Should I Watch..? 'Galaxy Quest'
What's the big deal?
Galaxy Quest is a sci-fi comedy film released in 1999 and is a parody of both Star Trek and its fan-base. The film follows the cast of a cancelled TV show reunited by alien forces who believe the cast to be actual heroes in an attempt to end an intergalactic conflict. The film stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell and Daryl Mitchell and was directed by Dean Parisot. Despite a positive response from critics, the film was only a modest success at the box office with global takings of just $90.7 million. However, it later became a massive cult hit and especially among fans of Star Trek for its affectionate portrayal of them. It also was well received by various members of the Star Trek cast including William Shatner, George Takei, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and Wil Wheaton.
What's it about?
After the cancellation of hit sci-fi TV show Galaxy Quest, the cast now have to make do with attending fan conventions and opening supermarkets. While the star of the show Jason Nesmith thrives on the attention, his co-stars Gwen DeMarco, Alexander Dane, Tommy Webber and Fred Kwan are deeply resentful of Nesmith's hogging of the limelight and secretly undermine him behind his back. At the latest convention, Nesmith is accosted by a group of strange individuals calling themselves Thermians who ask for his help. Believing this is be a PR stunt, Nesmith agrees to help them in the morning when he is hungover and only dimly aware of his agreement.
To his amazement, the Thermians are actually aliens who have intercepted the broadcasts of Galaxy Quest believing it to a historical document. Having perfectly recreated the ship as seen in the show, the Thermians place Nesmith in charge who immediately opens fire on the oncoming threat of General Sarris and his forces despite still struggling with his hangover. It's only after the Thermians return Nesmith to Earth that he realises that the experience is real and after being contacted again by the Thermians, spends his time explaining to his cast-mates the situation. It looks like they may have to protect the universe once again but this time, for real.
Jason Nesmith / "Commander Peter Q. Taggart"
Gwen DeMarco / "Lt. Tawny Madison"
Alexander Dane / "Dr Lazarus"
Fred Qwan / "Tech Sergeant Chen"
Guy Fleegman / "Crewman #6"
Tommy Webber / "Lt. Laredo"
David Howard & Robert Gordon*
Release Date (UK)
28th April, 2000
Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi
What's to like?
Despite never having been to a convention or cosplayed as my favourite character, I'd like to consider myself part of the fandom that Galaxy Quest pokes gentle fun at. The idea of actors being forced to play their roles for real isn't new (anyone else remember Three Amigos!?) but it hasn't been played as well as it is here - there is nothing about Star Trek and its fans that isn't spoofed in this film from Shatner's arrogance as the captain to Nimoy's despair at being forever known as Spock to the fanatical Trekkies with an encyclopaedic knowledge of how a fictional starship works. This is not just reflected in the brilliant screenplay but also the expert performances of the cast, who each bring something different to the film. My favourite is possibly Shalhoub as Kwan, who seems to take to the idea of fighting on board a real starship like a duck to water.
The film's biggest surprise is Allen who delivers a wonderfully studied performance as the self-centred star of his own life suddenly thrust into a situation he is totally unprepared for. In fact, I'd go so far to say that its his best appearance in a film that does have Toy Story anywhere in the title. Galaxy Quest also has some neat little touches in its effects - the TV show of the title looks deliberately hokey as does the lizard make-up that Rickman is partially disguised with. But once the action moves into deep space, the crisp CG of the stars beyond the viewscreen and the oddly familiar alien battleships look the business. For a relatively small film, it's impressive stuff.
- The scene when Allen is in a men's room and overhears other people talking negatively about him and how his co-stars hated him mirrors an actual event in William Shatner's life when he experienced the same at a convention in 1986.
- The rock monster that appears in the film is a tribute to Shatner who originally wanted such creatures to feature when he directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier but were ultimately cut for budgetary reasons. It's also noted that Allen loses his shirt during the fight - something that inexplicably seemed to happen to Shatner every time he fought hand-to-hand in Star Trek.
- The film marked the feature film debuts of both Rainn Wilson and Justin Long.
- The film is so popular among fans of Star Trek that it was included in a poll in 2013 for the best Trek movie. It came seventh, ahead of Star Trek Into Darkness (which came last) and Star Trek Generations.
What's not to like?
The only real thing I take umbrage with - and it's not often I say this - is with the costumes and makeup. The human characters aren't the issue but the aliens felt quite underwhelming from the insectoid human-form of Sarris to the unconvincing human appearance of the Thermians who look too odd to be trustworthy. Things get even worse later on when they reveal their true form - a misshapen blubbery mass that wouldn't look out of place in Doctor Who circa 1971. I get it - the aliens are meant to look unconvincing but it did take me out of the picture slightly.
The narrative of the film doesn't quite last the distance with its final third getting increasingly silly. And as I've already pointed out, it isn't that original of an idea and much like Three Amigos!, the film isn't able to extract much more from its one joke by the time the ending rolls around. Having said that, it's much funnier and smarter than the earlier film as well as being more relevant to its audience. There is something for anyone who has seen any of the original Star Trek cast such as Allen's mimicry of Shatner's famous 'thinking' pose, Rockwell's perpetual panic at being killed off for real as a 'redshirt' or Weaver discovering that her role is little more than relaying commands to the ship's computer.
Should I watch it?
Even if you don't particularly enjoy sci-fi, Galaxy Quest manages to balance the gentle mocking of a beloved media franchise with quietly supporting it. It's not an outright laughfest but the intelligent screenplay, fun atmosphere and instantly recognisable performances from the cast makes this film far better than it has any right to be. For anyone who knows their Kirk from their Klingons, this is a must-see.
Great For: sci-fi fans, Star Trek cast members, Internet nerds
Not So Great For: fanboys and girls taking themselves too seriously
What else should I watch?
The film is much better than Three Amigos! and that's despite the earlier film featuring the comic giants of Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase. The three of them play western heroes in silent movies who find themselves recruited by a peasant village in Mexico to defend them from bandits, using similar misunderstandings as seen here. It has its moments but is too uneven and let's be honest, nobody in the Eighties was going to relate to a trio of actors at the advent of the Talkies.
Surprisingly, there haven't been many films to tap into the comic potential of die-hard sci-fi fans. Fanboys follows a group of friends trying to steal a rough-cut of The Phantom Menace from Skywalker Ranch and features cameos from icons of sci-fi like Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and Ray Park but sadly, the film isn't much good. However, you can always trust Hollywood's favourite geek Simon Pegg to deliver the goods. With his long-time friend and cohort Nick Frost, the pair of them star in Paul which sees them as a couple of sci-fi nerds on the run with an actual alien fugitive.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox