Galaxy Quest (1999)

Director: Dean Parisot

Starring: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shaloub, Sam Rockwell, Daryl Mitchell

Before I became a fan of film in general, I was a “Star Trek” fan first. Though set in a thoroughly alien future of the 23rd (and later 24th) century, there was something undeniably relatable about “Star Trek.” Most of all, I loved the original six films, although I was also very wild about the original TV series, “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” and even the earliest years of “Voyager.” Still, despite being indoctrinated at the age of four, I can’t say I’ve ever been as dedicated as some Trekkies are. I may have browsed the convention scene a time or two, read a few of the novels and collected many of the action figures, but I don’t eat, sleep, live and breathe “Star Trek.” Yet, I completely understand and relate to the mindset of those who do. We know it’s “just a TV show,” but that will never stop us from reliving our favorite moments for years to come. That sentiment is at the very heart of the clever, witty and highly entertaining parody known as “Galaxy Quest.”

Eighteen years after the cancellation of the still-very popular TV series, “Galaxy Quest,” its former stars still make the rounds at the conventions. Most of them seem less interested in reliving the past than in seeking an opportunity for a quick buck… because they’re not likely to find it elsewhere. Series star Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), who played Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, eats up the attention. He lives for this stuff.  Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) is resentful of the stereotype that her character, communications officer Tawny Madison, projects as a “dumb blonde.” Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), who played the alien first officer Dr. Lazarus, absolutely despises his character’s catchphrases and the special makeup appliances he must wear to get into the role. If it weren’t for the intervention of his cast mates, Alexander would likely find the nearest exit out of the building. Rounding out the cast are Fred Kwan (Tony Shaloub), a.k.a. Tech Sgt. Chen whose duties are akin to that of a “Star Trek” chief engineer and transporter chief), and Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell), a former child actor whose youth prodigy/pilot character Lt. Laredo is reminiscent of Wesley Crusher from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

At a particularly disappointing convention, during which Jason’s ego takes a big hit, he meets what will become the movie’s supporting characters. First, he is approached by a young and enthusiastic fan named Brandon (Justin Long), with whom just about any sci-fi fan who has ever attended a convention can easily relate. Later, another group in full “Galaxy Quest” costume claims to be in need of his help. They say they are Thermians from the Klaatu nebula. Jason just figures that these people want him for some photo op, but it turns out that they actually are aliens. The Thermians are the answer to what might happen if our TV signals ever reached another civilization. They have interpreted the “Galaxy Quest” TV series as historical documents of real-life events, and their entire society is based on it. They’ve even built a working replica of the NSEA Protector, the space vessel driven by our heroes on the show. The Thermians are in a bit of a quandry, as they are negotiating with a particularly nasty creature named Sarris (Robin Sachs). He wants a device known as the Omega 13… which existed on the show, but was never used. Trouble is that Jason doesn’t understand the seriousness of the situation, and orders Sarris’s ship fired upon, requesting to go back home. Reluctantly, the Thermians agree. It’s only then that Jason realizes that everything he’s just seen was real.

Excited over the whole experience, Jason can’t wait to tell the rest of the cast, who’ve been around him long enough that they believe he’s either drunk or it’s a put-on… possibly both. But the Thermians show up once again, saying they still need help negotiating terms of surrender. Knowing the cast’s inability to pass up a job when one comes along, Jason convinces everyone to tag along, including Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell), host of the convention and a former guest on one episode of the TV show. Once onboard, everyone is hesitant to go along, but eventually relent out of a feeling of responsibility once they see how dedicated the Thermians are to the “Galaxy Quest” way of life. The negotiations do not go well, in part because the actors don’t know how to control the ship. They barely escape with their lives, but the ship sustains heavy damage after traversing through a mine field. On a nearby planet, they find a replacement for their damaged reactor core, but Sarris and his men have boarded the Protector, captured Mathesar (the Thermian leader) and are in the process of torturing him for information about the Omega 13 device. To spare Mathesar’s life, Jason reveals the truth about “Galaxy Quest” and its cast.

The situation looks grim, with Sarris setting the ship to auto-destruct and planning to release both the cast and the Thermians into space. This is the moment when our heroes must all step up and become more than the sum of their parts, when they must commit the most selfless and meaningful act of their entire lives, Brandon included. Jason and Alexander role play a scene from a “Galaxy Quest” episode where they fight with one another. This distracts their guards long enough for them to turn the tables and vent their captors out into space. Alexander, after rescuing the Thermians from certain asphyxiation, finally owns the role of Dr. Lazarus and all of the silly catchphrases that go along with it when he witnesses a Thermian gunned down right in front of him.

Remembering that he had accidentally handed Brandon his communicator when they’d bumped into one another at the convention, Jason radios Brandon for help concerning how to locate and turn off the auto-destruct. While Brandon gives directions to Jason and Gwen, he also muses about his theory concerning the Omega 13: that it is a device capable of creating a 13-second time jump. After stopping the auto-destruct and destroying Sarris’s ship, Jason makes use of such a time jump after Sarris, disguised as Fred, kills everyone on board the command deck. With the crisis averted, the crew separates the ship, bids the Thermians farewell and returns to Earth, literally crashing that day’s convention. The crew emerges from the ship to the delight of the crowd, as does Sarris whom Jason eliminates with one quick blast from his laser pistol. The crowd roars even louder, with some of the girls in the audience even fainting as Jason and Gwen share a kiss. Having learned many lessons from the experience, including humility, Jason encourages the cast to share the spotlight with him, and everyone takes a bow. Later that year, “Galaxy Quest” returns to the airwaves with all-new episodes and two new cast members: Guy assumes the role of the ship’s security chief and Laliari (Missi Pyle), a Thermian who elected to stay with the cast due to her romantic bond with Fred Kwan, is cast as a character bearing the same name.

Jason Nesmith is  easily Tim Allen’s best film role. I also get a kick out of Sigourney Weaver’s turn as an actress famous for a very anti-Ellen Ripley role. You get the sense that Gwen DeMarco might possess a toughness that is more in line with Weaver’s “Alien” heroine. She finds her role on the show completely redundant and is further humiliated when magazine articles, instead of interviewing her about her acting career, tend to focus on her other assets. Of course, the main draw, as he is in any other movie I’ve seen him in, is Alan Rickman. Whether as a hero or as a villain, you cannot help but love the guy. I only wish I’d reviewed this movie sooner so that the timing of it would not have been directly influenced by his recent passing.

I’ve seen some “Star Trek” fans include “Galaxy Quest” on their lists of favorite “Trek” films. This is something which I refuse to do, and I rationalize that this way: As great a movie as it is, you don’t rank “Spaceballs” along with the “Star Wars” films, do you? Certainly not, and therefore the same logic must apply to “Galaxy Quest.” That being said, “Galaxy Quest” is such a wonderfully imagined film that you wish there actually was a TV series to binge-watch afterwards. I love the cheap look of the sets, props and aliens… all as they would look if part of a low-budget TV show. The humor of “Galaxy Quest” works best when you have intimate knowledge of the numerous in-joke references to “Star Trek.” One can’t help watching the situations that the cast finds themselves in and not think of how the original “Trek” cast might have behaved under similar circumstances. For example, surely there would come a point where William Shatner would have his shirt torn open, as demonstrated by a corresponding scene involving Jason Nesmith’s encounter with a rock monster (itself a reference to a deleted scene from the Shatner-directed “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”). There would also be ample opportunity to simultaneously point out everything that is illogical about the story while simultaneously not having a care in the world. Because, after all, it’s just a movie.


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