Galaxy Quest
Galaxy Quest

USA, 1999.  Rated PG.  104 minutes.

Cast: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni, Robin Sachs, Patrick Breen, Missi Pyle
Writers: David Howard (screenplay & story), Robert Gordon (story)
Music: David Newman
Cinematographer: Jerzy Zielinksi
Producers: Mark Johnson & Charles Newirth
Director: Dean Parisot


Grade: B- Review by Carlo Cavagna

K lingons, Romulans, and Cardassians. Transporter beams, tachyon pulses, and dilithium crystals. Phasers, warp coils, and Jefferies tubes. If you've watched Star Trek, you'll immediately recognize these terms, but if you haven't, you may find them baffling. So it is with Galaxy Quest, a movie that is more appropriately rated an even 'B' for people who have seen more than a few episodes of Star Trek, and especially for those people who have ever been to a Trek convention.

Galaxy Quest never makes overt reference to Star Trek or its spinoffs, but it is a Trek satire nonetheless. Commander Peter Quincy TaggartLike the original Star Trek, Galaxy Quest is a science-fiction television show that was cancelled years ago but lives on in reruns. Like Trek fans ("Trekkies"), hardcore "Galaxy Quest" fans memorize all the episodes and attend large fan conventions dressed in costumes from the show.1 Members of the cast are paid to appear at these conventions, and although the actors hate doing so, they take the money because their careers have fizzled.

Tim Allen plays William Shatner–er, Jason Nesmith–whose Commander Peter Quincy Taggart was the star of the show. Even though Allen does not attempt to replicate Shatner's bizarre sing-song staccato delivery, the fact that he is supposed to be Shatner is obvious, from the way he hunches forward in the Captain's chair with an elbow on his knee, to how the rest of the cast secretly despises him for being an egomaniac. Craving the adulation, Nesmith is the lone member of the cast who actually enjoys the conventions.

Alan Rickman is Alexander Dane, whose character, Dr. Lazarus, is a blend of Spock and Captain Picard, in that Dane is a classically-trained British actor, while his character is a weird-looking alien. The self-loathing Dane hates the conventions most of all, and Rickman is in fine acerbic mode here. Leiutenant Tawny MadisonBlond, busty Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) plays Tawny Madison (the equivalent of Trek's Lieutenant Uhura), an officer whose main functions are to repeat things into a microphone and wear short skirts. Rounding out the crew are Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub, always underrated), who plays the chief engineer, and Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell), who as a child-actor used to appear on "Galaxy Quest" as the navigator.

Galaxy Quest begins at a "Galaxy Quest" convention, where the cast is introduced to the adoring fans by Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell). Fleegman is notable for playing ill-fated Crewman #6 in Episode #81–the equivalent of a "Red Shirt" on the original Star Trek. As Trek fans know, when the show's stars visited an alien planet, they were always accompanied by an generic red-shirted crew member, who was invariably killed off fairly quickly to demonstrate that the heroes had gotten themselves into a pickle.

Among the convention's attendees are three genuine aliens who have travelled from the other side of galaxy to find Nesmith–or rather, Commander Taggart. It seems that these aliens, called Thermians, have picked up broadcasts of "Galaxy Quest" and, not firmly grasping of the concept of make-believe, they have assumed that these are "historical records." In fact, the peace-loving Thermians are so impressed with "Galaxy Quest" that they have modeled their entire society on the show. (Echoes of Trek again, here; in the episode entitled A Piece of the Action, the Starship Enterprise discovers an alien society that emulates the Chicago Mobs of the 1920s, all because Earthlings had accidentally left behind a book about that period after a previous visit.) Dr. LazarusBut now the Thermians are under attack, and they need Commander Taggart's help.

Unfortunately, the stiff, awkward Thermians are indistinguishable from the costumed "Galaxy Quest" fans. Nesmith assumes they are just a bunch of nerds. Thinking that they are hiring him for an appearance at another "Galaxy Quest" event, Nesmith agrees to go with them, eventually bringing the rest of the crew along, only to discover that–whoops–these really are aliens, and there really is a whole Galaxy Quest-like universe out there. But, as Trek's Dr. McCoy might have said, "Dammit Jim, he's an actor, not a spaceship commander!" What is our not-so-intrepid counterfeit crew to do?
The Big Picture
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The internal logic of Galaxy Quest breaks down soon after the introduction of the premise, but it doesn't matter, because inconsistencies and sketchy logic, often a problem on Trek, are part of the fun. Although it's slow to kick into gear, Galaxy Quest cleverly draws on Trek clichés to keep the laughs coming. The more familiar you are with the clichés, the harder you'll laugh. Madison, who has some of the funniest one-liners, settles into her familiar role of uselessly repeating everything the computer says and baring cleavage. Nesmith, of course, manages to get into mano-a-mano combat with an alien and lose his shirt. Meanwhile, Guy Fleegman, the erstwhile Crewman #6, is convinced that he's doomed. In one of the best moments of the film, he offers this Trek-like advice as Nesmith squares off against a gigantic, sour-tempered creature made of pure rock: "Can you fashion some sort of rudimentary lathe?"

In the mid-1980s, William Shatner appeared on Saturday Night Live in a sketch that depicted him speaking at a Trek convention. After being asked several ridiculously detailed questions about insignificant minutia, Shatner loses his temper and shouts at the audience to "Get a life!" Although cruel to Trek fans, the line was roaringly funny. Even many Trek aficionados will admit that the show and its more fanatical fans can be fish in a barrel as targets for humor, and Galaxy Quest takes full advantage. But, unlike that Saturday Night Live sketch,Galaxy Quest does so without being unduly harsh. In the end, Galaxy Quest offers Trekkies a chance to have the last laugh and a shot at redemption.

1   The original Star Trek series ran from 1966 to 1969 and was rather undistinguished from a ratings standpoint. Helped in part by the Star Wars craze, the first Star Trek movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was not released until 1979, and the first TV spinoff, Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared in 1987–twenty years after the original show was cancelled.

Review © January 2000 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1999 Dreamworks Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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