Original Star Trek cast member George Takei has allegedly said that Galaxy Quest is more true to the spirit of the TV show than any of the other theatrical movies based on the 60s TV series. While I wouldn’t hold it up against Wrath of Khan, this affectionate 1999 spoof is definitely a better Trek film than any of the odd-numbered entries in the franchise.
Galaxy Quest fits a spot-on satire of virtually the entire Trek phenomenon, from the show itself to the actors and the fans, into a tight 102-minute running time. The designs of the ships, the costumes and the sets veers just far enough from the source material for the filmmakers to avoid being eaten alive by a horde of ravenous Paramount lawyers.
For four years starting in the late 70s, Galaxy Quest was a cult TV show that has lived on since in reruns. Its fans, known as “Questies,” flock to conventions while their parents worry that they need to get outside more. The cast has similar thoughts, their lives reduced to a demeaning cycle of personal appearances and mall openings.
The exception is Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), who played Commander Peter Quincy Taggert of the starship Protector. The unquestioning adulation of the Questies feeds his hungry ego. The other cast members share a common disgust for Nesmith’s bloated, boorish self-importance.
Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman) is a classically-trained Shakespearean actor reduced to repeating the same catch-phrase on demand for packs of socially awkward fourteen-year-olds. Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) complains that TV guide was only interested in discussing her boobs. Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) is remembered as “Crewman #6”, famous for dying in the first five minutes of one episode. Former child actor, Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) played Wesley Crush–, er, Lt. Laredo, and not much since. Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub), who played the ship’s engineer, is mellow enough to make Kenny G. sound like Motorhead.
The central joke is that a group of hapless aliens known as Thermians have mistaken the episodes of Galaxy Quest for “historical documents.” They are under attack by the ruthless General Sarris (Robin Sachs) and have summoned “Commander Taggert” and his crew to pilot their perfect copy of the Protector and save their civilization. The actors find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being real life heroes with real explosions and laser blasts, not special effects. Guy Fleegman is petrified that he’s going to be dead within five minutes. Gwen steps right into the role of her character, Tawny Madison, who basically repeated everything the computer said. Fred Kwan thinks the whole thing is, well, kind of groovy.
Alexander Dane is horrified to discovered that the Thermians hero worship his alien character, Dr. Lazarus, and even more horrified when he realizes they worship “Taggert” even more.
The movie clearly knows its subject matter. The filmmakers get the look and feel of Trekkie convention perfectly and the characters are knowing send-ups of the real personalities of the Star Trek actors. Tim Allen has the Shatner-esque egomania and bombast down pat. Alex Rickman’s character manages to nail Leonard Nimoy and Patrick Stewart at the same time. The character of Tawny Madison is similar to Lt. Uhura, a lovely piece of set decoration whose function on the ship is somewhat less than satisfying for the actress. The ship itself is such a perfect copy of the show that it even includes the parts that make no logical sense but looked damn cool on TV.
Galaxy Quest also manages to poke fun at the fans without being condescending, since it’s the Questies obsessive knowledge of the show that ends up helping Nesmith save the ship. It’s telling that this movie was so popular among the fan community and the casts of the actual shows. When it does poke fun at their beloved show, the emphasis is solidly on the “fun.”