Galaxy QuestReviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 01/01/07 21:27:54
Combine the documentary 'Trekkies' with a particularly solid and action-packed 'Star Trek' movie and you've got 'Galaxy Quest,' an enormously entertaining pop-culture ride.Not just an in-joke fest for Trekkies, it trades on our general awareness of the Star Trek cult and at least a passing familiarity with the show (mainly the original series) and movies. The premise, cooked up by writers Robert Gordon and David Howard, is so ingenious I'm surprised nobody thought of it before: What if a group of has-been TV actors were genuinely mistaken for the heroic starship crew they used to play, and were expected to know everything their characters used to know? This postmodern concept far outdoes Last Action Hero, and is a lot more satisfying. Galaxy Quest works as satire, parody, and straight adventure; it's a full package.
We meet our heroes at the latest of many fan conventions in honor of Galaxy Quest, the well-loved, long-dead sci-fi series. There's Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), who used to play Lt. Tawny Madison, whose job was to talk to the computer and show off her pulchritude. There's Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell), who was a little boy when he played ship pilot Lt. Laredo and is now all grown up. (The movie could have had some fun by portraying the older Tommy as a skirt-chaser like Burt Ward; maybe it once did, but DreamWorks tidied up the film to secure a kid-friendly PG rating.) There's the disdainful Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), a respected theater actor until he agreed to put alien latex on his head to play the Spock-like Dr. Lazarus; the role made him famous and killed his credibility in one shot. There's the lackadaisical Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub), forever stuck in the bowels of the ship as Tech Sgt. Chen. Finally, there's Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), the prima-donnaish star of Galaxy Quest, who on some level still seems to believe he's Commander Peter Quincy Taggart. Nesmith is the only one who really gets anything out of the endless conventions, where he's idolized; everyone else in the cast looks out at the throngs of "Questerians" and sees the murderers of their careers.
The opening scene at the Galaxy Quest convention will probably frighten those who didn't see Trekkies; those who did will laugh heartily at how uncannily accurate the milieu is (the movie doesn't even try to satirize Trekkies, who are often so ludicrous as to be beyond satire). It's at this convention that Nesmith meets a quartet of very avid fans. They look and talk strange, and are extremely adamant about wanting "Commander Taggart" to accompany them so he can save their race. They're pretty much like anyone else you'd meet at a convention, and Nesmith blows them off until they come for him in a limo that turns out to be a spacecraft. The hung-over Nesmith wakes up in deep space among the Thermians, the friendly alien race who brought him there. The Thermians are on the brink of war with a band of ugly Stan Winston-designed critters -- the usual gang of bestial aliens who seem to exist only to go around dominating other races all day. Once Nesmith figures out the Thermians and this situation are real, he sends for his "crewmates" (a disposable crewman who appeared in one episode and got killed, played by Sam Rockwell, also tags along). So then we have a bunch of hack actors taking their old places on a ship designed by the Thermians in homage to the "historical documents" (i.e., Galaxy Quest) they picked up in transmissions.
Galaxy Quest is directed with a light, fast pace by Dean Parisot (Home Fries and the Oscar-winning short The Appointments of Dennis Jennings), who effectively delivers all the special-effects power and thrills of a real Star Trek movie, only without all the gassy moralizing and shallow moral conundrums. Here, the dilemma cuts closer to the bone: The Thermians look up to Nesmith and company as historical legends, which even the egotistical Nesmith knows they don't deserve. And there's a legitimately painful moment when Nesmith is forced to admit to the Thermian leader (Enrico Colantoni) that he and his crew are "liars" (since the Thermians have no concept of acting or performing). The movie blurs the line between actual belief and fanboy belief: There's not a lot of difference between the Thermians and the pimply geeks at conventions who ask Nesmith elaborate technical questions to settle some fanboy dispute. Yet in a pinch, when Nesmith and crew need tech support, those fanboys come in very handy.
Parisot has assembled a top-flight cast -- a lot more colorful, really, than the casts of any version of Star Trek. For those wary of Galaxy Quest because Tim Allen is the star, I can assure you this is probably the first good movie he's appeared in. He doesn't try to "do" William Shatner, but he nails Shatner's puffed-up arrogance and hyperdramatic line readings (but only when in character as Taggart on the show; as Nesmith, he delivers lines like an actual human being). It's nice to see Sigourney Weaver in a comedy again -- it reminds you that before she became a Serious Hollywood Actress, she goofed around in Christopher Durang plays. She's a great sport, and she obviously gets a kick out of playing Gwen the blonde bimbo who finally gets to prove herself. The others in the cast -- the hilariously withering Rickman, the bored-looking Shalhoub (he couldn't be more unlike the excitable ship engineer Scotty), the panicky Mitchell -- are equally fine, but it's Sam Rockwell who walks away with the movie, just as he stole The Green Mile as the chocolate-spewing Wild Bill. Here, as "Crewman Six," he lives in fear that he's expendable -- he goes into every new action sequence absolutely certain he's going to get killed. I do have one small quibble involving his character: He should've been the one to pull out a phaser and triumph at the very end -- not Nesmith, who hardly needs more audience applause.
In a weird way, Galaxy Quest also fits nicely into the current psychology of American movies. Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, American Beauty, Boys Don't Cry, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Man on the Moon -- they're all about wanting or pretending to be someone else. Since this is a Hollywood family movie, Galaxy Quest ends on a high note, with the pretenders learning to be the real McCoys (no pun intended). Granted, a darker comedy might have had the crew of has-been actors be so arrogant that they get the Thermians killed because they really don't know what they're doing. But this crew is so likable that we want them to succeed -- sort of like the Enterprise crew in the best Trek installments.I just have two questions: Are we looking at DreamWorks' first-ever franchise here (that depends on how well this first movie does), and will there be action figures? I for one wouldn't pass up a Gwen DeMarco figure.
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