I thought I’d start the first in a new series, celebrating those unknown and underappreciated films that for whatever reason aren’t part of the public consciousness nearly as much as they should be, with easily the best sci-fi comedy there is:
That film is Galaxy Quest.
Suck it, Spaceballs.
Released in 1999 Galaxy Quest arrived in cinemas without much fanfare or hype. Given that it came out in the same year as The Phantom Menace and The Matrix, other science fiction films were (rightly) higher up on people’s agenda, which is a shame, as despite finding many more people on VHS and DVD, the film didn’t get the success it deserved.
The story finds a group of out of work actors who mostly hate each other, attending a convention for fans of their long since cancelled TV show, Galaxy Quest, whereupon they are taken by real aliens who believe they are real astronauts, to help their cause in a war against an evil alien overlord. These ‘Thermians’, believing the episodes of the television show to be ‘historical documents,’ have recreated everything from the show, most notably an exact fully-functional recreation of the spaceship, the NSEA Protector.
At its core, Galaxy Quest is a loving pastiche of Star Trek and the actors and fans of Star Trek. But it never looks down its nose at its clear inspiration. It takes elements from all aspects of science fiction and puts a snarky spin on them; the fandom, the conventions, the technobabble, the dubious science. Tim Allen’s character is basically William Shatner taken to a comic extreme (I hope), and is the most obvious connection to Trek.
But the movie really is a fine ensemble of some excellent comic actors, or at least actors with a knack for comedy. It’s easily Tim Allen’s best live-action role. Tony Shaloub gets a lot of laughs out of his character who doesn’t seem fazed by anything going on around him – “That was a hell of a thing”. Sigourney Weaver’s purpose in the show within the movie was the eye candy and that’s more or less her role in the actual movie. Alan Rickman, as the Shakespearean actor who feels this sci-fi guff is below him, steals every scene he’s in, as long as he’s not in it with Sam Rockwell, who just about walks off with the entire movie as Guy, Crewman No 6 – Or the redshirt character – who’s convinced he’s going to be killed off to show the situation is serious (another neat allusion to the inspiration for the film). Every line he has is pure gold. I’ll single out the scene in which he’s first transported to the alien ship and just screams in terror as a comic highlight. As well as the final shot of the movie – “…and introducing Guy Fleegman” – always leaves me crying with laughter.
Jason Nesmith: You’re not gonna die on the planet, Guy.
Guy: I’m not? Then what’s my last name?
Jason Nesmith: It’s, uh, uh – -I don’t know.
Guy: Nobody knows. Do you know why? Because my character isn’t important enough for a last name, because I’m gonna die five minutes in.
I’ll add a special mention for Enrico Colantoni as the Thermian leader, Mathesar, who is just an inspired comic creation. Like some sort of alien teddy bear, you just want to give him a hug he’s so loveable.
The great thing about the movie is that it’s not just a set up for some great laughs. There is an actual plot to the movie, unlike the recent modern ‘spoofs’ which are just a collection of pop culture references thrown in for the forgetful and the stupid. And as well as having a decent plot it also embraces some elements of sci-fi itself. We’re not talking complicated stuff here, but it at least recognises that to be a sci-fi spoof you need more than some aliens thrown in. There are elements that they take seriously(ish) with the Omega 13 device, and some not so serious (the giant rock monster) and every single one of them works, both comedically and in the context of a sci-fi movie.
As well as the comedy and the science fiction, it’s got some damn good action in there too with the flight through the mine field in space being both a hilarious and exciting scene. As well as the reversal of it near the end being just about as exciting as any serious space set movie – “What you fail to realise is that my ship is dragging mines.”
In short, it’s probably the best Star Trek film to not carry the words Star Trek above the title. It just happens to be incredibly funny at the same time.
Rent it, stream it, buy it if you can. You’ll not be disappointed.
And if you don’t believe me, listen to Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Hikaru Sulu.
“I had originally not wanted to see Galaxy Quest 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.” Patrick Stewart
“I think it’s a chillingly realistic documentary. [laughs] The details in it, I recognised every one of them. It is a powerful piece of documentary filmmaking. And I do believe that when we get kidnapped by aliens, it’s going to be the genuine, true Star Trek fans who will save the day… I was rolling in the aisles. And [star] Tim Allen had that Shatner-esque swagger down pat. And I roared when the shirt came off, and [co-star] Sigourney [Weaver] rolls her eyes and says, ‘There goes that shirt again.’ … How often did we hear that on the set? [Laughs.]” George Takei
Never Give Up, Never Surrender.