Film » Screens

Keep on Trekkin'

Galaxy Quest is an able parody of Roddenberry.


Tim Allen takes control of Galaxy Quest.
  • Tim Allen takes control of Galaxy Quest.
On the face of it, it wouldn't seem too hard to do an effective parody of Star Trek. Certainly many have tried. The only problem is that most of these parodies get hung up on dated costumes, melodramatic acting, and the obsessive nature of the show's fans and often come off as mean-spirited and shallow. Still, Gene Roddenberry's old warhorse of a sci-fi franchise is looking rather shallow these days, producing such pale shadows of its former glory as Star Trek: Insurrection and the weak TV spin-off Star Trek: Voyager.

It's ironic, therefore, that Roddenberry's dream remains alive and well in Galaxy Quest, a film that simultaneously satirizes and pays homage to its roots. The film begins at a sci-fi convention populated by many fan-boy geeks in full-on alien attire, all of whom are there to see their favorite stars from the canceled '80s TV series Galaxy Quest. There's Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), the Shatner-esque egomaniac who all the other actors resent; Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), a woman frustrated by years of being a token sex object; Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), a British thespian in the Patrick Stewart/Leonard Nimoy mold who wants to do Shakespeare and resents being best known for playing an alien doctor; Tommy Webber (Daryl "Chill" Mitchell), an attitude-laden former child star; and Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub), the Scotty-style miracle mechanic character. All of the actors are out of work, and the only one who even seems to enjoy his cult following is Nesmith. When a group of particularly weird fans corners Nesmith and asks for his help, he mistakenly thinks they're going to pay him for another special appearance; instead, he suddenly finds himself zapped all the way across the galaxy, where he is worshiped as a hero by an alien race that thinks the canceled TV show represents Earth's actual history.

When Nesmith returns to Earth, his fellow cast members, naturally, think he's delusional, but they play along on the off chance that he's actually talking about a paying job. Soon the entire crew, with the addition of a glory-hound named Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell), who played a crewman on one episode, are on board a real-life version of their fictional starship Protector, fighting for their lives against an evil Klingon-Predator hybrid named Sarris (a character purportedly named after film critic Andrew Sarris).

The central joke of the film is that the alien culture has used all its advance technology to create a starship whose science works exactly as shown on the TV series, even down to a series of utterly useless death-trap mechanisms that were used to create suspense in a particular episode and a self-destruct countdown that always stops with exactly one minute left. Even the real-life perils that await them on alien worlds mirror the conventions of the show somewhat: A fight with an alien rock creature conveniently causes Nesmith to lose his shirt and expose his muscular hairy chest, and DeMarco only seems to sustain damage in areas that reveal more cleavage.

And yet, while the film acknowledges just how silly this stuff is, it nevertheless endorses the core Trek values of tolerance and teamwork, and brings up the point that anything that can inspire such devotion, even a cheesy TV show, is a worthwhile cause.

The casting is also better than it might appear on the surface. Tim Allen thankfully jettisons his Home Improvement shtick and plays it like a TV star with a bit of an ego, albeit one he realizes he's actually going to have to live up to. And if you think Sigourney Weaver's too serious an actress for this kind of role, consider this: She stars in the Alien movies, so you'd better believe she knows all about obsessive sci-fi fans.

It's hard to achieve the right balance in a film like Galaxy Quest: It could easily descend into smarmy self-indulgence like Scream 2 or remain on an inane surface level. Fortunately, the makers of this film have put more heart and genuine humor into this piece than Paramount has put into its franchise in years. Sad to say, if Galaxy Quest is a big success, it, too, will probably be run into the ground after a while. Enjoy it while it lasts.


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