Galaxy Quest

"Look! I have one job on this lousy ship, it's stupid, but I'm gonna do it! Okay? - Gwen DeMarco

Director: Dean Parisot

Writer: David Howard, Robert Gordon

Principal cast members:

Where No Comedy Has Gone Before

In retrospect, by 1999 a full-length movie parody of the Star Trek franchise was long overdue. After all, we'd had Saturday Night Live with Belushi as Kirk, The Muppet Show's Swine Trek, and numerous viral shorts all taking on the rich mine of comic material hiding beneath the surface of Star Trek. But there remained one last step to take - the ultimate film that not only sent up the show but the very concept of a space opera series and the actors who performed in it.

There is no question that 'Galaxy Quest' benefitted from brilliance in concept and writing, but if there was one area where the makers of this film outdid themselves, it was in the casting. This collection of actors could not have been cast better and the abandon with which they all threw themselves into their roles was absolutely inspiring. Even Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman, better known as serious dramatic actors, proved themselves to be outstanding in comic roles.

The story describes a group of actors who, having played the adventurous crew of an exploring spaceship for several seasons, are now typecast to the point where they cannot escape the fame of their roles. They appear at fan conventions and preside over store openings and otherwise find themselves perennially stuck in these characters. For some of them, it is predictable agony. For others, the fame offered by the legacy of the show is still embraced. But even for Jason Nesmith, the ego-driven actor who commanded the ship and the lion's share of the fan worship, it eventually becomes apparent that he is a parody of a true actor.

Into this mix appears a group of real aliens, called Thermians, who have been intercepting and watching the transmitted episodes of the show. Facing their own galactic crisis, the Thermians come to earth and find Jason Nesmith in a desperate appeal for him to save their people. Interpreting it as a publicity appearance, Nesmith goes along, only to find himself in a real spaceship facing real alien enemies. Excitedly, he gathers his entire crew to help him and though they think he's crazy at first, they too shockingly realize it is all real.

Of course, most of them realize they're mere actors, not equipped to face this kind of crisis at all. But before long, they're caught up in the fight and have no choice but to rise to the occasion and play their roles as well as they can. The crossover between mundane reality, a fictional reality, and an unbelievable science fiction reality leads to some hilarious interaction by the crew, all of whom represent clichés constructed by the Trek universe and ripe for comic development.

Allen is clearly the center. His Commander Peter Quincy Taggart is clearly patterned after Trek's Bill Shatner and he plays the role with gusto and an uncanny skill at stealing the spotlight. Tim Allen is a comedian and as an actor, he certainly has his limits, but this role was perfectly suited to his comic style. Even within the limits of his dual role as an actor and that actor's character, he manages to show a lot of breadth. His genuine remorse when he explains to the Thermians that he isn't really the character they think he is proves to be a deeply touching scene.

Weaver clearly relishes her role here. She plays Gwen Di Marco, an actress whose character did nothing on the show except repeat what the computer said. Naturally, in the Thermians interpretations of the show, they design a ship where her character is the only one who CAN communicate with the computer. Donning a blonde wig and the only uniform with cleavage and tear-away fabric, Weaver exults in a role that was obviously designed to be the show's eye-candy. In interviews, she remarked that when she put on the wig, she could feel herself getting stupider.

In the role of the alien scientist with prosthetics, we have Alan Rickman. He plays Alexander Dane, a British actor who built a reputation on the stage doing Shakespeare and was knighted by the Queen. But now finds himself playing Dr. Lazarus with a prosthetic skull and a way-too-often repeated catchphrase. Backstage before a convention, he routinely has attacks of self-doubt and self-loathing and has to be literally dragged onto the stage by his colleagues.

Tony Shaloub is Fred Kwan who was the ship's engineer. Fred is played as a burnout who suffers no anxiety about reprising the same role eternally, but somehow manages to muddle through, even when he ends up on a real ship facing real enemies. Shaloub is delightful as Fred and gets some of the funniest tag lines on critical scenes.

Daryl Mitchell plays Tommy Webber who appeared in the series while still a child. Thus, he was both the token black and the token kid on the crew. Now, realizing he peaked at ten years of age, he has to make the most of the situation. Though it is easy to miss Mitchell behind the combined comic chops of his fellow cast members, he does a worthy job here with the role.

Sam Rockwell is cast as an out-of-work actor named Guy Fleegman who serves as the host of the GalaxyCon convention. He once appeared in an episode as Crewman #6 who was killed after landing on an alien planet. Now, thrust into the real-life incarnation of the show, he realizes he is doomed. An expendable red-shirt, he just knows that as this adventure progresses, his number is up.

One of the most masterful performances in the movie is Enrico Contolani as Mathesar, the leader of the Thermian aliens. His strange vocal patterns and awkward mannerisms are entertaining and quirky, but work perfectly in making it clear how different and childishly naïve these aliens really are. Whereas the fan worship of the human kids at the convention can be creepy and geeky, the Thermians led by Mathesar have a sincerity and genuine loyalty that is truly endearing.

Appearing here in his first movie role is the Mac guy, Justin Long. He plays Brandon, the leader of a small collection of ultimate fan-geeks who come to the convention in worshipful hope of having the crew answer their technical questions about the series. It is clear that Brandon and company take Galaxy Quest way too seriously and it is Brandon's hopeless devotion to the show that finally makes Jason Nesmith snap in the realization of what it has all become. But later, when the commander is in peril, he calls on Brandon and his uber fanboy knowledge of the show to save the day. It is every fan geek's dream come true.

Galaxy Quest is one of those movies where so much could have gone horribly wrong but somehow, it managed to achieve a kind of perfection. Parodies really only come in two flavors. There are those over-the-top sendups that are the specialty of Mel Brooks and then there are the ones that carefully balance reality and wry humor to achieve a delicious skewering of the original. The latter form is much more difficult to do well and Galaxy Quest is one of the finest examples of this ever made. From the clever dialogue to the genius concept of the Thermians, it is constructed to hit all the right notes perfectly as it nails the Star Trek fandom squarely in the heart.

But even that wouldn't have been enough without the flawless performances of the cast. Thanks to them, Galaxy Quest manages to accomplish the amazing feat of delivering a delightful parody while also making us appreciate the fun and cheesiness of the original.

Coolness factor: 8

Writing: 8

Acting: 8

Overall entertainment: 8