REVIEW: Galaxy Quest [1999]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG | Runtime: 102 minutes | Release Date: December 25th, 1999 (USA)
Studio: DreamWorks Distribution
Director(s): Dean Parisot
Writer(s): David Howard & Robert Gordon / David Howard (story)

“Never give up. Never surrender.”

What would happen if William Shatner were beamed into space for real—tracked down by a group of aliens indecipherable from the litany of cosplaying fans clamoring for his autograph at one of the infinite Comic Cons held around the nation? This is the question stuck in screenwriter David Howard‘s head as he put Galaxy Quest to paper in order to imagine the possibilities.

A lush with a bigger head than when the titular show was on air, Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) encourages fans with a surprising retention of episodic detail to fulfill his desire for attention. So intertwined with his fabricated persona, its only when the faceless hoard applauds his heroics as Commander Taggert that he feels loved and worth more than a self-destructive personal life allows. A God to nerds everywhere, he’s embraced his fate amongst those still hailing the show as a masterpiece while alienating himself from his jobless cohorts lamenting how their legacy is forever bound to a sci-fi actioner with no lasting cultural value except to fanboys lost inside the artifice of its mythology. Made aware of the parody he’s become, only an encounter with a quartet of idolizing fans rambling about a mission can reignite Nesmith’s love of the spotlight.

It’s a genius concept that actually becomes plausible in its impossible premise by letting the extraterrestrial Thermians become so enamored with a fictional television show that they created a spaceship modeled exactly on its props. The pantomiming of actors on plywood sets illuminated by Christmas lights therefore serves as a manual for an entire species’ last-ditch effort at surviving extinction. Thought to be interstellar champions who have found victory against more formidable foes than the likes of archenemy General Rotg’h’ar Sarris (Robin Sachs), the Thermians need the Protector’s crew to overcome their fears, cease long-standing personal grudges about fame, and accept the duty of reviving their roles in the way this insane situation entails. Their alien emissary Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni) lays redemption at their feet—they need only find the strength to take it.

Easier said than done, Nesmith alone revels in the chance at doing something great. Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) has long acknowledged she did nothing but regurgitate the ship’s computer’s announcements in a low-cut uniform; Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman) rues the day he read his character’s famous line repeated ad nauseam to his Shakespearean-trained face; Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) despises the child stardom that left him impotent to attain an adult career; and Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) desires rest after years of impeccable professionalism in front of the camera. They’re tired of the blue-collar slog and take retirement for what it’s worth, desperately trying not to rip their ‘fearless leader’ Jason’s head off. So when Nesmith returns from space begging them to join him, it isn’t the pleas of an old friend that wins them over. No, only the prospect of a paycheck can light that fire.

Cowritten by Robert Gordon and directed by Dean Parisot, Galaxy Quest succeeds through its intelligent script and witty performances. The squid-like Thermians who laugh like dolphins and try their best to assimilate via appearance generators are a hoot to watch traverse the intricacies of humanity. With the likes of Missi Pyle, Rainn Wilson, and Jed Rees possessing permanently giddy, ear-to-ear grins as they meander through the English language, it is Colantoni who steals the show through child-like innocence and blind admiration for those he assumes are his saviors. The disconnect between our species is a great construct for humorous misunderstanding and discourse as the novelty of space travel makes way for the dire stakes at hand. While believing American television to be an encyclopedic account of our history is a mistake, not yet understanding the concept of deception could very well be the Thermians’ demise.

The special effects leave a bit to be desired as teleportation devices encasing their occupants in a hardened, gel-like shell will show, but I did like the reptilian monster construction of Sarris and his army. A gigantic personified rock construction and tiny, aquatic-like creatures guarding a beryllium mine get the job done mostly because they rarely interact directly with the actors. It’s the Omega 13—an is it or isn’t it weapon sought by Sarris at the center of his dispute—that finally brings a sense of awe to the proceedings above cheesy “Star Trek”-lite creations. But with well-written characters possessing a brilliant rapport, the effects are inconsequential against consistent laughs. Thanks in most part to Shalhoub’s unfazed demeanor in the face of danger and Sam Rockwell‘s Guy Fleegman falling apart at the slightest bit, there are few if any lulls in the action.

Rounding out the cast with a young Justin Long playing the über-geek fanboy holding the key to saving the Thermians, Galaxy Quest becomes a love letter to the public’s eccentric relationship with genre idols. Fantasies of sci-fi wonderment become validated above celebrity worship, proving pop culture’s importance in helping a disenfranchised youth seek a place where they feel welcome. And while the façade may be confused for reality as life inside the game holds more value to some than an outside world filled by hostility and prejudice, heroes can and will be made when absolutely necessary. A metaphor of mankind’s need for hope, the film’s success as a comedy only bolsters its appeal. Chock full of wonderful performances from a cast willing to buy into their characters’ impurities, each discovers they’ve always been the beloved guardians of peace we’ve required them to be.

[1] Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tim Allen and Tony Shalhoub in Dreamworks’ Galaxy Quest – 12/99
[2] The Thermians – Missi Pyle, Patrick Breen, Enrico Colantoni and Jed Rees in Dreamworks’ Galaxy Quest – 12/99
[3] Robin Sachs in Dreamworks’ Galaxy Quest – 12/99

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