Friday, February 22, 2008

Galaxy Quest (1999)

(Image from IMP Awards)

Galaxy Quest (1999)

'Galaxy Quest' is the best Star Trek film in years. Ironic since it is actually a reverent spoof of Star Trek, but that's testimony to how poor the Star Trek franchise has been in the last decade or so. It isn't really all that similar to Trek content wise; rather, it manages to pay homage to the sense of adventure and fun of the original series while incorporating all of the distinctive trappings of the Trek universe.

Tim Allen plays Jason Nesmith, an egomaniacal washed up actor who played the Captain on the defunct TV show Galaxy Quest, and who now spends his days attending fan conventions with his fellow former cast members. The other actors - Gwen (Sigourney Weaver), Alexander (Alan Rickman), Fred (Tony Shalhoub), and Tommy (Daryl Mitchell) - are less popular and resent Jason's grandstanding. Things take a bizarre turn when Jason and his 'crew' are mistaken for real space adventurers by a bunch of aliens called Thermians led by one Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni, aka Veronica Mars's dad); they are whisked away to a fully functional recreation of the show's ship to help the Thermians fend off the evil alien Sarris (Robin Sachs) and his marauding ship. The in over their heads actors are revered by the Thermians and this ego stoking spurs them on to help despite being clueless about what they're doing. Hilarious Star Trekking adventure ensues. Also in the mix are Sam Rockwell as a one time bit part character on the show who gets caught up with the main cast and beamed aboard the ship, and Justin Long as a die hard fanboy.

This is simply a wonderful film in every respect, and it's dismal box office performance is a shame, although on the bright side that will probably also prevent any ill advised sequels. The characters, particularly the main 'crew', are sympathetic and appealing; you can't help but cheer for these underdog lovable losers. The story, ludicrous as it is, is engaging from start to finish and the whole thing is fast paced, non stop entertainment. There's a fine balance between character moments and action, and all of it is quite funny and sometimes surprisingly affecting. It spoofs and pokes fun, but always in an affectionate manner. It's feel good in many ways, with the characters going through a journey of self discovery and learning to get along, but avoids being mawkish. The film has loads of atmosphere thanks in large part to the excellent production values and effects - seriously, this looks more like a real space ship and crew than much of modern Star Trek. It also feels much grander, like the dramatic reveal in the scene where the crew first behold their ship in space dock. The aliens also seem more alien than most of the cheap simplistic ridged foreheads that populate the Trek universe. And the space combat and action sequences are thrilling even when they're goofy! The film is a terrific blend of elements that just works, right up to its clever finish that parodies Star Trek TNG.

I quite liked Tim Allen in Home Improvement even though his shtick was repetitive, but everything else he has appeared in is / looks terrible. Except this - Allen is surprisingly good here, both as an arrogant actor and as a starship captain. The always great Alan Rickman is, unsurprisingly, great as the Shakespearian actor reduced to surviving off fan conventions while wearing tacky alien makeup. Sigourney Weaver, under appreciated as a comedic actress, is hilarious and kind of adorable as the dumb blonde whose function on the ship is to repeat what the ship's computer says. And then there's the brilliant Sam Rockwell as the 'extra' living in constant fear that he will die the same way insignificant characters on the show were offed early on "to prove how serious the situation is". Tony Shalhoub is very funny as the dry and seemingly unconcerned engineer. Daryl Mitchell rounds out the primary cast as the former child character all grown up, and he gets to pilot the ship while generally being irate (almost as irate as Rickman's Alexander). The cast really gels together and it feels like they really are bickering old friends - great casting and performances all round. And that's not even mentioning Colantoni, Sachs, Justin Long, Patrick Breen, and Missi Pyle, who all make memorable appearances.

'Galaxy Quest' is a fantastic sci-fi comedy and a must see for anyone who has ever enjoyed Star Trek, particularly the original series. Even for people who haven't experienced Star Trek, I can't see any reason not to recommend it; some of the references may be lost on them, but it stands on its own as a genuinely funny film that has aged very well and should be a comedy for the ages. "As long as there is injustice, whenever a Targathian baby cries out, wherever a distress signal sounds among the stars, we'll be there. This fine ship, this fine crew. Never give up... and never surrender."