On the face of it, it wouldn't seem too hard to do an effective parody of Star Trek. Certainly many have tried; who can forget Jim Carrey on In Living Color's "Wrath of Farrakhan" sketch, the William Shatner impersonation that Kevin Pollak has practically built an entire career on, or Shatner himself infamously telling fans to get a life on Saturday Night Live? The only problem is that most of these parodies, more mean-spirited than not, get hung up on dated costumes, melodramatic acting and the obsessive nature of the show's fans. Still, Gene Roddenberry's old sci-fi warhorse is looking rather sickly these days, producing such pale shadows of its former glory as Star Trek: Insurrection and the weak TV spin-off Star Trek: Voyager, a show that crassly added a busty female in tight clothes in order to get anyone to watch. The bottom-liners at Paramount seem more concerned with milking the cash cow until it dies than maintaining Roddenberry's original concept of the future.
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 whom all the other actors loathe; Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), a woman frustrated by years of being a token sex object; Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), a British thesp 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 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 remotely enjoys 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 who 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 onboard a real-life version of their fictional starship Protector, fighting for their lives against an evil Klingon-Predator hybrid named Sarris. The central joke of the film, along with the Three Amigos-in-space premise, is that the alien culture has used all its advanced technology to create a starship whose science works exactly as shown on the TV series, down to 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: A fight with an alien rock creature conveniently causes Nesmith to lose his shirt and expose his muscular hairy chest; DeMarco seems to sustain damage only in areas that reveal more cleavage.
And yet while the film acknowledges just how silly some of 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 if it's a seemingly cheesy TV show, is a worthwhile cause. Director Dean Parisot (Home Fries) obviously knows his source material well, as some scenes are direct homages to the first Star Trek film. David Newman's score is as close as one can get to previous Star Trek movie scores without being subject to a lawsuit, and comic book fans will be happy to note that fan-favorite artists Berni Wrightson and Simon Bisley did some of the conceptual designs.
The casting is also better than it might appear on the surface. Allen hardly seems like the best choice to do Shatner, but even Shatner nowadays has lapsed into extreme self-parody. 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: As the lead in the Alien movies, she knows all about obsessive sci-fi fans. Rickman, who has evolved over the years from action-movie villainy to lighter work, is perfect as the one "serious" actor of the bunch.
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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 (Mafia!, Spy Hard and just about every other Leslie Nielsen movie since the first Naked Gun). Fortunately the makers of this film are clearly fans, and they've put more heart and genuine humor into this piece than Paramount has put into the original 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.