Friday December 24, 1999
Imagine that during a "Star Trek" convention some actual aliens whisk off William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the crew, expecting them to help defeat a villainous monster in outer space.
That, roughly, is the premise that writers David Howard and Robert Gordon came up with, and under Dean Parisot's smart direction their script became "Galaxy Quest," a lively comedy action-adventure that also satirizes the "Star Trek" phenomenon with affection but with a pinch of tartness too. Fast, light and funny, "Galaxy Quest" has a wide, generation-spanning appeal--and you don't have to be a die-hard Trekkie to enjoy it.
The five stars of the movie's fictional "Galaxy Quest" series, which ran from 1979 to 1982, haven't been as fortunate as the Star Trekkers. No big-screen productions of the series have followed, and it would seem that the Questers' careers have pretty much been reduced to convention appearances and store openings. Tim Allen's Jason Nesmith plays Peter Quincy Taggart, commander of the Protector, and his key crew members are Sigourney Weaver's Gwen DeMarco as communications officer Lt. Tawny Madison; Alan Rickman's Alexander Dane as the half-human, half-reptilian Dr. Lazarus from the planet Tev' Meck; Tony Shalhoub's Fred Kwan as Tech Sgt. Chen; and Daryl Mitchell's Tommy Webber, who was the starship's 10-year-old gunner-navigator.
While the Questers are less than thrilled with the state of their long-stalled careers, the live appearances are especially hard on Dane, who must don exoskeletal headgear and who feels that his identification with the short-lived series has wrecked his credibility as a Shakespearean actor. He is constantly reminding his colleagues that his Richard III drew five curtain calls.
But what really makes these reunions an ordeal is the obnoxious personality of the egomaniacal Nesmith, who demands special star treatment and cuts deals excluding the other Questers. Typically, he's outrageously late for group appearances, but as the film opens the other Questers are still managing to keep up the impression of mutual congeniality for the sake of the fans.
Their latest convention appearance is no different from countless ones before it. They're used to fans in full alien drag, and a group of nerdy-looking aliens seem no more persistent than others like them--at first. They are, however, for real: They're Thermians from the Klatu Nebula, and in a whoosh they sweep the Protector crew to outer space to help the beleaguered aliens defeat the fearsome monster Sarris (Robin Sachs).
It seems that the Thermians have been able to tap in to American TV, and they consider the old "Galaxy Quest" programs as "historical documents." Since the truth that the series is pure make-believe is beyond Thermian conception, the Questers have no choice but to try their best to really become the heroes they have heretofore only played.
On an action level, "Galaxy Quest" is a satisfying space adventure with fine special effects and an attractive overlaying of humor.
The "real-life" exploits become a form of potential redemption for the Questers, especially for Nesmith, who has the chance to display some authentic courage to become a true hero instead of the perpetual jerk he has long been. Similarly, Gwen at last has a chance to escape her statuesque blond bombshell stereotype as the durably glamorous Tawny. (It was apparently Weaver's inspired idea that Gwen be a blond.)
Parisot draws performances from his cast that are sharp-edged but buoyant. Everyone on both sides of the camera takes "Galaxy Quest" with just the right degree of seriousness needed to make it play effectively as a comedy.
In key support are Sam Rockwell as a pushy bit player in the series who ruefully winds up in outer space along with its stars, and Enrico Colantoni as Mathesar, the earnest Thermian leader.
Galaxy Quest, 1999. PG, for some action violence, mild language and sensuality. A DreamWorks presentation. Director Dean Parisot. Producers Mark Johnson, Charles Newirth. Executive producer Elizabeth Cantillon. Screenplay by David Howard and Robert Gordon; from a story by Howard. Cinematographer Jerzy Zielinski. Editor Don Zimmerman. Costumes Albert Wolsky. Production designer Linda DeScenna. Alien makeup and creature effects Stan Winston. Visual effects supervisor Bill George. Special visual effects and animation by Industrial Light & Magic. Art director Jim Nedza. Set decorator Ric McElvin. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Tim Allen as Jason Nesmith. Sigourney Weaver as Gwen DeMarco. Alan Rickman as Alexander Dane. Tony Shalhoub as Fred Kwan. Sam Rockwell as Guy Fleegman. Daryl Mitchell as Tommy Webber.