In 1999, a film was released that intended to parodise the world of sci-fi classic Star Trek and its fandom, and that film was Galaxy Quest. A mixed reception on release has given way to a fonder place in the cultural consciousness – it is as good a movie as its reputation indicates.
The film follows the stars of Galaxy Quest, an old 1970s sci-fi show. These actors, amongst them leading man and arrogant ham Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) and frustrated Shakespearean actor Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), now make a living through re-runs, advertisements and sci-fi conventions. At one, they are approached by a band of aliens, who have mistaken the past episodes of the show for historical documents of real-life space adventures, beaming them up to their ship. They have turned to these ailing celebrities for help in their quest to overcome the oppressive regime in their solar system, and these actors are now the only thing standing in the way of the race’s annihilation.
Galaxy Quest mixes the best of both worlds – it is a fantastic sci-fi epic, full of weird aliens and quality special effects. It is (purposely) like a lost episode of Star Trek, and even if the viewer came to the film and failed to see any of the humour, it is a gripping space adventure. The villainous aliens are especially monstrous, incredibly threatening and scary in a way that the monsters of Star Trek certainly were not. It is in the comedy, though, that the film excels.
The movie skewers multiple targets – it is clearly an homage to Star Trek, but it also parodies the world around it, its conventions and the egos of the actors (in an interview around the time of the film’s release, Sulu actor George Takei described it as a ‘chillingly realistic documentary’). This is particularly clear in the old episodes of Galaxy Quest, which is intended to look cheesy and dated, and fantastically unconvincing. The premise is a touch one-note, but it is clearly done with such affection and such care that it doesn’t come across as spiteful or mean. When Galaxy Quest jokes about the fans, for example, it isn’t attacking them, but rather laughing with them in a world that they love, and it is the fans who save the day. However, you don’t need to be a fan of sci-fi to truly enjoy the jokes, such is the craftsmanship of the film. It is helmed competently, maintaining a lively pace and working well with the fun performances by the actors.
Tim Allen is great as the Shatner-esque leading man, a large ham who has to get his shirt off and who takes charge naturally, finding the situation he is in to be incredible. He is proof of the evident charm Allen possesses, and his performance in this makes it a bit of a shame that, outside of the Toy Story films, he hasn’t had a job this good for years.
The movie is, though, an ensemble piece. Sigourney Weaver is amusing as an actress who is frustrated at being used solely for her sex appeal and whose costume becomes more and more destroyed as the movie goes on. The always reliable Tony Shalhoub tickles as the stoned Fred, who finds love out in the cosmos, and the late Alan Rickman gets his best curmudgeon on as an actor who feels trapped in a fandom he deeply despises.
Galaxy Quest works as the best sci-fi films tend to do – it pushes a human agenda, with the aliens being an example of the value of cooperation and the actors learning to put aside their differences and work as a team – and its heart is evident throughout the picture. As with all good parodies, Galaxy Quest masterfully emulates the world it seeks to portray, and in doing so, we have a film that is as funny a comedy as it is rollicking a sci-fi adventure epic.
Director: Dean Parisot
Cast: Tim Allen (Jason Nesmith), Sigourney Weaver (Gwen DeMarco), Alan Rickman (Alexander Dane), Tony Shalhoub (Fred Kwan), Sam Rockwell (Guy Fleegman), Daryl Mitchell (Tommy Webber)
Running Time: 102 Mins