If there’s a trend to be had in Hollywood, or a franchise that strikes gold, you can make a fair wager that someone will try to spoof it. But did I say spoof? One of the surprising aspects of Galaxy Quest — celebrating its tenth anniversary, and loaded with goodies on a new DVD release on May 12 — is that it begins as a spoof, but ends by paying homage to the fan community of a little space-bound franchise that always seems to live long and prosper.
Lifting its premise from much of the legend that surrounds Star Trek and its principal cast, the film tells the story of a canceled '80s sci-fi show and the cast that just can’t get out from under the shadows of their famous alter-egos, or their adoring fans.
Alexander Dane (a perfectly cast Alan Rickman) loathes his legacy and longs to return to the theatrical stage where someone might take him seriously. Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) just wants to move beyond the role of the dopey blonde bombshell. Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), however, who played the iconic role of Cmdr. Peter Quincy Taggart, enjoys the accolades, and works the sci-fi convention circuit with the cheer of a kid, and the overcooked ego of a blowhard.
A trip to the bathroom kills Nesmith’s buzz as he overhears some fans laughing it up about the joke that has become his life. A visit from a cheery band of aliens, however, gets him back on his feet. See, these aliens (called Thermians) believe the TV show was the real thing. A villain threatens to destroy all that’s left of their home, and they require the service, and bravery, of their beloved commander and his crew.
You can snap together the implied parallels inside the first three minutes. But what could have easily turned into a biting indictment morphs into appreciation. The crew reassembles to board the ship these innocent Thermians have constructed, and each rises to the occasion. They’ve even brought along their own expendable “red shirt.”
There’s a fondness at work here that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The narrative shoots for the laugh by playing the ridiculous as real, and takes time to create its characters, establish its stakes (absurd as they are), and build an actual plot.
Ten years out and there’s still some fun to be had here. Star Trek has started the steep climb back up the mountain of relevancy, but it doesn’t take away from good humor Galaxy Quest seeks to provide; a credit to a solid script, and a cast committed to playing it straight. And keep an eye out for younger versions of Rainn Wilson and Justin Long (the guy in the Mac commercials).
One impressive sign of the film’s age involves the make-up effects created by the late Stan Winston. Actor Robin Sachs brings the villain Sarris to life through Winston’s innovative creation: a prosthetic mask that reacts to the facial performance of the talent underneath. Nowadays, you’d just stick some dots on the guy’s face and fill the rest in later with CGI. In 1999, however, it wasn’t that easy. We sure do miss you, Stan.
Special features include a host of extras. A few documentaries detail the film’s production, and even provide some funny insights, and they even got fabled director Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) to sit for an interview. Included deleted scenes explain the random, er, wardrobe malfunction in the film’s final acts, and the Thermian audio track might become a little annoying after a while, but it’s a nice gag.
Sci-fi fans, you’ll enjoy the ribbing at your expense — anyone who’s ever attended a convention (or even dared think about it) gets a jab. But the fun pays more homage than harm, and everyone else will just enjoy the chance to laugh near you.