Screenplay : Robert Gordon and David Howard
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Tim Allen (Jason Nesmith/Commander Peter Quincy Taggart), Sigourney Weaver (Gwen DeMarco/Lt. Tawny Madison), Alan Rickman (Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus of Tev'Meck)Tony Shalhoub (Fred Kwan/Tech Sergeant Chen), Daryl Mitchell (Tommy Webber/Lt. Laredo), Enrico Colantoni (Mathesar), Sam Rockwell (Guy Fleegman), Missi Pyle (Laliari)
"Galaxy Quest" is a one-joke movie that makes such good use of its one joke that it almost demands a kind of grudging admiration. The joke is, what would happen if an alien race mistook episodes of "Star Trek" for actual historical documents, and then tried to form a civilization based on them? And, not only that, what if they came to earth seeking the help of the "Star Trek" actors, thinking they were actual space explorers?
This is the premise of "Galaxy Quest," and writers Robert Gordon and David Howard do everything possible to make the most of it (the setup is something akin to "Three Amigos" in space). And, miraculously, they manage to both mock and celebrate the cultural phenomenon of "Star Trek" and all it stands for. The movie is somehow both an homage to the kind of idealistic, utopian ideas around which each episode of "Star Trek" was built, and a sly satire on how TV shows like "Star Trek" are so reliant on worn-out cliches and ridiculous ideas.
Of course, in the movie, there is no direct mention of "Star Trek." Instead, it is thinly disguised as "Galaxy Quest," a fictitious early-1980s TV show that has been cancelled, but still has a rabid following (in one of the movie's enjoyable little quirks, the fans are called "Questians," which sounds just as silly as "Trekkies"). The stars of the long-cancelled "Galaxy Quest" are now middle-aged has-beens with no career prospects outside of making appearances at conventions and signing autographs. The only one who seems to still enjoy the spotlight is Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), the lead actor who portrayed the Captain Kirk-ish Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, whose hackneyed sound bite each episode was "Never give up, never surrender."
The other actors--who include Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman ), a British actor who played the Spock-like Dr. Lazarus, and Gwen DeMarco (Signorney Weaver), the buxom actress who played the wonderfully named Lt. Tawny Madison, the TV show's T&A factor--are fed up and bored with the rabid fandom in which they have been imprisoned. Alexander bemoans the fact that he once played Richard III on-stage (which gives the impression that he is meant to represent both Leonard Nimoy and "New Generation" star Patrick Stewart), while Gwen gripes that she still isn't sure what her role on the show was (she repeated everything the computer said--her main purpose, of course, was to wear low-cut spacesuits).
At a "Galaxy Quest" convention, a group of desperate aliens called Thermians, who are disguised to look like fans, show up and convince the stars to help them defeat their enemies, a group of nasty, Klingon-like monsters who have almost eradicated the Thermian species. At first, Jason thinks he is just going to another convention, and there is a funny set-piece where he bumbles through a spaceship, head pounding from a hangover, and proceeds to order a direct attack on the enemy, all the while thinking he is merely playacting at another convention.
Director Dean Parisot ("Home Fries") knows he is working with a one-joke setup, and he is smart enough to keep the proceedings both funny and exciting. The various adventures, which involve a space-race through a floating minefield and a battle with a Goliath-like monster made of rocks, are right out of the "Star Trek" oeuvre. But, there are also new twists, such a demented sequence featuring a group of child-like aliens that resemble Teletubbies, but turn out to be sharp-fanged monsters that devour their own kind.
Tim Allen puts in an enjoyable performance as Jason, a man who has played leader for so long that he naturally assumes the role. Amazingly enough, Allen manages to make the egocentric actor into a three-dimensional human, and in the scene where he overhears someone mocking him for being a has-been, the pain he feels is surprisingly affecting. Sigourney Weaver is also quite good in a rare comic performance, and Alan Rickman hits all the right notes as an embittered capital-A "Actor" who is all-too aware of the fact that he has squandered his career. But, the most laughs come from Sam Rockwell (who played the demented Billy the Kid in "The Green Mile") as a one-time "Galaxy Quest" extra who gets beamed up along with the main actors, and is in constant fear of death because his character was quickly killed in the one episode in which he starred.
However, what makes "Galaxy Quest" a notch above what it should have been is how the movie posits its silly one-joke setup as a kind of redemption for its characters. As ridiculous as it sounds, the movie manages to make its over-the-hill protagonists into sources of both ridicule and sympathy. The early scenes invite us to laugh at them, but as the movie progresses, it shows that they are interesting, flesh-and-blood people who deserve more than life has given them, and by the end we are cheering rather than jeering.
©1999 James Kendrick