspects just kill me! Also, the planet where they face the rock monster was filmed here in Utah’s Goblin Valley, which is a fave family play spot and simply one of the coolest natural wonders on earth.

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  34. Little Red
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 15:49:41

    Love it!

    ReplyReply

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