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Galaxy Quest

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 24 December 1999

Directed by Dean Parisot.

Featuring Tim Allen, 
Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, 
Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, 
Daryl Mitchell, and Enrico Colantoni.

 Screenplay by David Howard 
Robert Gordon.

Arriving under your Christmas Tree is this under-heralded yet wildly entertaining sci-fi comedy, a perfect cup of interstellar action-adventure eggnog to compliment the serious Yuletide films screening in adjoining auditoriums and keep your worries off impending Y2K misery next week. I’ve managed to open this hilarious gift twice (Yes, it’s worth it!) and it’s both naughty and nice after repeat airings in sending up at least a half-dozen films and a few cheesy fantasy TV shows from yesteryear (Star Trek being the primary target), not to mention their legions of singularly focused fans.

The movie is one heck of a space celebration involving washed-up actors, bruised egos, and one huge misunderstanding surrounding a seriously cheezy, long-running 1970’s series. From little alien acorns, big geek-filled science fiction conventions grow, and the movie takes a page from the documentary Trekkies in showcasing the army of obsessive followers that has fashioned an apparent billion-dollar merchandizing industry in the eighteen years since the make-believe show was cancelled. Forget that the aging actors (except for the young “Gary Coleman” child navigator character, now grown to his early thirties) of the series must have had awful business acumen and no residuals contracts. They are all pretty much bad actors in search of a genuine life and job, but entirely content to accept $15 a pop for their autograph. They all have moral warts under their costume/uniforms, eventually exorcised after a quartet of real extraterrestrial beings arrive on earth to recruit them. The straight-haired (think Pugsley Addams), waddle-walking, forced smile Thermians have unfortunately been watching the show as fact (“historical documents”), and have based their entire space fleet on the plastic communicators and battery-operated gizmos of the series. Except now those gadgets work (most of the time). When they seek the technical and battle expertise of the “crew” in fighting off a real intergalactic adversary, the film takes on a whole new intrepid dimension. The earthlings, incredulous at their hosts’ fictional dysfunction, ask their alien comrades if they had seen Gilligan’s Island. After a pause and sideward glances, their expression? Absolute sorrow. Oh, the horror. Those poor people! But yes, plot holes are there right alongside the worm holes—I guess the Thermians never watched the news. But you shouldn’t to make logical sense out of much of this filmed comic book.

Borrowing heavily and forever poking fun at various episodes and some plot devices left unanswered in the wake of the program’s cancellation, the film warps along with merry glee, thanks to one of the wittiest scripts of the year. David Howard and Robert Gordon are the culprits behind this madness, their screenplay ever so wonderfully translated by director Dean Parisot (Home Fries), perfectly picking up his cast’s priceless lunacy. The film is very much in the same vein as Men in Black (Gordon’s working on the sequel to that classic. Whoa!), with passing homage to Joe Dante’s Explorers (1985). For the record, Harold Ramis bailed as director back in February, due to “creative differences;” although Dreamworks (which financed the film) principal Steven Spielberg provided some guidance when visiting the set.

The regulars include Tim Allen (Jason Nesmith, a.k.a. courageous Commander Peter Quincy Taggart), Sigourney Weaver (Gwen DeMarco, a.k.a. blonde, big-boobed Valley girl Lt. Tawny Madison), Alan Rickman (Alexander Dane, a.k.a. half-human, half-reptile Dr. Lazarus), Tony Shalhoub (Fred Kwan, a.k.a. ace engineer Tech Sergeant Chen), and Daryl Mitchell (Tommy Webber, a.k.a. top gunner Laredo). Battling within themselves and often against each other, the underlying roles find some with hang ups or hangovers, even if maniacally revered by their fans. Nesmith is a self-absorbed, albeit agreeable, guy. Big-hearted, no-nonsense Gwen seems content to embrace her fans. The classically trained Dane is a contemptuous panic button, his legitimate career forever eclipsed by a signature tagline (“You shall be avenged!”) from what he considers a forgettable role. Fred is Mister Sincerity, with a few screws loose (watch him struggle to open a cookie tin or happily munch on cheese whiz during a desperate moment). Tommy appears rudderless, in search of direction. But as the crew aboard the NSEA Protector, the tv characters are about as dense as their plywood sets. My favorite? Alan Rickman in the “I am not Spock” Leonard Nimoy role. He stole scenes in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and does a great hammy act here, teetering on the edge of sanity but managing to stay in his alien character makeup through the entire film, space fights and all! And what a marvelous sad sack intellectual he is, with his purple-flecked reptilian skull-mold a perfect complement to his uniform. His success here, thankfully, is not at expense of the others. Everyone, including Sam Rockwell (the really nasty death-row inmate in The Green Mile), as the newly recruited Guy Fleegman, gets his/her share of the action. Guy’s running gag is that he’s afraid he’s the expendable crewman (number six, in this case), one of those many nameless actors killed off before the opening credits.

I won’t give details on how the film unfolds because the less you know the more you’ll enjoy it. As to the writers’ deep rooted sci-fi references, one hits me straight on that I want to pop in here. Remember the Dreamworks’ “anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better” tactic when it struck a preemptive release of its inferior Antz before Disney’s A Bug’s Life? Well, the odd tangent in Galaxy Quest is that you have a group of actors battling what looks like a ruthless grasshopper (love those ear rings!). For those unfortunates who missed A Bug’s Life, it concerns a bunch of insect performers who battle a merciless grasshopper. Hmmm.

Technically, the film’s a gem. Stan Winston’s creature design and special effects makeup is right on, with the production design team of Linda DeScenna, James Nedza, and Ric McElvin making the TV show look as cheap as they should and the real spaceships truly inspirational.

Galaxy Quest is a great triumph. For sheer holiday laughs, catch both Tim Allen films NOW. Yeah, and don’t forget that other masterpiece: Toy Story 2.

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