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Galaxy Quest, written by David Howard and Robert Gordon, directed by Dean Parisot, 1999, 110 min.

Galaxy Quest is an amiable spoof, the kind that entertains you and leaves you laughing for longer than the necessary two hours. While playing, the movie rambles along without much urgency, and this is itself a charming thing. The premise is clever -- bumbling aliens have intercepted television broadcasts of a show called Galaxy Quest, and come to Earth for help from these heroic space-travelling humans -- and it is developed in a slick and confident way. Galaxy Quest presents quite a contrast with such low-budget fare as Spaced Invaders, in which aliens took a broadcast of Welles' The War of the Worlds as their invasion orders. Spaced Invaders was a demonstration that a low budget does automatically make a movie interesting and subversive. Galaxy Quest is a demonstration that a higher budget does not necessarily make a movie conservative and conformist. The gloss here is deceptive.

The show Galaxy Quest is a very thinly disguised version of Star Trek, and the movie gets a good deal of mileage out of the sly parodies of the famous show. Most of the humour of Galaxy Quest comes from the topnotch cast, which I'll discuss in a moment. Galaxy Quest had its day on television and now, a number of years later, some members of the cast are heartily sick of the roles that have dogged them throughout their following careers. The movie begins with the crew of the ship at a Questerian convention, and the bickering and resentment begins. But then the aliens arrive, and the crew is soon involved in solving the problems of the galaxy. One bad turn is followed by worse, and not all aliens are friendly. By happy coincidence, the captain left a functioning communicator behind and so the hapless crew (made up of actors who have forgotten most of the information about their ship) can get in touch with some hardcore Questerian fans. These fans mobilize their friends, and soon they have a complete walkthrough of the ship running from a CD-ROM. The fans get their due, despite their obsessive nature. This is a good a way to describe the movie as any; yes, the people portrayed are quirky (as an understatement), but it's all in the most affectionate manner imaginable.

The characters really make the show, and they all get their moments of glory and their moments of development. Tim Allen has a blast as an arrogant actor playing a starship captain, and who couldn't be happier than on the massive ego trip of aliens believing he is a hero. Alan Rickman, who has always known how to provide an adept comic turn, is the science officer of the crew, and his actor character is massively fed up with the whole franchise. And so on, all down the list of crew members of the Enterprise. Sigourney Weaver, who displays her genius for hitting the funny bone all too seldom, plays the character of Tawny Madison. Tawny Madison had one job on the set of Galaxy Quest, which was to repeat what the computer said, and by golly, but she's going to fulfil her role. I was expecting Weaver to deliver a fine performance, and I suppose I should have expected Tony Shalhoub to do the same, as he's done some fine work in the past. He really stole the show in my opinion, here as the completely unperturbable engineer. Scotty was pretty excitable, if memory serves, so Shalhoub's deadpan delivery of one bit of bad news after another is funny in its own right.

As I've been writing this, I've been mixing up the various levels of representation -- the real actor, the portrayed actor, the portrayed actor's character, the portrayed actor's character's parodied character, and the portrayed actor's character's parodied character's actor. Or more clearly: Tim Allen; his actor character in movie, Jason Nesmith; Nesmith's role on the show as Commander Peter Quincy Taggart; Commander Taggart as a parody of Captain Kirk; and Captain Kirk's portrayer, William Shatner. One of the joys of the movie is the way it can keep all this quite clear in the audience's mind, and manages to get laughs as well. Galaxy Quest is a successful science fiction comedy and there aren't many of those!


First posted: March 4, 2000; Last modified: July 25, 2001

Copyright © 2000-2001 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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