Galaxy Quest (1999)
Written by David Howard & Robert Gordon
Directed by Dean Parisot
Tim Allen is a real bastard. He’s leaned into his conservatism and allowed his current sitcom and his social media presence to promote people like Trump and some pretty rotten ideologies to go along with that. It doesn’t surprise me, to be honest. His first tv-series Home Improvement, always had a weird regressive feel to it, in my opinion. I watched it growing up, but I can’t ever say I enjoyed it; it was just sort of on because the television was always on. In the late 1990s to mid-2000s, Allen dominated the quasi-family friendly movie shlock business, likely due in part but not exclusively to his role as Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, a part I suspect that has kept him wealthy ever since. Despite Galaxy Quest having a strong fan base, I just sort of lumped it in with The Santa Clause or Jungle 2 Jungle as something not worth watching. But then I did.
Tim Allen plays Jason Nesmith, the actor who played the Captain Kirk role on a Star Trek analog titled Galaxy Quest. That was in 1981, and twenty years later, he and the rest of the cast are attending science fiction conventions and signing photos to keep some money in the bank. Nesmith is the only one who seems to have embraced exploiting his fanbase while the others find it disgusting. At one convention, Nesmith meets people calling themselves the Thermians and assumes they are LARPing fans who want to pay him to participate in one of their simulations. He agrees and goes with them the next day, waking up on what he thinks is a very elaborate stage. It turns out they really are aliens who believe Galaxy Quest is a historical document and that all of Nesmith and his crew’s exploits are real. He manages to rope in his castmates when he sees the Thermians are in real danger, and without these humans to guide them, they will get killed.
The premise of Galaxy Quest is about as perfect as they come. It’s just referential enough to Star Trek without becoming fan service-y, which is aided by them creating a fictional series that is a nod to the source material. It also touches on an ongoing joke with the original Star Trek actors expressing their discontent at certain times with a very rabid, overwhelming fanbase while also not being seen as an actor but rather a single role. From what I’ve seen over time, these actors have come to embrace the power of that role they played, but Leonard Nimoy famously showed disgust with being pigeonholed as Spock in the years just following Star Trek. This film’s convention setting also made me recall the famous William Shatner bit on Saturday Night Live where he explodes on fans for plying him with questions about the technical minutiae of Enterprise.
Initially, Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day) was set to direct, but he & Dreamworks couldn’t agree on Tim Allen’s casting in the lead role. Ramis saw Alec Baldwin in the part of Nesmith. Ramis left, and this brought Dean Parisot to the picture. Parisot has directed some middle of the road films and has had recent success with Bill & Ted Face the Music. I don’t think he is a spectacular director I clamor to search out, but he’s not the worst. Definitely, one of those journeyman directors Hollywood studios love because they can sort of plug them in anywhere they need.
I think Galaxy Quest is definitely funny in many moments but pretty cringey in an equal number of them. As far as satire on television goes, it is definitely a high point. I found the balance between comedy and action to be pretty well done. The special effects still look pretty good for being twenty-one years old. Not a lot of films from that era that relied on CG effects have aged too well. The solid supporting cast is what makes the movie in the end. With a lesser group of actors, mediocre material would have overtaken them. But when you have the likes of Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, and Sam Rockwell, they can find space to make it their own and deliver dialogue in a manner that makes it funnier.
I’d definitely say Galaxy Quest is worth a watch. It was part of a very strange year of movies, and I couldn’t help but think of Mystery Men as I watched it, both films about misfit like people coming together to accomplish something other people and themselves don’t think they are capable of doing.