|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 02 May 2000|
GALAXY QUEST was a much more risky enterprise, you should pardon the expression, than it might have seemed at first glance. It's clearly a riff on the fiercely-loved original STAR TREK series, and if a whiff of condescension had entered into the proceedings, Trekkies as well as those who merely liked the series would have stormed the projection booth and tore the print to shreds.
But the makers of GALAXY QUEST were very wise: yes, it is amused by the Trek phenomenon, its actors and its fans, but it's a very affectionate amusement. Clearly those who made the movie like STAR TREK; it's just that their fondness for the series and what centers on it didn't prevent them from seeing the humor in all of it.
The premise is that "Galaxy Quest" was a very popular TV series in the late 70s and early 80s. Even though it was canceled, its devoted fans still have conventions centering on the show, and the cast of the series -- who've had little luck in finding other work -- wearily, somewhat shamefacedly, trades on their old popularity. They show up at conventions, sell autographed photos, open electronics stores, and in general live on their "Galaxy Quest" fame.
Tim Allen plays Jason Nesmith, who was "Commander Peter Quincy Taggart" on the series, clearly modeled on William Shatner's Captain Kirk. Alan Rickman is Sir Alexander Dane, the Shakespearian star who played the half-alien Dr. Lazarus -- he's the Spock substitute. Sigourney Weaver, in a blonde wig and enhanced breasts, is Gwen DeMarco, who was computer interpreter Tawny Madison, more or less based on Nichelle Nichols' Lt. Uhura. Tony Shalhoub is Fred Kwan, who played Sgt. Chen on "Galaxy Quest," standing in for James Doohan as Scotty. The one ringer is Daryl Mitchell, who Tommy Webber; as a boy, he was the series' navigator, Lt. Laredo.
Basically, in GALAXY QUEST the stars of Star Trek are taken into space by real aliens, Thermians. The Thermians have no concept of lies, which includes drama, and have assumed for years that "Galaxy Quest" was the history of a real spaceship and its stalwart crew. It's a great premise, but since it's a comedy, the ways it could be developed were limited and pretty obvious. And those are the ways David Howard's story and the screenplay he wrote, rewritten by Robert Gordon, treads right down those expected paths. The result is that there's something very mechanical about the plotting of "Galaxy Quest;" like a good little toy, it goes right where you expect it to. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.
It's too bad that the "real" space adventure these actors find themselves plunged into is as cornball, preposterous and technically goofy as the series itself. This would be a nice idea if it was actually planned that way, but it's hard to avoid the uncomfortable feeling that the writers and director Dean Parisot thought there was a wild contrast between the episodes of the show (we get very authentic-looking glimpses of old episodes throughout the movie) and the "real" adventure.
Finally, director Dean Parisot's style is flat and uninteresting, like that of a medium-quality TV movie. The editing is often awkward and badly timed; it's obvious that many scenes were cut (and some of these, fortunately, are on the DVD). It's too bad something with a livelier visual style and a sharper editor weren't hired instead.
Now, all that being said doesn't prevent for an instant GALAXY QUEST from being an exciting, funny and downright lovable movie. It's just about irresistible; the cast is having a great time, there are lots of amusing lines, and it's always delightful to see actors playing actors as self-centered (but warm-hearted) poseurs. Clearly, everyone involved enjoyed the series they're parodying (the producers like to claim that several old series were the targets, but you're not required to believe such poppycock); the affection for STAR TREK and its actors in them suffuses the whole movie with a kind of warm, wry glow.
Even if the journey is predictable, it's adorned with wit, wisdom and great special effects (by ILM and Stan Winston's creature shop). There's a breezy likability to this movie that sets it miles apart from anything previously. The story where the fake must become real is a very old one, but it's never been told in this context before -- which makes it at least cuddle up to originality. (Bob Hope and Danny Kaye each built about half their careers on this basic idea.)
The entire cast is very good, though one wishes that Alan Rickman had been given more to do. Tony Shalhoub, one of the best character actors now working, has played Chen as a distracted onlooker, forever munching on something; it's a very funny approach, and Shalhoub finds something amusing to do in every scene. Enrico Colantoni, leader of the Thermians, is brilliantly funny and sweet as the earnest, adoring ultra-fan from outer space. Sigourney Weaver, no stranger to space travel, has a great time in her blonde wig and enhanced chest. Tim Allen, a life-long science fiction reader, was delighted to be cast in the movie; he worried when Parisot asked him to play some scenes straight, but he does it, and well.
Parisot seems to have concentrated on performance, which is all well and good, but a movie like GALAXY QUEST required a little more visual flash and imagination to work on all levels. There's something cautious and reticent about Parisot's approach that tends to undermine too many scenes. He needed to go bigger, be broader and more venturesome.
But the story idea is so damned good, the dialog fresh and amusing, and the performances so accomplished that GALAXY QUEST soars right over its defects. It's one of the most charming and likable movies of the year, and in terms of how it views science fiction (and its fans), deserves a place on the shelf right next to films like MATINEE and FREE ENTERPRISE.
The DVD includes only the wide-screen version, bless their hearts; the sound is excellent, and it's a fine presentation. There's a large number of deleted scenes, every one of which could well have been left in the movie; evidently, they were removed for length and pacing, not because the scenes themselves aren't good. The Thermian dialog track is briefly amusing, but it doesn't make up for the lack of a commentary track by Parisot or one of the writers. It would have been much more appealing to have all the scenes from the "old TV series" collected together. "On Location in Space" is a standard making-of documentary shot as publicity for the film.