by Jason Morrison
I entered the theater, stood in line and bought a ticket. Informed the movie I wanted to see was in theater 12, I went in and turned right, which is where I saw it. Galaxy Quest, the poster read. What a horribly generic name for a sci-fi movie, I thought. Starring Tim Allen? Dear god no! This had better be a joke, I said to myself, or I'm never going to another movie again.
That was a few months ago. Since I've been writing reviews all fall, you can assume I haven't stopped watching movies. It follows, then, that Galaxy Quest is a joke, and not bad either.
You see, I'm not only a reviewer, but a sci-fi fan. So nothing hurts more than yet another crappy, mindless sci-fi movie, a la Wing Commander. Galaxy Quest, however, is not a crappy sci-fi movie, but rather a movie about a crappy sci-fi show.
The long-cancelled TV show Galaxy Quest still draws hundreds of devoted fans to conventions. Appearing at these conventions is about the only work the show's former stars can get, in fact. And as the movie begins, we see show's captain, Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) is late yet again. The crew is sick of Nesmith's tardiness and rampant popularity. Shakespearean Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), who played the alien Dr. Lazarus on the show, breaks down-he's said his character's trademark line too many times. But Nesmith shows up and it's time to great the fans.
Among the motley, costumed fans is a small group of pasty characters also dressed in Galaxy Quest jumpsuits. Turns out they're actually aliens, here to procure Nesmith's (or rather his character, Captain Taggart's) aid. They've been intercepting the show's broadcasts, and with no context have assumed the often-cheesy show was a series of historical documents.
Nesmith, who thinks it's just another appearance, goes with them, heads to the bridge and fires of a couple of missiles at the evildoers. He leaves, figuring out the reality of the situation only as he's flung headfirst through space and time by an intergalactic transporter.
The bad guys, though, are far from defeated and Nesmith convinces his "crew" to go back with him-though they figure it's just another paying gig. Though the aliens, who have modeled their society off of the historical documents, are overjoyed, the actors have to cope with the fact that none of them can actually fly the ship, and none of them are really heroes.
I've been to a Star Trek convention or two, so I had a pretty good idea what Galaxy Quest was poking fun at. Hundreds of people dressed as Klingons. Thousands of dollars for cardboard phasers actually used on the show. Otherwise intelligent people taking a work of fiction just a bit too seriously. None of this is too remarkable. TV shows and movies have ripped on all of this for years. But in this movie, the qualities ridiculed pay off. The nerds with the CD-ROM walkthroughs of the ship and self-compiled technical manuals save the universe. Which is probably why Galaxy Quest is enjoyable for both non sci-fi fans as well as the people who stood in line five days to see The Phantom Menace.
It also helps that the movie's pretty funny. Sigourney Weaver plays actress Gwen DeMarco. Her character Tawny Madison is the only one who can communicate with the computer on the show, but the aliens didn't pick up on that-so her only job on the real ship is to repeat everything everyone orders and everything the computer tells her. Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub), Tech Sergeant Chen on the show, has absolutely no idea what he's doing down in engineering, but gives his alien assistants a group hug when their suggestions are correct. Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) was one of the red-shirted ensigns killed off before the first commercial break-so he's certain that in the real life adventure he'll be killed off as well. And Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell), child-actor Laredo on the show, has to figure out how to fly the ship by remembering how he pretended it worked when he was ten years old.
The whole cast is great, but the two main aliens really stand out-Enrico Colantoni as Mathesar, the commander who recruits Nesmith, employs an eerily authentic extraterrestrial accent. Though he looked fairly human, he was one of the most convincing aliens I've seen in any movie. Sarris (Robin Sachs), is the only other alien on the whole ship to sound or act alien, and her romantic involvement with Tech Sergeant Chen provides much humor. As the two finally embrace and kiss, her normally-hidden tentacles find their way out, which just ain't natural.
The film's biggest shortfall was probably due to targeting such a wide audience. Though Galaxy Quest does point out some common cliches and pitfalls of sci-fi, it doesn't say anything most people haven't thought up on their own before. Red-shirted ensigns always die on Star Trek. The crew can land on any planet without space suits. Etc. The body of sci-fi fandom is much more ingeniously self-satirical. But the film's smooth effects, exciting action sequences, and general entertainment value makes up for the fact that it's not pointing out anything new.
(Out of five)