Galaxy Quest (1999)

galaxy quest

“Never give up! Never surrender!”

The Scoop: 1999 PG, directed by Dean Parisot and starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman

Tagline: The show has been cancelled… but the adventure is just beginning.

Summary Capsule: Actors of a cancelled sci-fi show find themselves in the real thing

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Justin’s rating: All systems nominal

Justin’s review: Way back when Justin was a young lad, he had a deep, dark secret: he was a Star Trek fan. A Trekkie. He knew the technical schematics to all famous StarFleet vessels, he read all the cheap paperbacks that came out each month, he even dressed up to go to conventions. Whilst he left his affection for Star Trek behind in high school, Justin still looks fondly upon scifi and the fandom that it creates.

Galaxy Quest is perhaps one of the greatest tributes to geeky fans everywhere. Sure, on one level it is a parody of Cap’n Kirk’s adventures, but the broader appeal is aimed at the fans of all space shows. It begins with a convention of Galaxy Quest, a scifi show that was cancelled 18 years ago. The actors are older, bored with the roles, and mostly pissed at Jason Nesmith. Nesmith plays Peter Taggart on the show (who is, in turn, really played by Tim Allen! Confusing! Yay!). After some pasty-faced aliens show up, the cast of Galaxy Quest are whisked away to a real version of their TV show ship, the NSEA Protector. There they fill in their roles by trying to stop an aggressive reptilian race, navigate through mine fields, and find a new power source for their ship.

While the novelty of a movie about a fake show that’s a parody of a real show could have worn off quickly, I found it highly entertaining, and — at times — gut-bustingly funny. Each crew member is not just an two-dimensional Airplane! satire; they all have believable motivation and ample personality. Nesmith has his ego to overcome (and not to mention a really bad McGuyver mullet in the ’80s show), Madison (Sigourney Weaver, snidely digging at her Alien roles) struggles to be more than a bosom who repeats everything the computer says, Tech Sargent Chen (Tony Shalhoub) has a mellow and cheeky attitude, some last-nameless Guy who’s convinced he’ll be killed five minutes into a planet mission, and Dr. Lazarus (Alan Rickman) is sick of having the spotlight stolen by Taggart.

The weird aliens who see the “historical documents” of Galaxy Quest and build the duplicate of the Protector are surprisingly endearing. You feel sorry for them for losing most of their species, but that doesn’t stop the laughter. And for fans of The Office, you might spot a young Rainn Wilson among the pack.

How are the special effects? Really cheesy and tacky… in the TV show version, at least. The “real” special effects are actually well-done and on par with any Star Trek movie. It was cool to see the movie makers have fun making up their own mythology and technology to go along with Galaxy Quest. Instead of transporters, there are goo pods and something called a Digital Matrix. They toss back and forth terminology that sounds like it could have easily been used in a series for years and years.

Galaxy Quest is really what die-hard fandom is all about: the desire to actually be in our favorite TV shows. High marks for the filmmakers communicating this, creating a parody, and not really alienating sci-fi fans in doing so. An extra small point of kudos goes to the really spectacular cast that took a chance on what could have been a throwaway joke of a movie, but turned out to be one of the last surprise hits of 1999.

Kyle’s rating: All roads lead to Shatner!

Kyle’s review: For all the (mostly) great special effects and clever plots, the Star Trek series would have never achieved greatness without William Shatner’s incredible performance as Captain James T. Kirk. It was the love-hate byplay of Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy that made the show special, and the camaraderie of the whole crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701 that set an example for us all. Entire generations of men and women were inspired by the show to strive for new heights and dream of the wonders of a better tomorrow. It was die-hard Trek fans responsible for the greatest inventions and discoveries of our time, including science-fiction conventions, Velcro, that Koosh toy, vibrating stuffed animals, toe rings, and penicillin. Thanks, Star Trek!

Alas, our idyllic bubble was to be shattered on the barbed prongs of harsh truth. Thanks to tell-all autobiographies and sleazy tabloids, we learned that while Captain Kirk was a magnificent bastard, Shatner was just a bastard with a toupee. We learned none of the Trek actors really seemed to be friends. Sure, they’d get together for the occasional Trek movie and big events, but you don’t see Nichelle Nichols and George Takei singing back up for Shatner in those Priceline commercials, do you?

The film Galaxy Quest rules, therefore, because its creators saw the best of both these worlds. They saw this hugely influential sci-fi series with a cheesy but not inconsiderable charm and its legions of trivia-toting fans. They saw the real-life infighting between the actors and the love and loathing the actors felt for the television series that forever defined and confined them to the roles that they played. Combining both of these aspects makes Galaxy Quest one of the most entertaining and in-joke-filled movies I’ve ever seen!

Tim Allen plays the boozy attention hog Jason Nesmith, formerly Commander Peter Quincy Taggert of the failed show Galaxy Quest, who has spent his years since the show ended milking his notoriety for everything he can get. His fellow former crewmates, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, and Daryl Mitchell are also using their sci-fi cult fame to their benefit, but a little less enthusiastically particularly for Rickman, who laments having to wear his funny prosthetic alien costume and say his trademark catchphrase at every appearance he makes. They also aren’t very happy with Jason, who likes to schedule his own individual gigs without letting them in on it. So they’re surprised when he finally offers for them to come along on his latest gig, which he claims is the “real” thing. Little do they know he’s not lying!

That’s right! Not only does Galaxy Quest take potshots at Trek actors; it has a real story too! A cool story! See, these actors have been playing these roles as space cowboys get called on by a real race of aliens who need help from the space cowboys whose exploits they’ve been receiving on subspace channels for years. So they beam the actors up into a recreation of the Galaxy Quest ship, thinking they’ll up to the task of defeating the ugly and bullying aliens trying to exterminate the good aliens. See! The actors have to play their roles for real! It’s funny! Really!

Whether you’re in it for the Trek satire or just a fresh and very well done sci-fi comedy, Galaxy Quest will not disappoint. Allen does a remarkable job as a blowhard who finds a cosmic chance at redemption, and his crew (especially Weaver and Rickman) is great as they come along for the ride. See cool space battles! Marvel at an away team mission to the surface of an alien planet! Gaze upon the best special effects I’ve seen outside of certain crap Lucas films! And wonder: in this same situation, when the odds were against him and the situation was grim: What Would Shatner Do?

PoolMan’s rating: It’s funny how (relatively) serious Kyle gets when we’re talking Star Trek.

PoolMan’s review: Justin, Kyle, me. Three up, three down. I too have always held a soft spot for Star Trek in my heart. Although I’m more of a Picard man myself, Trek nurtured me through a lot of my formative years, and I still maintain that I grew up relatively normal. Of course, I have the full Starfleet TNG uniform at home in my closet. I used to have a life size cutout of Patrick Stewart in my possession, and I actually handed a piece of Trek fanfic in as a high school creative writing assignment once, so make of that what you will. Incidentally, I’m a dead ringer for Riker when I’m properly dressed.

Thankfully, the years have gone by, and although I still regularly pause just a little too long on TNN (honestly, when did that channel switch from monster trucks and fishing to 8 hour daily Next Generation marathons, and who I do I kiss to thank them?), the desire to learn Klingon has slowly faded. My tech manual for the Enterprise D is buried at the back of my bookshelf, and the model I had of the same ship is somewhere in a storage box in my closet. Much to my girlfriend’s (and my mother’s) delight and relief.

Still, it’s all too easy to love a movie like Galaxy Quest for a guy like me. It’s Trek, and it isn’t. It’s every bit tongue in cheek, covered in inside jokes that nobody’s really on the inside of, but are still perfectly funny. It’s the entire Star Trek legacy, characters, ships, fans, and all, wrapped up in a barely lawsuit-proof bow. I’d be surprised if William Shatner doesn’t spend his nights trying to pry open Tim Allen’s windows so he can deliver a little death grip of his own.

With all the text above that J and Kyle have already churned out, I’m relieved to find a plot synopsis or two in there. What I’d most like to say is something that a good portion of you probably already know: Alan Rickman is THE MAN. Seeing as we’re probably not going to cover Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves here at the MRFH anytime soon (damn you, Kevin Costner, damn you!), in which Rickman has the role of a lifetime as the Christmas-cancelling Sheriff of Nottingham, I’m choosing this moment (I didn’t do a good enough job with my review of Die Hard) to forever declare Alan Rickman as the king of delivering awkward lines with a pained expression. The cast here is all good, but watching Rickman wince as he struggles to bring his Shakespearean self to utter the phrase “by Grapthar’s Hammer” time and again is just about worth the price of admission on its own.

Not to mention very good effects sequences (including a twenty foot tall alien made of giant boulders) and action shots. The movie’s got a lot of glitz and polish for something that really could have ended up as a screen adaptation of MAD Magazine’s Star Blecch IV in less capable hands. You’ve got to see it once, Trekker or not. From red shirts to breathing the air on strange planets to the dire fate of the castaways on Gilligan’s Isle, Galaxy Quest is all kinds of geek haut couture.

I’ve always wanted to say that.

Sue’s rating: To infinity and beyond! No wait. Wrong movie.

Sue’s review: Ah sweet taste of fandom. Sort of like the Heart of Targ Potpie that mother never used to make. Mind you, I never really dove headlong into the hardcore Trekkie (or any other Fan-tastic) experience. I don’t have the costumes or the schematic guides, but I’ll admit to dipping a toe or two in with a bit of fan-fiction, a few avidly read books (mostly TNG and Star Wars) and okay, I might possibly have consulted a Klingon-English dictionary a time or two. But it’s been a long time, okay? I mean, I haven’t read a Star Trek or Star Wars book in at least a week.

If you’re into any kind of well-crafted fiction, there is a certain seduction of not so much wanting to emulate a story but wanting to be in the story. I mean, who wouldn’t want to lock on phasers, affectionately ruffle a hobbit’s furry toes, find out if their Patronus leans more toward stag or shetland pony, or best of all, wreak some major lightsaber havoc with ultra-cool, zen-like poise? It’s the stuff of dreams. Very safe dreams because deep down inside, we know it’s just never gonna happen.

In Galaxy Quest, it does. Now mind you, these poor schmucks aren’t fans. Fans would’ve been prepared! These are actors. Jaded actors. Has-been actors. Actors with issues. When the opportunity arises and fiction becomes fact, they’re panic stricken and very sensibly so. But they’ve also been type-cast into a sort of writhing “the show must go on” predestination… particularly in the case of “crewman number six” who knows perfectly well that namelessness is a one way ticket to shuffling off some distant mortal coil. (Probably with weird background lighting to prove just how alien the place is.) The only thing they have going for them is a fairly comprehensive recall of various scripts and the dedication and adoration of a few thousand groupies who just happen to be from another planet and seem to all have smiles fortified by applications of botox.

Come to think of it, I wonder if Sigourney Weaver lost any sleep over the concept of getting sucked into a real version of Aliens by some intersteller fan consortium with chest-bursting problems?

If I have a problem with this movie, it’s a sappily sentimental one. The near-extinction of an entire race of naïve and innocent beings and the way that issue was shrugged off after one somber pause by Tim Allen (of all people) struck me as maybe a little unnecessary. At the very least it was callous. I mean, what would have happened to the Star Trek franchise if Kirk had solved the Tribble infestation by turning them all into crispy critters with a judicious use of photon torpedoes? Priceline.com wouldn’t have touched him with a ten-foot cattle prod, I promise you that!

In any case, the acting in Galaxy Quest was absolutely terrific. My ambivalence for everything that is Tim Allen graciously stepped aside for once, my adoration for Alan Rickman’s sarcastic sneer continues unabated, and Tony Shalhoub’s chief engineer was a work of brilliance and very possibly Valium. Sigourney Weaver and her bosoms just missed achieving a breakout role (ba-dum-ching!) and Sam Rockwell annoyed the heck out of me… but I suspect that was his entire purpose. Well done!

So rent it. Watch it. Open the Iris. Live long and prosper. And hey, may the Force be with you. Just in case.

Al’s rating: Like a royal fizzbin after a night full of shralks!

Al’s review: Since I’ve started reviewing movies on a semiserious basis, I’ve come to understand a few truths about my relationship to them. One is that I seem to have an unhealthy fixation on anything involving Clancy Brown. It’s really kind of getting out of hand. Another, perhaps more pertinent understanding, though, has been my awareness of how I think about movies when I watch them.

As a completely random example that I’m sure will have no further bearing on this review, let’s look at my logic when dividing ‘good’ movies from ‘great’ movies. I can sum up my reasons for designating a movie ‘good’ by saying, “I had a good time.” The characters were neat or I liked the set design or the explosions were pretty. There were problems and I definitely noticed them, but I didn’t care enough about them to let it get in the way of enjoying myself. A great movie, however, doesn’t have to shoulder this — a great movie will fire on all cylinders right out of the gate. It energizes you. If it’s an older film that you may have missed the first time around, you’ll say “I can’t believe I’ve never watched this before!” Being great doesn’t mean it won’t have flaws, but, just like being a merely ‘good’ movie won’t preclude you from falling in love with it, the experience that great films provide will reduce any shortcomings to meager footnotes, if you pick up on them up at all. Now, if only I had a movie that could demonstrate such a thing… wait a minute!

Galaxy Quest is a great movie. There’s no single exceptional aspect that catapults it into this category; everything just comes together the way it needs to. The performances are spot on from every quarter. Jason Nesmith, Tim Allen’s kitschy but loving Shatner send-up, is brilliant as both an arrogant, oblivious blowhard and a movie star who has honest love of the material that made him famous and real gratitude for the fans that come to see him. Alan Rickman naturally steals the spotlight as the resentful second fiddle Alexander Dane, who is perpetually stuck in alien makeup and relegated to a single catchphrase despite his Shakespearean background (“I played Richard III!”). Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shaloub, and Sam Rockwell all give the kind of performances that audiences hope for when they see those names on the marquee. Even the bit parts like ubergeek Brandon (a wet-behind-the-ears Justin Long) and the earnest but clueless Thermian crewmen are on the right wavelength.

As the story has already been hashed, smashed, and served over easy by my mutant brethren, I won’t bring out the leftovers; we’re basically watching The Three Amigos with a rock monster. It’s a workable plot — a good plot — but Galaxy Quest isn’t content with good. Instead, it gets all meta on us and performs what I think is a pretty amazing sleight of hand. As the movie begins, we’re treated to vintage GQ: ray guns, space battles, dashing heroics, and aliens with funny haircuts and rubber prosthetics. We’re shown the crazies who love it and the hopeless cases who feel connected with these imaginary characters. We’re invited to point and laugh until we’re feeling nice and superior.

Then, without warning, the movie turns around and does the exact same thing! Ray guns, space battles, fake monsters — and we buy it all. The brash, arrogant, daring captain. The wunderkind pilot. Even aliens with funny haircuts and rubber prosthetics. They are all present, accounted for, and no more real than the hokey repeats on loop at the conventions, but this time we eat it up without a second thought. Galaxy Quest: 1, Ego: 0.

Great doesn’t mean perfect, of course. The plot is paper thin, no matter how cleverly they twist it, and the CGI looks like it was made on Playstation. Continuity errors abound (what *did* happen to Gwen’s uniform?) and I can’t help but wonder about the collateral damage caused by the movie’s finale. But these aren’t complaints. I don’t feel entitled to answers from the director. These aren’t even things I really noticed when I watched it. They are simply small observations made over a dozen viewings, because, when there’s so much worth watching, you try to watch it all. So I repeat: Galaxy Quest is a great movie. Great for we geeks, great for you unfortunate normal folks out there, and great for anyone who loves the movies. Don’t miss it.

Newest members of Overactors’ Anonymous.

Intermission!

  • You never see Alexander/Dr. Lazarus without his head prosthetic on during the entire film (although it does get banged up)
  • The “lost” episode
  • The crew’s predictions of what’s going to happen usually does
  • Coca-cola product placement
  • Kids in the Hall alumnus Kevin McDonald is the announcer at the convention.
  • On the new show, Laliari is listed in the credits as “Jane Doe”
  • The Thermians state they are from the Klaatu Nebula. Klaatu was the name of the alien in The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • One of the best gags in the movie, the ship scraping its hull on the way out of stardock, is a bit messed up. The scrapes are on the central hull, but the port nacelle should have gotten in the way.
  • The NSEA Protector’s serial number is NTE 3120. NTE is an in-joke for “Not The Enterprise”. The designation “NSEA” for the ship is a homonym of the prefix used in ship numbering in Star Trek, “NC”. Both can be pronounced “EN SEE”.
  • Instead of ripping off the standard Star Trek “Swooosh-thweep” sound for their automatic doors, the NSEA Protector’s automatic doors were given the same “Tweeep-Clunk” sound effect as the doors in the original version of the video game Doom.
  • When the crew are eating aboard the ship, they are told that the food has been prepared based on their regional cuisine. The commander comments that the steak tastes like Iowa Beef. This seems like a subtle reference to the fact that Captain Kirk is from Iowa.
  • Gwen originally, when faced with going through “the chompers”, said “Well, F**K THAT!” She was re-dubbed to say “Well, SCREW THAT!” to avoid an R-rating. The original line is still obvious when reading her lips.
  • The bad-guy alien Sarris looks almost exactly like the Unas seen occasionally on Stargate SG-1. Or vice versa.
  • The “voice” of the Protector 2 is male.
  • How does Sarris actually know what “tissue paper” is?
  • No one does annoyed like Alan Rickman does annoyed.
  • The original director of Galaxy Quest was Harold Ramis, who walked out when Dreamworks demanded that Tim Allen have that role
  • The rock monster is a mock tribute to William Shatner, who desperately wanted to put rock monsters in the climax of Star Trek V, but had to cut them out of his script for budgetary reasons.
  • The set of the NSEA Protector was built on an articulated platform so that it could move a few feet in any direction, for a touch of realism (instead of actors leaning in unison). When it was first used the set dropped two feet and shifted to the side, causing several cast members to fall out of their chairs and two lights to fall down.

Groovy Quotes

Gwen DeMarco: I mean, my TV Guide interview was six paragraphs about my boobs and how they fit into my suit!

Jason Nesmith: Am I too late for Alexander’s panic attack?
[Alex hides his face in despair.]
Jason Nesmith: Apparently not.

Jason Nesmith: You WILL go out there.
Sir Alexander Dane: I won’t and nothing you say will make me.
Jason Nesmith: The show must go on.
Sir Alexander Dane: …Damn you.

Quellek: Are you enjoying your Kep-mok blood ticks, Dr. Lazarus?
Sir Alexander Dane: [disgusted] Just like mother used to make.

Guy Fleegman: I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m just “Crewman Number Six.” I’m expendable! I’m the guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is! I’ve gotta get outta here!

[Trying to explain TV to the Thermians.]
Gwen DeMarco: They’re not ALL “historical documents.” Surely, you don’t think Gilligan’s Island is a…
[All the Thermians moan in despair]
Mathesar: Those poor people!

Sir Alexander Dane: Could they be the miners?
Fred Kwan: Sure, they’re like three years old.
Sir Alexander Dane: MINERS, not MINORS.
Fred Kwan: You lost me.

Guy Fleegman: I’m just a glorified extra, Fred. I’m a dead man anyway. If I’m gonna die, I’d rather go out a hero than a coward.
Fred Kwan: Guy, Guy… maybe you’re the plucky comic relief. You ever think about that?

Guy Fleegman: Wait, don’t open that! It’s an alien planet! Is there air? You don’t know! [holds breath]
[The shuttle door opens. Kwan sniffs the air and shrugs.]
Fred Kwan: Seems okay.

Gwen DeMarco: Whoever wrote this episode should DIE!

Sir Alexander Dane: I see you’ve managed to get your shirt off.

[At the opening of a discount electronics store]
Sir Alexander Dane: By Grapthar’s Hammer… what savings.

[Introducing Alex at the convention]
Announcer: Give him a hand, he’s British!

Fred Kwan: Hey guys, I just wanted you to know that, the reactors won’t take it; the ship is breaking apart and all that… Just FYI!

Taggart: Never give up, never surrender!

Madison: Why does it always have to be ventilation ducts?

Alien #1: It looks like a child.
Alien #2: What’ll we do?
Alien #1: Let’s hit it with a rock!
Alien #2: And then eat it!

Mathasar: We have enjoyed preparing many of your esoteric dishes. Your Monte Cristo sandwich is a current favorite among the adventurous.

Mathesar: Please Commander, yoooou arrrre ouuuuur lassssst hooope! We have secured our limousine.

Jason Nesmith: Doesn’t she talk?
Teb: Her translator is broken
Laliari: LAILAILAILAILALA!!!!!
Jason Nesmith: Okie dokie.

Jason Nesmith: Y’know, what I could really use is a cup holder and a couple of Advil.

Brandon’s Mom: Where are you going with those fireworks?
Brandon: Well, the Protector got super-accelerated coming out of the black hole, and it, like, nailed the atmosphere at Mach 15, which, you guys know, is pretty unstable, obviously, so we’re gonna help Laredo guide it on the vox ultra-frequency carrier and use Roman candles for visual confirmation.
Brandon’s Mom: Uh, all right. Dinner’s at seven.

Jason Nesmith (on the effects of space travel): Just keep shaking it off. It gets better. Try some gum. It helps.

Jason Nesmith: Remember yesterday at the convention? Those people dressed like aliens? Well they were aliens! They were termites! Or Dalmatians! I can’t really remember cause I was kinda hung over…

Alexander: You’re just going to have to figure out what it wants. What is its motivation?
Jason : It’s a rock monster. It doesn’t have motivation!
Alexander: See? That’s your problem, Jason. You were never serious about the craft.

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14 comments

  1. This movie is absolutely made out of awesome.
    Still, I have to wonder; what were those 2 peanut gallery guys in the men’s washroom even doing at a sci-fi convention?! It seemed that all they were there to do was mock.

  2. Also: whatever cellular telephone plan they’ve got, I want it. They get reception in OUTER SPACE, folks!

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