Galaxy Quest (1999)

D: Dean Parsiot
S: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman

Galaxy Quest begins splendidly. It opens with a witty, bitchy, in-jokey poking of fun at sci-fi series, conventions, and fans as the washed up cast of a long-defunct TV show battle their neuroses and disappointments before taking to the stage and going through the motions before legions of devoted admirers. There's nothing subtle about it, but it is fun to watch Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman playing a beautiful balance of parody and performance; she as a woman whose job on the show consisted of repeating what the computer said while men eyed her bust, he as a former Shakespearian actor now eternally associated with the aloof alien with a lame catchphrase. The parallels with the classic Star Trek series are unmissable, right down to the misgivings of the 'real' stars, and this adds to the fun. When Tim Allen arrives as the William Shatner-like star of the show, things kick into another gear of broad, silly farce as he lords it up with the crowd and plays the game with impunity, much to the disgust of his co-stars. Then the plot begins. It turns out that one particularly rabid group of fans attending the convention are real aliens who have come to seek the help of the famous crew during an interstellar conflict, mistakenly believing that the show is an historical documentary. The premise is great, the set up is good, and the film is tantalisingly close to absolutely hilarious. Alas, despite many good moments, solid performances, and nice special effects, Galaxy Quest eventually succumbs to the twin demons of sentimentality and an episodic script: both features of its generic forebears which, despite the tone of parody, it cannot transcend (very much like the not dissimiliar Three Amigos). It sadly becomes juvenile and obvious when even a tad more adult edge would have made a huge difference. That said, it is all in good fun and the film is worth a look if you're in the mood for silly laughs.

Many of the gags initially revolve around the in-jokes and the delicious performances from its stars. Though secondary, Daryl Mitchell and Tony Shalhoub also score as, respectively, the former child star now grown up who must learn to be an actual pilot and the intense engineer who is so laid back in reality that even the prospect of possible extraterrestrial romance does not faze him. Then the yuks come as the actors try to adjust to the situation as they are whisked into space to face real technology and real alien baddies, and, sensibly, mostly respond with panic and an instinct for self-preservation. At this point, Sam Rockwell begins to make an impact as a former bit player (named "Guy"), who is constantly terrified that he will be the 'guy' who gets vaporised in the first five minutes. Enrico Colantoni and Missi Pyle are amusing as aliens who have obvious difficulty adjusting to human form and Robin Sachs is impressively made over by Brian Penikas' masks and prosthetics to make an imposing villain. The story does become pedestrian at this point though, as our heroes blunder through a series of encounters, throwing off one-liners and quips, while, inevitably, becoming the heroes they always pretended to be. It's horribly predictable and it loses its sharper humour as it goes, but there are a couple of nice scenes, good special effects, and plenty of warm, good-natured laughs to be had, which is recommendation enough.

Galaxy Quest is best suited to either a younger viewer or a savvy adult who does not look with condescension upon the source material in the first place. If you do, the film is meaningless. But for those with a soft spot for a bit of Trek or its many descendants, this affable, goofy film will probably prove entertaining enough even if it's not quite dead on target.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.