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Galaxy Quest (1999)

Galaxy QuestA review by Nalini Haynes

A lifetime ago Galaxy Quest, a science fiction comedy all the geeks watched and loved, came to the screen. I saw it back in the day but recently ventured for a rewatch. When life goes to hell in a handbasket, light escapism is the best medicine. However, I was fearful the suck fairy might visit. I need not have been concerned. 16 years after Galaxy Quest was released, it’s still current, still relevant and still funny. If anything, delving deeper into science fiction and fandom has enriched Galaxy Quest for me.

The bridge crew from a science fiction TV series rock up to a science fiction convention years after the show was axed. Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) looks remarkably like LeVar Burton (Geordi LaForge from Star Trek The Next Generation) but he’s the former child star, read Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) from Lost in Space or Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) from Star Trek TNG.

Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver, queen of the SF screen) is the “bimbo” crewmember who is basically a telephonist there for sex appeal — that has to be Uhura from classic Trek, but with shades of many women in science fiction down the decades.

Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman) is the former Shakespearian actor who feels he’s been reduced to science fiction acting and convention appearances; can anyone say Patrick Stewart? If you’ve even seen the adds for the extras on the STTNG bluray box set, you’ll see the cast joking about Sir Pat declaiming his reduction in status in the early days.

And then there’s the prima donna, Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) who has to be Shatner/Kirk and, indeed, every super-inflated actor ever, arriving late, expecting accolades and room service with a happy ending before breezing off. He’s rude to his coworkers, awful to the fans who paid for his appearance and, generally, dislikable. (Although Shatner has a certain reputation, I have friends who’ve met him in real life: apparently he’s adorable to fans, ingratiating himself. Jason Nesmith is more like Sebastian Roche whose behaviour at Armageddon Expo in New Zealand was so appalling families left the auditorium. He threw his jacket to a girl in the front row, making it clear he expected room service. Her friend thought it was for her and he said, “No, not you, you’re PREGNANT.”)

Galaxy Quest‘s greatest strength and deepest weakness is its portrayal of fans who are mostly extreme-geek. They’re mostly in cosplay, mostly adoring, mostly worshipful, and some obsess about minutia, digging deeper into the technicalities of the show than the writers ever intended, to a deeper level than the actors are capable of engaging. When I first watched Galaxy Quest, I’d never been to a pop culture expo nor had I experienced cosplay as anything more than a costume party or How to Host a Murder evening. Although I was a long-term science fiction fan, my reaction upon seeing Galaxy Quest for the first time was “Ew. I don’t want to be like that, I don’t want others to see me like that.” To this day, I love the creativity and the courage of cosplayers who rock their costumes, exhibiting their love for all the things and their creative skill but I’m too cowardly (as well as too poor) to join in.

The aliens come, whisking away the actors to save their world. A spoof of the ridiculousness of some episodes, predictable tropes and a general space-romp follows with every actor being a somebody: Veronica Mars’s dad, Snape, Zaphod Beeblebrox (the execrable version, so what?), Na’Tokk/Ethan Rayne/Zaeed Massani and the list goes on.

It’s been years since I saw Galaxy Quest but I still enjoyed it, possibly even more than before. Galaxy Quest critiques geek culture and science fiction. Its initial portrayal of the geek fans was cringeworthy but it redeems itself, both in the relationship with the fans and with all the in-jokes that, while not essential to following the movie, enrich enjoyment.

Director: Dean Parisot
Writers: David Howard and Robert Gordon
Stars: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman
Rating: full starfull starfull starfull star half star 4 and a 1/2 out of 5 stars

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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