Director: Dean Parisot
Writers: David Howard (story)
David Howard and Robert Gordon (screenplay)
Starring: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell
Release Date: December 25th, 1999
Runtime: 1 hr. 42 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG
In the same vein as my earlier review of Ghostbusters, here is another one of my go-to movies. I define these as movies if, as I’m flipping through the channels, I should see them on, I’ll stop and watch them through to the end. These aren’t always the best movies of all time, or even the ones that did well at the box office, but they are, for whatever reasons, the ones that do it for me.
As this is a movie about actors who were in a television show, naming the actors might appear a bit unwieldy, as each has two layers of fictional names – bear with me! The premise of Galaxy Quest will be familiar to anyone who knows anything about geek culture. It’s about a bunch of has-been actors associated with a successful science fiction television series that has been off the air for several years. The show was so successful, that they aren’t recognized for anything else they do, and in fact have a hard time getting work in general because they are typecast. If this is beginning to sound familiar, read on. The show was based around the exploits of a starship whose mission was to explore the galaxy. Led by resourceful lady’s man Commander Peter Quincy Taggert, played by Jason Nesmith [Tim Allen], Tech Sergeant Chen (Fred Kwan [Tony Shalhoub]), and Communications Officer Lt. Tawny Madison (Gwen DeMarco [Sigourney Weaver]), the show ran for five successful seasons before being cancelled, much to the chagrin of its loyal fans. The only one who is still able to make a living acting is Nesmith, and the rest do so by attending conventions based on their show, and doing paid engagements like mall openings.
This bothers all of them, but none more so than serious Shakespearean actor Sir Alexander Dane [Alan Rickman], who played the show’s alien Science Officer, Dr. Lazarus, whose catchphrase has become a geek culture mainstay: “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!” Not quite “Live long and prosper,” but just as catchy. And all of his former costars resent Nesmith for his lack of interest in their situation, as he is completely oblivious both to their plight, and to their anger.
The twist is that, seventeen years having passed since the show was on the air, their original broadcasts have been intercepted by an alien race, the Thermians. Culturally incapable of lying, they misinterpret the broadcasts as “historical documents,” and proceed to replicate all of the technology from the show. They approach Nesmith/Taggert and enlist his aid. Thinking they’re just more convention goers, he agrees, not realizing that he is really transported to their starship (and not an elaborate stage built by a fan), and that the mission he’s enlisted for is deadly serious. He returns, only to be approached again by the Thermians, whose plight is now desperate. He realizes that they are real aliens, and does his best to bring the rest of his reluctant crew on board.
The Thermians (foreground l-r: Missi Pyle as Laliari; Enrico Colantoni as Mathesar; Patrick Breen as Quellek)
The movie plays with science fiction and geek culture tropes at every turn, with Justin Long as teen fan Brandon a particular standout. He’s rebuffed by Nesmith, who tells him the whole thing is just a show, that it’s fake, and that he should get a life. Accidentally getting one of the Thermians’ communicators in a mix-up, Brandon later becomes Nesmith’s link to Earth, leading to a humorous moment when he tries to tell Nesmith that he understands its fake, only to have Nesmith shout, “No, it’s all real!” Brandon’s glee at realizing all of his hopes and dreams were true is a lot of fun to watch, and speaks to the geek in all of us. Another trope is the token female member of the bridge crew in Tawny Madison. Her uniform is much more revealing than any of the males’, and her job is laughably unimportant – she needs to repeat everything the bridge computer says. This is a nicely done commentary on the treatment of women in genre shows in the early years of television, and the fact that she is able to overcome the culturally imposed limitations on her character represents the positive developments media has seen in the ensuing years in this regard. And probably my favorite trope is the redshirt. Rockwell plays Guy Fleegman, a sometime actor who is hosting a Galaxy Quest convention. Turns out he was also an extra on the series, and he manages to get himself in with the crew when the Thermians arrive. The problem is: his character died in the one episode he was in, and he spends the entire movie certain he’s going to be the token crew member to bite it.
There are some very good actors here, Rickman and Weaver being my favorites, but Allen, Rockwell, Shalhoub, and Enrico Colantoni as Thermian leader Mathesar do their part as well. Mathesar has one of the best lines in the movie, the “Galaxy Quest” TV show catchphrase: “Never give up…Never surrender.”
Tech Sgt. Chen [Tony Shalhoub as Fred Kwan] and Laliani [Missi Pyle]
In addition, Missi Pyle as Kwan’s alien love interest, Laliari, is a great small role. The special effects are fine, and the camp factor plays into this as the technology is based on a show from the early 1970s. The characters are all thinly veiled doppelgangers for our beloved Star Trek icons, and the geek culture surrounding Trek culture is not so much mocked, as it is celebrated. The greatest strength of geek culture is its ability to find value and humor in all things cool, even itself. And this movie is most definitely something cool.
Steve’s Grade: A-
A very funny movie that spoofs geek culture and campy science fiction television, while also paying homage to them both. Excellent turns from the entire cast, and a level of playfulness that will keep you coming back for multiple viewings.