The Nostalgia Files: ‘Galaxy Quest’ (1999)

Galaxy_Quest_poster[1]Galaxy Quest
Written by David Howard and Robert Gordon
Directed by Dean Parisot
USA, 1999

“Never give up. Never surrender.” Truer words have never been spoken. In 1999, the science fiction genre was shaken up a bit by a movie so smart and so funny that no other film has managed to duplicate its greatness ever since. That film is Galaxy Quest, a hilarious satire of all things sci-fi, most specifically the Star Trek franchise. Galaxy Quest isn’t simply a parody of Star Trek, though. It’s a parody of a show within a movie that bears an extraordinary resemblance to Star Trek, and this goofy send-up is the perfect recipe for intelligent humor, dazzling special effects, and pure movie magic.

The film follows a group of semi-washed up actors who starred in Galaxy Quest, a Trek-esque TV show from the early 1980s.Led by Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), this band of lovable thespians has since moved on to other things, only to be reunited every now and then by the occasional sci-fi convention or electronic store opening event.Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell, and Sam Rockwell comprise the cast of Galaxy Quest in, well Galaxy Quest.

When a simple alien race is threatened by a sinister reptilian warlord, the show’s cast is summoned to thwart said evil being. The peaceful aliens, having received and misinterpreted transmissions of Galaxy Quest from across the universe, believe them to be the real crew of a real spaceship called the NSEA Protector. Thrust into a real life or death scenario, the actors must actually become the intergalactic heroes they portrayed all those years ago.

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The cast of Galaxy Quest is a large part of what makes this movie out of this world.Allen plays the self-absorbed commander and leader of the pack beautifully. Alan Rickman is genius as Alexander Dane, the actor who plays a Spock-like officer. Sigourney Weaver goes way past type as a sexy blonde computer officer. Tony Shalhoub is rather amusing as Fred Kwan, a blasé engineer. Daryl Mitchell provides the voice of reason as a young pilot, and Sam Rockwell is just hilarious as Guy Fleegman, a hapless crew member who got killed off in his only appearance on the show.

Aside from the intrepid crew of the NSEA Protector, there is a supporting cast that is simply delightful. Enrico Colantoni (Just Shoot Me, Veronica Mars) is a hoot as Mathesar, the leader of the peaceful Thermian alien people who requests the help of Nesmith and his “crew”. Justin Long makes his feature film debut as Brandon, a true Questarian (or obsessed fan) who ends up helping the actors in their fight against the enemy. Sarris is that enemy and he is played deliciously evil by the recently departed Robin Sachs (perhaps best known as Ethan Rayne in Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

With such a talented cast, a superb script penned by David Howard and Robert Gordon could only help to elevate things. There is wit and brilliance with each character interaction. Strong jokes and memorable one-liners flow throughout the film, and it is with the cast that these jokes really take flight. Rated PG, Galaxy Quest is a film for the whole family. The humor is clean and appropriate, making it a movie that everyone can enjoy.

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The film’s visual effects were conjured up by the wizards over at Industrial Light and Magic, a company which is responsible for a majority of science fiction and adventure films, including but not limited to the Star Trek and Star Wars films. Galaxy Quest has many action sequences that are similar to these two space opera franchises, and ILM does a great job following in that vein.

Now, what would a great sci-fi adventure film be without wild and original creature effects? Not much. Luckily for Galaxy Quest, veteran creature designer Stan Winston was brought on to bring the aliens to life: they range from all walks of life, from octopus-like creatures to reptilian/insect hybrids to giant pig-lizards. The late Winston made a name for himself in Hollywood for his memorable creations. He worked on the Terminator films, Jurassic Park, Aliens, the Predator films, and Avatar, just to name a few. Obviously, the man knew what he was doing, and he lends his brilliant expertise to the Galaxy Quest production.

The orchestral score is another highlight of Galaxy Quest. It was written by David Newman, a composer who is no stranger to bouncy, quirky comedies. He has written the scores to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Ice Age, and Anastasia, just to name a few. For Galaxy Quest he created a heroic theme for the Questarians which is similar to Jerry Goldsmith’s theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Full of triumph and bombast, this main theme perfectly sums up the awesome fun of the film.

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Now, Galaxy Quest isn’t just a goof on the Star Trek universe. It’s also a sharp and riveting commentary on the fandom that surrounds a highly successful sci-fi franchise. The actors in the film are idolized by their fans, and while these actors are unaware of the awe they inspire, they eventually realize that the very characters and symbols they stand for, while seemingly fake, actually end up being as real as can be.

Fans of any sci-fi franchise will get a kick out of Galaxy Quest. It’s simply a brilliant comedy with universal appeal.  Now, 15 years after its release, it still holds up, and with a cult status and a comic book sequel, the film’s legacy is a strong one. It’s a film full of fun and adventure, with heart and heroism. Few films these days offer that sense of excitement. Galaxy Quest lives on through DVD and Blu-ray; if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out.

— Randall Unger

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