Galaxy Quest (1999)

I can’t believe how badly this film has dated. It sure didn’t stand up to a second go-around for me. It was amusing and entertaining, and the kid enjoyed it very much, but I swear the whole shebang has got to be among the least funny “comedies” ever scripted. In Galaxy Quest, some aliens think that a 1980s TV series was real, and ask the actors to help them save their planet. The underemployed actors think it’s another gig, but it’s real. That’s it. That’s the joke. It’s a mighty fine premise, I’ll grant you, but the movie is so busy having fun with saving the Thermians from their implacable enemy that it forgets to mine that premise for actual comedy.

So anyway, the movie features Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shaloub, and Daryl Mitchell as the stars of an early 1980s sci-fi show that ran for eighty-odd episodes, along with Sam Rockwell as a glorified extra who got killed off as a redshirt in one installment. They’re all pretty fun to watch, and Allen especially does a mighty fine job when his character gets to be “Commander Taggart” and play things straight. Enrico Colantoni, rudely, steals the movie out from all of them as the hero-worshipping leader of the aliens. The gag is that since their species does not understand anything other than absolute honesty, they’re easy prey for space conquerors who can lie to them with impunity, and they think that Galaxy Quest and Gilligan’s Island are historical documentaries. Nothing is done with this. Our heroes somehow don’t use lies and subterfuge to trick the Thermians into defeating their enemies; and the hapless aliens end the movie no wiser than they began.

I think what frustrated me this time around is that the film plays everything so straight that it has the same tone as any mildly amusing or wry sci-fi movie, when this thing should have had me laughing so hard I couldn’t hear what they were saying anymore. It knows that its audience is in on the joke, so it doesn’t bother to tell them any. At one point, the actors phone up a blueprint-loving “tech manual” style of fan who knows the schematics of the ship to help them get through the actor-sized ventilation ducts, and the joke seems to be “this kind of fan actually exists,” when of course they do. Was that supposed to be funny? I appreciate the design and the work of the actors, technicians, designers, and visual effects crew, and resent the screenplay for being so damn lazy.

What would have been better? Miles more on Earth. The aliens navigating agents, finding the stars’ homes, renting limousines. More of the actors’ other roles. The aliens looking up Tina Louise and Bob Denver to make sure they got off the island. The revelation that Tina Louise or Bob Denver had been a guest star in a 1982 episode of Galaxy Quest and the aliens trying to square that with what they think about television. Lots more gags about television. Heck, the fact that the aliens were able to get a working spaceship out of technology that does not make any scientific sense whatever is a gold mine of gags left untouched. I swear they spent $45 million on a movie with only one script draft. Into the sell pile with you, Galaxy Quest. You didn’t even produce a fake 1982 episode as a DVD extra!

3 thoughts on “Galaxy Quest (1999)

  1. First time commenter, though I’ve been reading your blog off and on for a while now. Love your in-depth looks at the odd TV shows I grew up with!

    That said, man, wow, I know tastes vary, but “Galaxy Quest” as one of the least funny comedies ever scripted?!? I just…wow.

    Strongly disagree about it being a one-joke film. At the very least, it finds a lot of fun ways to play with the central joke. For example, the running gag about Sam Rockwell’s character Guy realizing that his sole purpose is to demonstrate the danger of the situation by being horribly killed. His subsequent freak-out over not having a name is terrific, as is Sigourney Weaver’s later throw-away line which confirms–despite all of her reassurances–she really does believe Guy will die first.

    Similarly, I love the payoff of the notion that the Thermians, in their obsession, have duplicated every part of the ship, even the bits that make no sense because they were introduced as a one-off danger in a poorly-written episode. The joke isn’t just that fanboys exist, but that they will make the effort to work in every bit of “canon” no matter how absurd.

    True that the film does take the threat semi-seriously, which may be one of the reasons that some–myself included–think it’s one of the better “Star Trek” movies.

      1. That’s fair!

        Again, really enjoying your blog. It’s great to have the deep dives into shows that aren’t well-covered elsewhere. And I like hearing about your son’s reactions to things. I was born in ’64, so I discovered a fair number of these shows at a not-dissimilar age.

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