This article appeared in Issue 18 of Frontier, Australia's sci-fi media magazine
After creating a loyal following around the world (especially after it was cancelled), launching a movie franchise that has spanned a total of 9 films, spinning off three additional television series, and generating millions of dollars in merchandise, it's about time someone parodied the entire "Star Trek" phenomenon. "Galaxy Quest" is a mocking yet reverential comedy for "Star Trek" fans and non-fans alike, and is probably the best gag that has been pulled on the sci-fi franchise since William Shatner did the "Get a life!" skit on "Saturday Night Live".
In the film, "Galaxy Quest" is the name of a "Star Trek"-like television series that was cancelled in 1982, yet remains near and dear to many (the so-called 'Questerites'). Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen, heard recently in "Toy Story 2"), the series' equivalent to raging egomaniac William Shatner, played Commander Peter Q. Taggart, the heroic commander of the NSEA Protector. Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman of "Dogma") is a classically-trained Shakespearean actor who laments being forever typecast as the show's resident Spock-equivalent, Dr. Lazarus of Tev'Meck. Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver, playing the opposite of her action heroine alter-ego last seen in "Alien: Resurrection") is Lt. Tawny Madison, the show's buxom babe, whose only job was to repeat the computer's lines (much akin to Uhura being a glorified receptionist, uttering "Hailing frequencies open" every now and then). Finally, Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub of "The Siege") is Tech Sgt. Chen, the show's Scotty, while Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell of "10 Things I Hate About You") is the ship's very young helmsman (Chekov, anyone?).
Twenty years have passed since the series' cancellation, and the actors who played the intrepid crew of the Protector are now reduced to doing the convention circuit and forced to utter the banal lines that made them famous. In addition to having suffered stagnant acting careers, there is much dissension among the group, mostly directed at the arrogant Nesmith, who seems to get the most adoration and attention at the fan gatherings.
However, everything changes when a group of aliens from the planet Thermia, led by Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni of "Stigmata") beg Nesmith and his co-stars to help them fight against the evil galactic overlord Sarris (Robin Sachs of "Babylon 5: In the Beginning"). It seems that the Thermians have been watching transmissions of the old "Galaxy Quest" episodes, thinking them to be historical documents. Using the old episodes as a blueprint, the Thermians have recreated in exacting detail the NSEA Protector, and hope for Commander Taggart and his intrepid crew to guide the ship to victory. You can pretty well imagine what happens next...
It is evident that director Dean Parisot (who got off on the wrong foot with the dreadful "Home Fries"), along with writers David Howard and Robert Gordon, have a lot of respect and admiration for the original series of "Star Trek". The mockups of the old television episodes hilariously replicate the cheesy special effects (red skies and all), hammy over-acting, and often bad writing that plagued the early days of "Star Trek". They even threw in the expendable crewman who always got killed within the first five minutes of an away mission (played to great effect by Sam Rockwell of "The Green Mile"). They also poke fun at Trekkies and the conventions that they attend, from the costumes they wear to the committing to memory of episode minutiae that even the actors don't remember. Other targets for 'abuse' include the behind-the-scenes tensions between Shatner and the rest of the cast of "Star Trek", as well as the classic clichés and character tics that only a die-hard Trek fan would appreciate.
Every character is given a moment to shine in "Galaxy Quest". Allen does a great Shatner, though I think "Galaxy Quest" would have been even more fun if Shatner had been cast to parody himself, as he did in the independent film "Free Enterprise". Rickman does an amusing turn as an actor who can no longer stand what he represents, while Shalhoub steals a number of scenes when his character seems to be enjoying the life-and-death struggle in space a little too much. However, the most memorable characters would have to be the Thermians, whose child-like naivete is the source of much of the film's humor (when asked about "Gilligan's Island", the Thermians lament 'those poor people').
Granted, "Galaxy Quest" is not the type of film that will have you laughing uncontrollably-- instead, it is the type of comedy where the big laughs are sporadic, but you're guaranteed to sit through the entire film with a silly grin on your face. And though having some background on the source material will let you in on some of the jokes, there is enough wit and impressive special effects such that even those who hate "Star Trek" will have a good time. Set a course for the multiplex-- engage!