You’re dragged to a party after a Star Trek convention, and you get trapped in a corner by a “uniformed” nerd who thinks he’s interesting. He’s telling you his idea for a screenplay, called Galaxy Quest, where William Shatner- and Leonard Nimoy-types are at a Con, and they meet some real aliens, but they think they’re just eccentric fans.
“Ho-hum,” you yawn, and politely excuse yourself to go find your date so you can get out of this nuthouse.
Well, believe it or not, somebody actually produced Galaxy Quest (namely, Mark Johnson and Charles Newirth). It’s as bad as you would imagine, and yet it’s as good as it could possibly be.
Tim Allen plays Jason Nesmith, an actor on the TV show Galaxy Quest. He’s at a sci-fi convention with his “crew” (Alan Rickman as Sir Alex, who wears an elaborate alien headpiece for the show and who longs for some real acting work; Sigourney Weaver as the female officer who has to wear a revealing outfit; and Tony Shalhoub who looks like he’s having fun as the ship’s engineer.)
Nesmith often takes side jobs playing his character at private parties. One of the “parties” turns out to be thrown by four real space aliens who have built a ship exactly like the one on the show. They invite the captain and his crew to their home planet. Once there, the demure, polite aliens get to the point — they ask the crew if they wouldn’t mind saving their world from an evil alien race, just like they do every week on TV.
I say Galaxy Quest is as bad as you would imagine because there is very little you can do with this concept. It’s one joke, repeated in as many ways as will fit into 90 minutes. What’s worse is that the joke is a specific parody, and if you’ve never followed Star Trek, the movie just won’t make sense.
The second-worst thing the filmmakers could have done is to make a joke of the movie’s TV show, which they did. Cardboard sets and cornball dialogue get a few cheap laughs, but the movie would have been better if the TV show were more plausible. Part of the humor in Galaxy Quest relies on mistaking what’s real for what’s fake. By making the show cheap and hokey, they lost some of that comic leverage for the bigger jokes.
The worst thing they could have done is to make a joke of the TV show’s actors (the movie’s characters). But they didn’t, and because the characters are not parodies, because they have real depth, the movie is as good as it could possibly be.
Tim Allen in particular breathes life into his role. He drinks and has a huge ego. But on the other hand, he loves his role, he loves his fans, and he loves signing autographs and answering questions. In other words, Allen brings a unique, vivid personality to the role instead of just settling for a bad William Shatner imitation. If Academy Awards were based on the ratio of performance quality to source material, Allen’s score might earn him a nomination.
Clearly, Galaxy Quest takes some well-deserved shots at Star Trek, like the elaborate headpieces and the revealing outfit. The movie also has some funny lines that we’ve always wanted to hear on Star Trek. The expendable crewmate manning a computer console calls out “Hey guys, there’s a red thingy movin’ toward the green thingy. I think we’re the green thingy.” Sigourney Weaver, crawling through the ventilation to get to the bridge, says “Ducts. Why is it always ducts?”
But taken as a whole, Galaxy Quest is just a parody. And parody is only funny when you know the source material. Galaxy Quest could never stand on its own, and in the annals of filmmaking, it won’t get its own entry. If it is mentioned at all it will only be as a footnote to the Star Trek movies.
If you’re a Trekkie who doesn’t take it too seriously, you will probably have a good laugh at Galaxy Quest. You should take a look. But if you don’t know the difference between Star Trek, Star Wars, and Star Search, then you might as well see something else.