As noted last month, this is the second in a three-part series I am calling The Summer of Surprise. Something about each film I will write about in June, July, and August surprised me in a positive way (and I am toying with the idea of using September for a movie that surprised me in a negative way). Up next is a film that sounds stupid if you describe it, looked stupid in trailers, and seemed like a stupid waste of time. It was not. I am talking about Galaxy Quest (1999, dir. Dean Parisot).
Galaxy Quest is the story of a television show very much reminiscent of Star Trek. The movie opens at a convention with the actors from that show about to greet their fans, lamenting the fact that this is what their careers have become. At this convention, we meet a group of actual aliens (led by the delightful Enrico Colantoni) who, it turns out, have seen the show but believe it all to be real. They need the intrepid crew of the NSEA Protector to come and save them from Sarris (Robin Sachs). Thinking it is simply another random appearance, the leader of the crew, Jason Nesmith (a surprisingly good Tim Allen), accompanies them to face Sarris, not realizing that meant traveling to space. Eventually, he is joined by the rest of the crew (Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, and Daryl Mitchell – each fulfilling their roles within the framework perfectly).
We have seen Star Trek parodies before and since. In many cases, they do not work for one reason or another. I think the primary reason for failure is they either take themselves too seriously or their “punch down” at Star Trek fans, perceived to be exclusively nerds who are somehow lesser than everyone else. (In comedy, there is a concept wherein you should always punch up – meaning to only poke fun at things that are bigger and more important than yourself so as not to appear as though you are being cruel to a potentially marginalized community.) Galaxy Quest successfully avoids this while calling it out at the same time. One such fan of the show, Brandon (an equally delightful Justin Long in his film debut), ends up putting together his “crew” to save the day.
I was aware of this movie when it first came out but did not see it until a few years later when I got tired of people saying, “No, really. It is hilarious.” It has a reasonable amount of heart to go with it – mostly supplied by Allen and Colantoni. For me, though, the greatest performance belongs to Rickman. In an obvious riff on Dr. Spock, you have this brilliant stage actor who most of the world only knows as this alien genius and how that wears on him over nearly 20 years of being unable to break out of that shell. (“I played Richard III. Five curtain calls.”) Rickman is so skillful in communicating that utter disdain for his catchphrase (“By Grapthar’s hammer, you shall be avenged!”) while also recognizing it pays for his apartment. It hits literally every note you want it to hit while poking fun at itself, Star Trek, fans of Star Trek, people that mock fans of Star Trek, actors, and many other science fiction tropes. There are enough little shoutouts to specific Star Trek moments that Trekkies will get a little more out of the film than most. (As a non-Trekkie, they all had to be explained to me.) However, just about everyone should enjoy this trip and laugh throughout. If you have not seen it yet, let me be the person who can now say, “No, really. It is hilarious.”
FUN FACT – I read several fun little bits of trivia, but my favorite is Sir Patrick Stewart’s reaction: “I had originally not wanted to see it because I heard that it was making fun of Star Trek and then Jonathan Frakes rang me up and said "You must not miss this movie! See it on a Saturday night in a full theatre." And I did and of course I found it was brilliant. Brilliant. No one laughed louder or longer in the cinema than I did, but the idea that the ship was saved and all of our heroes in that movie were saved simply by the fact that there were fans who did understand the scientific principles on which the ship worked was absolutely wonderful. And it was both funny and also touching in that it paid tribute to the dedication of these fans.”
Just Watch says that Galaxy Quest is streaming on several platforms (Amazon Prime, Paramount+, Roku, Kanopy, and Pluto) while also available for rent or purchase on several others.