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Saturday, 29 October 2016

Retro Review: Galaxy Quest (1999)

Galaxy Quest
Cast: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni, Justin Long
Genre: Science Fiction Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $90 million

Plot: The stars of a 1970s sci-fi television show - now scraping a living through re-runs and sci-fi conventions - are beamed aboard an alien spacecraft. Believing the cast's heroic on-screen dramas are historical documents of real-life adventures, the band of aliens turn to the ailing celebrities for help in their quest to overcome the oppressive regime in their solar system 

'Star Trek Parody That Boldly Goes Far & Beyond'

Much like with its sister Sci-fi offering, Star Wars in the 1980s, the decade of the 1990s saw the Star Trek franchise becoming less prominent. And yet it took a parody movie to help reignite interest and invigorate the franchise; despite the film not being part of the official Star Trek canon itself.  

DreamWorks's Galaxy Quest has a plot that is reminiscent of that of !Three Amigos!; in the fish-out-of-water sense where a group of washed- up actors end up in a strait-laced land & go on to shake things up. In this film, they find themselves mistaken as fictional characters of a particular medium in another universe, along with the science fiction space parody setting - akin to Spaceballs with Star Wars - but with a play on Star Trek, instead of Star Wars in Galaxy Quest. Spaceballs was the 1980s comical parody of science fiction movies, and Galaxy Quest is the 1990s equivalent but of which relies much more on wit, sarcasm, casual celebration & occasional ribbing of Star Trek's qualities over slapstick farce and the mocking of Star Wars properties and silliness of Mel Brooks's 1987 offering. Whereas Spaceballs is a mickey take on Star Wars itself and pokes fun at the actual franchise, Galaxy Quest is more of a celebration of Star Trek's strengths, rather than its fallacies and weaknesses. 

The film sees a motley crew led by Jason (Tim Allen): a one-time star of a cancelled Science Fiction TV series, titled Galaxy Quest and Captain Kirk inspired - captain who signs autographs at fan convention shows. His fellow cast members don't take to him too well because they think he is full of himself and is too much of an attention-seeker. When some secluded aliens known as Themians led by Commander Mathazar mistakenly believe the episodes from the TV show and historical documents to be real and genuine, they kidnap Jason and co. and they are forced to recall the lessons of the past and group together to aid in the aliens quest & save their civilisation from destruction against the evil nemesis named Saris - for real. As Captain, Jason has to not only rally around his crew members but to also win back their respect.

I thought the casting was impressive: Tim Allen doesn't try to mimic Captain Kirk but plays it as Tim Allen trying to be a captain of a spaceship; Sigourney Weaver's character, Gwen on the TV show is the stereo-typically Blonde bimbo, but in real life is intelligent and is the heart of the crew and acts as the supportive member of the group. Not only does she have a great look, she succeeds in conveying a character that is far apart from Ellen Ripley of the Aliens franchise as she could be, yet still manages to be as resourceful and reliable. One of the amusing scenes involving her is when Gwen repeats what Jason says to the computer; Sam Rockwell plays Guy: the unnamed minor cast member and lives off the fame of Galaxy Quest; being a fan of the series he is so aware of the cliches on the show. Viewers of 90s' sitcoms Veronica's Closet and Just Shoot Me will recognise Darryl Mitchell as Tommy and Enrico Colantoni as alien, Mathazor. Tommy's scream is a delight. But the scene-stealer and favourite for me is the late Alan Rickman as a sardonic and dour-faced actor, Alex, who is fed-up of being typecasted and pretty much resents his role with apathy. His dead-pan humour and charm makes him stand out amongst the rest of the team. 

Saris is the film's antagonist and is one of the most striking and interesting looking villains, particularly for a sci-fi film. Everything about it, design-wise is great. Some may argue he is more of a stock villain and isn't anything we haven't seen before in a sci-fi villain, but his whole presence is pretty formidable & actually, he comes across as a very convincing nemesis; that & his actual visual appearance and look also sealed the deal for me with Galaxy Quest

The visual effects, handled by Industrial Light and Magic, are excellent and the score is great.

The idea and direction of the film are really clever and imaginative that worked so well on many levels on screen. I think what the film does really well in is the humour and tone never crosses the line and the comedy is played straight and the humour comes from the situations the characters find themselves in. This is a smarter, and some would say sarcastic take on Sci-fi movies or be it Star Trek; many of the jokes, references and punchlines will make sense if you are a die-hard Trekkie enthusiast. 

When it comes to the parodying of events and ideas of their respective franchises, where Galaxy Quest excels in that Spaceballs doesn't really tap into, is the delivery of the comedy is very inventive and one that sometimes you need to think about it, before you get the joke. It is also a more action and special effects driven movie by comparison. Yet Mel Brooks Spaceballs was excellent for the jokes that hit you over the head; alas, for me it had more of the funnier punchlines, whereas Galaxy Quest has more of the wittier ones. Galaxy Quest also has more emotional depth: hence, there is an underlying issue whether or not they choose to play their character parts for real. The scene where Jason reveals to Mathazar that they are only actors and not who they think they are is in a way a poignant moment.

Sci-fi comedies are very few and far between, but this effort of 1999 truly encapsulates the sheer essence of the franchise in more ways than one. Galaxy Quest could have potentially turned out to be a stinker amongst the Scary Movie franchise (& arguably the Police Academy equivalent of Spoofs when it comes to box office millions with the film losing steam through endless sequels produced) and Disaster movie. Though thankfully, it remains to be just one movie and one that firmly sits nicely alongside Spaceballs and deserves to be mentioned along the same lines as that film.

Having said all that, both movies do a first-rate, stellar job at poking fun at already established franchises, without intentionally humiliating them and insulting the fan-bases of those franchises. In essence, Spaceballs and Galaxy Quest are the trifectas of bona-fide sci-fi comedy. 

Final Verdict:

A homage that captures the spirit of the Star Trek movies, Galaxy Quest is more about Star Trek as a source of inspiration and as a fantasy, as opposed to it being actual fact or canon or Sci-Fi entity that is casually mocked. The sci-fi part in Galaxy Quest acts more of a backdrop and helps further the main protagonist characters objective, as opposed to a standalone actual setting of the movie itself. 

Galaxy Quest isn't ''hahaha'' funny but it's definitely amusing, entertaining, action-packed, witty and most of all, fun. 
It's not necessary to be a fan of Star Trek to be able to get into this film, although like I mentioned the jokes and references tend to make much more sense if you are one. 

With a great cast, top draw performances, a witty script and great characters, Galaxy Quest becomes a pleasant and marvellous parody and surprise that will delight sci-fi fans and Star Trek loyalists aplenty. 


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