‘Galaxy Quest’ is a delightful spoof of, and homage to, ‘Star Trek’

[11 May 2009]

By Bruce Dancis

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

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GALAXY QUEST 4 stars Cast: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Enrico Colantoni, Daryl Mitchell and Justin Long Director: Dean Parisot Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment Rated PG

“Get a life, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a TV show!” — William Shatner, aka Capt. James T. Kirk, at a mock “Star Trek” convention on “Saturday Night Live,” Dec. 20, 1986.

“I Am Not Spock” — title of a book by Leonard Nimoy.

With J.J. Abrams’ new “Star Trek” movie making a smashing debut this past weekend in its attempt to re-invent the franchise, a nation’s attention has returned to Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and their crew on the starship Enterprise.

Paramount Home Entertainment is getting in on the action this week by releasing the “Star Trek Motion Picture Trilogy” (including “The Wrath of Khan,” “The Search for Spock” and “The Voyage Home”) on DVD and Blu-ray ($29.99/$48.99) and “Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection” (including the above three plus “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “The Final Frontier,” “The Undiscovered Country” and a bonus disc) on Blu-Ray ($104.99).

And for purists who are only interested in the original television series, CBS/Paramount has already brought out remastered editions of Seasons One, Two and Three of “Star Trek” ($249.98 packaged together, or $84.98 apiece) and a Blu-Ray version of Season One ($129.99). (Note on prices: All of these are list prices, and significant discounts are available at many retailers.)

But for this critic, who is not now and has never been anything close to a Trekkie, the best DVD news is this week’s release, also by Paramount, of a 10th anniversary Deluxe Edition of “Galaxy Quest” ($14.99, rated PG). Directed by Dean Parisot from a screenplay by David Howard and Robert Gordon, this sweet, funny and adventurous film, which manages to simultaneously be a send-up and an homage, remains as enjoyable today as it did when first released in 1999.

“It’s not exactly a parody ... it manages to spoof effectively the very thing that it ultimately manages to deliver on at the same time,” explains Nicholas Meyer in the DVD documentary “Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest.” Meyer, a “Galaxy Quest” admirer, wrote and directed several “Star Trek” movies.

The idea is, a first, simple: Years after their “Star Trek”-like TV series “Galaxy Quest” went off the air, its typecast stars can’t find decent acting jobs and are reduced to portraying their old characters at fan conventions, electronic store openings or any other gig they can get. It’s a living, but a demoralizing and embarrassing one to actors like Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver, as the voluptuous Lt. Tawny Madison), Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman as the Spock-like alien Dr. Lazarus), Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub as laid back Tech Sgt. Chen) and Tommy Webber (Daryl “Chill” Mitchell as Lt. Laredo). The only cast member who still appears to enjoy playing his old part is the show’s star, Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen, in Shatner mode as Cmdr. Peter Quincy Taggart), but he’s also become more and more irresponsible in his approach to his life, his work and his fellow cast members.

The twist comes in the form of some particularly well-costumed fans who attend a “Galaxy Quest” convention not with the idea of getting a few autographs but to enlist the cast members in a real life-or-death mission. It turns out that they are actually Thermians — gooey beings with elephantine trunks, but capable of disguising themselves in human form and speaking English — who have built their entire society on the teachings of “Galaxy Quest.” And they’ve journeyed to Earth in the hope that Taggart and his crew will help them battle their nemesis, the scaly, fierce and evil Sarris (Robin Sachs).

Prodded by Taggart, who is genuinely impressed with the Thermians’ ability to copy “Galaxy Quest’s” faux technology and make it real, the crew agrees to make the intergalactic voyage to join them. Coming along for the ride, in one of the film’s funniest characterizations, is Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell), a former bit actor who appeared in one “Galaxy Quest” episode — in which he was quickly killed.

It’s in outer space where “Galaxy Quest” really takes off, moving from an amusing look at fan conventions and disgruntled actors to a very funny sci-fi comedy-drama. Confronted with a starship that actually works — ie., it isn’t just a TV studio set — and other advanced technology, the crew not only helps the Thermians defend themselves against Sarris but they encounter other alien species such as giant rock monsters and diminutive, cannibalistic children. Unlike the cheesy special effects of the “Galaxy Quest” TV series (or “Star Trek”), here the effects and creatures created by Stan Winston and ILM are stunningly believable. Two DVD documentaries, “By Grabthar’s Hammer, What Amazing Effects” and “Alien School — Creating the Thermian Race,” explore their development, including how actor Enrico Colantoni, who portrays Thermian leader Mathezar, created the Thermian way of speaking.

But perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of “Galaxy Quest” is watching its incredible cast play the comedy with deadpan earnestness. Allen had just finished his top-rated TV comedy series “Home Improvement,” Weaver was coming off her starring appearances as Ripley in the “Alien” movie series and Rickman was a Royal Shakespeare Company vet. Along with their fellow cast members, they artfully capture the neuroticism of failing actors. And newcomer Justin Long, the Mac pitchman, began his lengthy career as a movie adolescent playing the leader of a group of teen Questies who help out in a big way.

Weaver is particularly funny as the blonde bombshell, her cleavage expanding with every scene and her anger growing with every strange development she encounters. When DeMarco and Taggart have to make their way through a ridiculous obstacle course of moving pistons — “Chompers” — that the Thermians built because they appeared in an episode of the “Galaxy Quest” TV series, she yells, “This episode was badly written!”

But “Galaxy Quest,” the movie, was beautifully written — and directed, produced and acted. From its gentle mocking of sci-fi cultists and has-been actors to its creation of the sweetly naive and surprisingly touching Thermians, it’s a movie that should endure just as long as the “Star Trek” phenomena it spoofs.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/93065-galaxy-quest-is-a-delightful-spoof-of-and-homage-to-star-trek/