Friday, June 28, 2013

Galaxy Quest

Off Book: Galaxy Quest
Director: Dean Parisot
Starring: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Enrico Colantoni

This looked liked the stupidest movie in the world when it came out.  It looked like a crappy parody of Star Trek.  ‘From the people who brought you Scary Movie 4 and Date Movie comes Galaxy Quest for all your mindless idiotic juvenile humor needs!’  Blech.  Who wants to see that?  Not me.  Then, about a year later, my parents and my sister, all intelligent people whose opinions I trust, informed me that I MUST see this movie.  I scoffed.  My husband scoffed.  My family chained me down in front of a television and made me watch it.

And then I laughed.  And laughed.  And laughed some more.

Holy crap, this movie is funny!  Not only is it funny, but it’s good!  Legitimately good!

As the movie opens, we learn that Galaxy Quest was a science-fiction TV show set in space that has long since stopped filming.  Its actors, however, cannot escape the enormous cult following the series has gained, and as such, they are stuck perpetually in their TV roles, going from convention to convention… until a group of aliens approach them about helping them fend off an attack from the evil alien Saris.  Turns out, these aliens saw the show in space and thought it was real.  Given the crew’s ability to solve any problem and defeat any enemy in the original series, the aliens figure that the crew of the Intrepid is the only group capable of dealing with their perilous threat.  Soon, the hapless washed up actors find themselves being asked to really pilot a spacecraft, to really defeat aliens, to really solve complicated technical problems, and to really save the day!

What might at first sound like a blundering parody of the pop culture phenomenon that is Star Trek is really an enormously loving homage.  This is not parody; parody is vulgar and crass, with jokes coming at the expense of story and characters.  Think Spaceballs.  Spaceballs is parody.  But homage respects and reveres its source material, sending it up lightly without being mean or vicious.

If you’ve ever seen any episode of Star Trek in any incarnation, any of the Star Trek movies, or even just have a basic idea of what Star Trek is about, you will enjoy this film.  Speaking as someone who has seen every single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation multiple times, this movie gets it right.  Galaxy Quest, the TV show, IS Star Trek.  Moreover, I fully believe that it’s most meant to resemble The Next Generation, with one notable exception.  Tim Allen’s character, Jason Nesmith, played Commander Peter Quincy Taggert, a brash, chest-thumping commander who is a thinly veiled alter-ego of Captain Kirk.  After initially seeing the film, George Takei remarked that Allen had gotten William Shatner’s swagger down pat.  

There is so much classic Star Trek in this movie.  The basic spaceship design and the jumpsuit uniforms are the fundamentals, but true fans will get a kick out of more subtle details.  Dr. Lazarus (Alan Rickman as Alexander Dane), who is CLEARLY supposed to be Lt. Worf, has to eat horrid Kep-mok blood ticks that aren’t yet dead.  WORF DID THAT ALL THE TIME.  The “away mission” down to the rock planet to retrieve a replacement beryllium sphere, with the tricorder programmed with the location, the small blue baby aliens, and the fight with the pig-lizard and then rock monster, could be straight from any Star Trek episode – save for the washed up actors not knowing what to do on the mission.  Saris’ ship was clearly modeled on the Romulan vessels.  The fancy metallic casts for broken arms and legs are incredibly familiar.  The ship has to separate at the end of the film, something that was seen in a handful of Star Trek episodes.  Jason Nesmith and Gwen Demarco (Weaver, terrifically funny playing the polar opposite sci-fi heroine from her strong, empowered, courageous Ripley role) end up in the ducts of the Intrepid in order to evade enemy capture and save the day.  Given that all of these wonderful references and settings are couched in the conceit that the people in this situation have absolutely no idea how to handle themselves in space is even more delightful.

Galaxy Quest is hands down one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.  It’s that rarest of all comedies, a comedy that actually improves with successive viewings.  Most comedies run out of ammo after the first viewing.  The good ones last another five to ten screenings before running out of steam.  The great ones last forever and seem to actually get funnier the more often they’re viewed.  Galaxy Quest more than meets this last description, and what’s more, it manages to be funny without any sex, violence, or cursing.  Actually, the movie was originally filmed with a handful of swear words which were removed in ADR.  The most notable instance is one scene where Sigourney Weaver says, “Well screw that!” but her mouth does not match, mouthing instead the big f-bomb.  It’s actually refreshing to find a comedy that decided cursing was unnecessary.  Somehow, it didn’t need the swearing to be funny, a concept I wish more modern comedies would embrace.

Alan Rickman as Alexander Dane as Dr. Lazarus absolutely slays me.  Alexander Dane is a tortured British actor who used to do Shakespeare.  Now he does conventions in a silly alien headpiece.  The pain that is written all over his face when he is forced to say his character’s signature line (“By Grabthar’s hammer, you shall be avenged!”) is hysterical, not least of which when he has to say it at the opening of an electronics store.  Easily in my top five favorite lines of the film is Rickman’s drawn out and deadened delivery of “By Grabthar’s hammer… *long pause*… what a savings.”  He is so pained by having to say those words, I descend into a fit of the giggles every damn time.  On the blu-ray extras, Rickman admits to having trouble getting out that line because he kept laughing so much.

Speaking of favorite lines, this movie has them in spades.  Sam Rockwell gets to deliver most of them as Guy, an actor who played Crewman No. 6 and was killed before the first commercial break in episode 81 of Galaxy Quest.  He is the only one of the actors who ever watched the show with regularity, and as such, is much more aware of the peril of their situation than the others seem to be.  He knows the rules of Galaxy Quest, as it were, so when he says, “There’s a red… thingie… moving towards the green… thingie.  I think we’re the green thingie!” you’re dying with laughter.  Or on the away mission when the pod door opens, “Is there air?  You don’t know!”  Or better yet, “Look around you, can you construct a rudimentary lathe?”  Or even better, when all the other crew members want to cuddle the cute-as-a-button blue baby aliens on the away mission, “Sure they’re cute now, but in a second they’re gonna get mean, and they’re gonna get ugly somehow, and there’s gonna be a million more of them…. Did you guys ever WATCH the show?!?”  To which Gwen eventually responds, “Let’s get out of here before one of those things kills Guy!”

Oh god, and Tony Shalhoub as Fred Kwan as Tech Sgt Chen is HYSTERICAL.

I recently had the unbelievable pleasure of watching Galaxy Quest at the Dryden (the capstone of their “To the Moon in June” series).  I chatted a bit with the head programmer right before the movie started, and she was shocked at just how many people were there.  While certainly not full, the theater was very busy for a Wednesday night show; Galaxy Quest was a much larger draw than they had anticipated.  And then as soon as the movie started, the laughter started.  The whole audience, self included, was in stitches in every scene save for the two serious ones.  Every SINGLE scene, and nearly every single line got a laugh.  I missed some of my favorite jokes because people were laughing so hard.  Heck, Guy’s “rudimentary lathe” line actually got extended applause, as did the film when the end credits rolled.  I was hoping that the audience at the Dryden would be as appreciative of this film as I am; needless to say, my expectations were more than met.

Really, trying to explain just how funny I find this film is an exercise in futility.  It makes me laugh every single time.  It is reverent of Star Trek and manages to send it up at the same time.  It’s a feel-good movie too, watching as the actors overcome their inabilities to actually outwit and defeat the tyrannical Saris (named after a film critic!).  If it’s been a long week, if I really need a chuckle, Galaxy Quest is guaranteed to lift my spirits and bust my gut with laughter.

Arbitrary Rating: 10/10


  1. I enjoyed Galaxy Quest when I saw it back when it came to video. I don't think I've ever seen it since, other than small sections of it on TV here and there. I didn't laugh at it quite as much as you did, but then I wasn't seeing it with an audience, either. That always makes a comedy funnier.

    One scene you didn't mention is when Weaver's character has to run through some insanely complex mechanism as the only way to get to an important place. It's explained to her that that's how episode such and such showed this. As she's running through it she's screaming, "This is a badly written episode!"

    I'll agree with everything you said except one: despite the headpiece Rickman's character is Mr. Spock, not Lt. Worf. The joke about having to repeat a famous line over and over is lifted directly from Nimoy's immense frustration with having to say "Live long and prosper" for decades. He even wrote a book titled "I Am Not Spock" because he was so fed up with it.

    1. Wait, I have seen it more than once because I remember something about the DVD. And this leads me to: in addition to French and Spanish, there's an entire audio track dubbed into the imaginary language of the blue aliens, and you just know that someone, somewhere, has actually watched the movie with that as the audio.

    2. OK, Worf in appearance, Spock in mannerisms, yes?

      You should really see this again. It gets funnier every time. And it may be one of the most quotable films I know. All I need to do is post one line from it on Facebook and it will touch off a flurry of comments with everyone chiming in with their favorite lines.

      I've seen just a few clips of the dubbed versions on the blu-ray special features.

      The "chompers" sequence is a classic. The chompers were in the Galaxy Quest episode for no logical reason, but the Thermians just blindly copied, so they are on the Thermians ship for no logical reason as well.

    3. Yes, the chompers! That's my favorite part of the whole movie, the perfectly executed send-up of how often times in sci-fi and fantasy world-building the cart gets put before the horse: the plot calls for the characters to physically enter the engines; the characters should be facing mortal danger so that the story is exciting to the audience; therefore, the engines of the ship should be insanely dangerous. It makes all the narrative sense in the world but it makes no practical sense at all, it's just lazy writing, and the fact that Gwen gives very loud voice to that ... so great, on so many levels.

      I do think this is an underrated comedy, for all the reasons you've mentioned, and because it's about what happens when people take made-up stories too seriously. But it never really comes down too hard on people like that, and in the end it seems to be on their side, admitting, "Yeah, we love those stories and they mean something to us, too." Awwww.

      - Sunny D