Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.
One of the first panels I remember attending at CONvergence was a discussion about which parody was better, Galaxy Quest or Spaceballs. The consensus was that the two were hard to compare since they came from entirely different mindsets. While Spaceballs sent up everything having to do with space operas, there was a much more genuine love and affection toward the focus of Galaxy Quest‘s forebear and it ended up being more of a nudging homage.
While many people feel Galaxy Quest (1999) falls firmly into a parody of Star Trek, due to the exaggerated plot line and characters, I don’t think it does it in an ironic or satiric way. It plays much better as an homage with slight exaggerations than a full parody. It sets the action in a distinctly Hollywood universe. The actors, who were on a popular but ultimately cancelled TV series, are doing the occasional film, but are largely recognized for their work from the bygone show. A plot pulled straight from the lives of the core Star Trek cast. A lead actor who can be a bit of a self-centered blowhard, a classically trained actor who is typecast as a catch-phrase spouting alien, and the sole female relegated to breaking up the inherent boys club by looking good and feeling less important as the rest of the cast.
What works so well, though, is that the film allows these characters to fit their typecasting and break out of it by the end of the film. The egomaniac finds his empathy, the pretentious actor realizes that he’s positively affecting people, and the actress makes real decisions that have an impact. I was hesitant on my first viewing of Galaxy Quest due to Tim Allen’s casting as the captain Peter Quincy Taggart (and Jason Nesmith as the actor), but it’s one of the two roles he should be most proud of (Toy Story being the other one). When you hear that Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, and Kevin Cline were all up for the role, you wonder what that would have been like, but Allen brings it. You see his character turn on the charm when he needs to while still being self-centered without thinking about it. You end up rooting for this unlikeable character, and that’s not an easy feat. Alan Rickman does a magnificent job wielding the roles of Alexander Dane and the alien Dr. Lazarus (seriously, such an amazing actor across the board). As the bombshell Lt. Tawny Madison and her sick-of-the-bullshit Gwen DeMarco, Sigourney Weaver brings a comic timing to the role that you sometimes forget she has (don’t forget she goes toe to toe with Bill Murray in Ghostbusters and ends up making both of them look amazing).
Rounding out the cast are so many additional, amazing, and funny talents. Tony Shalhoub as the stoned Tech Sgt. Chen; Sam Rockwell as the unfortunately named red-shirt guy; Justin Long in his first film role; and a blink and you’ll miss him Rainn Wilson as one of the aliens. Standing out for me the most is Enrico Colantoni as the alien leader Mathesar. His line deliveries and cadence crack me up every time. It’s rare that I will laugh out loud during a film while I’m at home, but he has me guffawing the entire time. I recently broke the film out for a group of friends, and by the end they were all doing Mathesar impressions. It brought a tear to the eye. In contrast to his work on Veronica Mars and other shows, I would love to see Colantoni be able to cut loose in a completely joyful role again.
While the plot is pretty straightforward, it sets up the characters and their development very well. The special effects don’t do the film any favors, but they’re not horrible. You can definitely tell this was 1999 and still early in the development of CGI. I will say, the make up and costume of the aliens are extremely well done, especially on the main bad guy, Sarris. He looks incredibly sinister and insect like. The background baddies do feel like they stepped out of one of the TMNT movies as part of Shredder’s army. But hey, even henchmen need to go where the money is. Aliens created by Stan Winston have a certain feel to them, and this film is no exception. He’s an incredibly talented mind and employs appropriately creative people.
Galaxy Quest is a loving homage to the world of Star Trek, and it shows that screenwriter Bob Gordon loved the original series and cast. It doesn’t work as a full parody, but by Grabthar’s hammer, as a loving send-up, it hits all the right notes.
This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.
If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.