Things I Love About "Galaxy Quest" (1999)
Galaxy Quest is a science fiction comedy that was released in 1999 as a parody of Star Trek and other tropey science fiction. It is a generally well-loved film, having reached cult classic status after twenty years, as well as a solid 90% rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.
As a Star Trek fan and a fan of science fiction in general, I have always really, really loved this film. I've seen it so many times that I can mouth the words while watching it (and I have no shame admitting that).
It helps that a lot of my favorite actresses and actors are in it, such as Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Missi Pyle, and Justin Long.
For me, these were the performers who really made the film amazing, and I can't imagine it without them. Of course, all the performers were great. The ones I mentioned were just my favorites.
But let's get down to why this film was great.
The Performers Made Fun of Themselves
I grew up loving the Alien film franchise that Sigourney Weaver starred in during the 80's, so when I saw her in this film, I knew immediately that she was ridiculing herself and perhaps stepping away entirely from the role that made her career.
When Sigourney Weaver starred in Alien, she played Ellen Ripley, a female lead who was -- for the most part -- treated like a human being and not a walking stereotype. She was allowed to be completely human and flawed while also being strong and brave and intelligent enough to be a leading character in a horror/science fiction franchise.
Except for that crap where she pranced around in her underwear at the end of the first film (ugh), Ripley was basically everything feminists are asking for when we talk about Strong Female Characters.
In other words, Ripley was well-written.
Because of that role, Sigourney Weaver became an icon. She became known for playing a strong female character in a science fiction film, one that wasn't there to be p**n (again, barring the unfortunate incident in the first film), one that had an active role in the plot, wasn't a helpless victim, and drove her own destiny.
Seriously, the underwear scene made no sense. Anyone who had just been through that hell would not be taking off their clothing and worrying about a shower. Not until they were safe back on Earth or with another ship.
I know I would have been paranoid af, sitting there all tense inside my spacesuit with a gun in my hand. No way would I take off my clothes and lounge around. Not when I'd just seen my entire crew ripped apart by an alien!
That entire scene was purely to titillate men at the expense of Sigourney Weaver's humanity.
That being said (sorry, I had to say it), Gwen Demarco, the character Sigourney Weaver plays in Galaxy Quest, is the exact opposite of Ripley. Her character on the fake show Galaxy Quest is a dumb, blonde stereotype who does such useful things as repeating the computer.
During the film, we see in old recordings of the show that Crewman Madison does kickbutt with relative ease, but this is usually a trademark of a strong female character trope, not an actual strong female character.
The trope version is typically a hot woman who can fight but still isn't written well. She is often the clumsy attempt of male writers to make a female character strong. Instead of writing the character like a human being, they make her literally strong.
As Crewman Madison, Gwen always had her breasts out and basically sold her cleavage for ratings. She hated it and even acknowledged it in the film itself, but she did it anyway because it was the only way to survive a male dominated industry.
Gwen herself is actually a very kind, loving person. It makes you feel bad for her that she was forced to demean herself in order to get by. Ironically, she winds up with her breasts out for most of the film.
Crewman Madison is such a silly character that one can't help but acknowledge how painfully ridiculous every tropey strong female character actually is.
Gwen herself is actually a strong female character in the correct sense: she is a fully three dimensional human being whose strength lies in her heart, showing that one does not have to be masculine to be strong and have value as a human being.
It was very well done.
It's my belief that Tim Allen was also ridiculing himself a little here.
Tim Allen voiced the toy spaceman, Buzz Lightyear, in Disney and Pixar's Toy Story only a few years before Galaxy Quest was released.
Buzz Lightyear was basically a toy who was convinced he was a real spaceman. Once he realized he was "just a toy," he became depressed and despondent and started to hate himself.
Toward the end of the film, Buzz realizes that even if he's not a real spaceman, he was to his owner Andy, and through playing pretend, he managed to make someone else happy. In the end, that's all that matters.
It's pretty much the entire character arc of Jason Nesmith, the character who Tim Allen plays in Galaxy Quest.
When the film first opens, Nesmith has a huge ego and apparently gets off on being loved by his fans. He enjoys telling them stories about his non-existent adventures in space and takes being a space captain a bit too seriously. It's almost as if he thinks he's a real spaceman.
Then Jason overhears some fans ridiculing him in the restroom. He realizes that he's not a big deal, he's not a real space captain, his character is, and he has a crisis where he becomes depressed.
Toward the end of the film, however, Jason realizes that his acting inspired an entire planet to fight an invasion, and he realizes that his "playing pretend" actually did some good in the universe.
Whether or not this was on purpose, I loved that it played out that way.
I mean, how could it not be on purpose?
When Buzz becomes depressed, he calls himself "Mrs. Nesbitt" and starts cackling.
Jason's last name is Nesmith.
I don't know. You decide.
The Romance Subplot
Missi Pyle is such a talented actress that it's amazing she was nearly overlooked.
Well, it's not amazing. I'm sure it had something to do with sexism. After all, she was one of only two named female characters in the entire film.
If not for Steven Spielberg, Pyle's character, Laliari, would have been very minor and very ignored, existing only to be hit on once by Jason Nesmith during the limo drive.
During this scene, her translator chip is broken, and she lets out a hilarious squeal that turns Jason off mid-flirt.
Basically, Pyle's character would have been a one time gag, used and tossed aside. Instead, they leveled her up from background gag character to two dimensional love interest . . . which is a little less sexist. As I've indicated, it could have been worse.
I'm glad her character got some attention when before she would have gotten none at all. It's just a shame the only thing they could think to do with her was have her become a love interest . . . sigh.
In case you're wondering, it comes off as sexist because women are always love interests, sisters, mothers, daughters . . . the implication being that that's all we are, rather than fully realized human beings who can fulfill roles outside of our relation to men.
We should more often get to be scientists, leaders, doctors, lawyers, action heroes (think Bruce Willis), athletes, officers, inventors, philosophers. Why the time traveler's wife? Why can't she just be the f***ing time traveler?
Hell, I'd take a zookeeper at this point.
The Story Was Great
Before this film came out, I recall reading a book about some aliens who were being oppressed and took inspiration from a bunch of old human television shows they were picking up in space.
I wish for the life of me that I could remember what that book was called because it was fantastic. I always think of it whenever I look at Galaxy Quest.
Even though this is a silly comedy, the script still had moments that managed to be quite moving.
Probably one of the most emotional scenes in the film is when Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni) is tortured by the villian, Sarris (Robin Sachs). Sarris forces Jason to explain to Mathesar that Galaxy Quest was a television show, not historical documents.
Mathesar is so heartbroken, you really have to hand it to Colantoni, yet another very talented actor.
By the way, Colantoni also played "the murderer" in Spielberg's A. I. Artificial Intelligence, yet another of my favorite science fiction films.
And the Best Thing of All? The Comedy
I mean, this is science fiction comedy, so the jokes have to be on-point, and they were. There were so many funny moments in this film, spaced between just enough drama that it didn't feel forced.
Sam Rockwell was largely a part of why this film was so hilarious. I was looking at the movie the other day and noticed some background things he was doing that I had never noticed before in my twenty years of watching this film, such as him getting turned down by a woman who tells him, "No way. You live with your mother!"
Rockwell's character was written to be a bottom feeder who has basically made his entire non-career around playing a red shirt on a campy science fiction show.
I mean, there's nothing wrong with being an actor on a science fiction show, as obviously, two of my favorite shows growing up were Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5.
But "Guy" (who, hilariously enough, can't remember his real name) tried to make an entire career out of a bit part and unfortunately, still wound up living with his parents. You kind of feel sorry for him, as funny as his nervous breakdowns are.
And of course, it would be criminal not to mention Daryl Mitchell, who played Tommy Webber/Adult Loredo.
Daryl Mitchell was simply hilarious. To me, he was the voice of the everyday, ordinary person. He constantly said things without thinking that would seem dumb in hindsight, but they were things the audience is most likely thinking ourselves, and that's what made it funny and relatable.
The part after they first transported to the space port and he fell down, falling out of the shot . . . The part where he screamed when he broke his arm . . . The part where he called "Caw-caw!!!" and Jason Nesmith impatiently called him an infant . . .
Those scenes were so funny and really brought the feeling that these were just normal people caught in an extraordinary situation and yet miraculously finding the strength to help save these aliens from their bully-enemies.
In another article here, I compared this to A Bug's Life, which is one of my favorite Pixar movies after Toy Story, and I kind of don't think it was an accident that these stories were similar.
Even if it was an accident, I'm glad it happened. I really love these kinds of stories, where normal people come together to fight a great and seemingly infallible evil, only to heroically triumph in the end.
I wish more of today's films were like Galaxy Quest.
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© 2019 Ash