Galaxy Quest – Film Review

I’ve rewatched this 1999 gem which I haven’t seen in ages, and by Grabthar’s Hammer this affectionate parody/love letter to Star Trek and its fandom is still so wonderful and hilarious. It works fine as a regular comedy and is perfectly accessible even to people who don’t care about Star Trek, but it’s funnier if you’re familiar with the tropes the movie lampoons, like a redshirt who always dies in the first five minutes of the mission just before the commercial break.

The story is about a group of washed-up actors from a once-popular sci-fi TV series which doesn’t in any way resemble Star Trek at all, not with its cheesy rousing musical theme, alien make-up, technobabble and shaking the camera when the spaceship is “hit”. Almost 20 years later, its cast is stuck in professional limbo and make a living attending fan conventions and corporate events. Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), who played the Captain Kirk-like commander of the NSEA Protector, is the only one who laps up the fans’ adoration like a rock star. He is much resented by the rest of the cast, especially Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), a frustrated classically trained British actor who would rather jump off the bridge than say his alien character’s trademark catchphrase again. There’s also Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), the sole female cast member whose job on the show was to mindlessly repeat the ship’s computer, Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) as the chief engineer, and Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) who was the show’s precocious and probably very annoying child pilot.

At one of the conventions, however, they’re approached by Thermians, who look like a bunch of cosplayers dressed as a fictional Star Trek race, but are in fact real aliens who mistook Galaxy Quest series for a genuine historical record since their kind has no concept of lies or fiction. They’ve come to beg the crew for assistance in their dealings with Sarris, a malevolent reptilian humanoid who looks like a Star Trek villain-of-the-week and is intent on wiping the Thermians out. The poor naive aliens have no clue that Nesmith and Co. are just actors who have no idea how to really fly a spaceship, transport matter or fight an evil space overlord. Along the way, they’re joined by Guy (Sam Rockwell), an actor whose sole brief appearance on the show was as the unnamed crew member that gets killed off, and who’s convinced that he’s a goner too now that the shit got real.

The cast here is an unexpected combo (Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen in the same movie?), but everyone, down to the smallest part, is simply pitch-perfect. I’ve never been a big fan of Tim Allen outside of his voice work for Pixar, but he’s an inspired choice to play the charismatic and egotistical character with a vulnerable side. Nesmith’s got a great redemptive arc as his character eventually rises to the level of heroism that his fictional counterpart had displayed on the show. Alan Rickman’s passing feels even sadder with this reminder of his magnificent onscreen voice and how much feeling and nuance he could inject into every line. No one portrayed withering contempt and dismay quite so hilariously. Sigourney Weaver is cleverly cast against the type, with a blond wig and the generous cleavage which, in one of the film’s in-jokes, gets uncovered more as the movie goes on. I don’t think she could ever play a total ditz, but it’s definitely a very different side revealed in this film. I could honestly just go on gushing forever about everyone in this movie, the cast is just that good.

The most endearing aspect of the film is the way it both sends up and celebrates the geek culture with tremendous affection, without condescending or pandering. I had to laugh that even the shipping phenomenon made it into the movie, with a flustered female fan at the convention asking Nesmith if there was “something” going on between the captain and Lt. Tawny Madison. There is a touch of the ridiculous about the grown men and women parading in silly costumes and obsessing over the tiniest bits of trivia, but in the end their love for this fictional world is vindicated and embraced. There’s also the idea that, no matter how cheesy the Galaxy Quest TV show was, its core ideals inspired an entire species to improve their lives. It’s a fantastic tribute to the optimism of Star Trek.

One last thing, the special effects look a tad dated in places, especially where space critters are concerned, but it’s really amazing how great the practical make-up effects still look.

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