Genre Grandeur: Galaxy Quest (1999)

Lately, I’ve been mostly enjoying the new TV series The Orville, a spoof of Star Trek by Seth McFarlane. But it’s frustrating in a way, because something always seems a little bit off.

I think my niece hit on the problem: “I wish they would dump the spoof part and just make a straight space opera, because it only works on that level.”

Spoofing beloved pop culture phenomena is HARD.

And yet the 1999 film Galaxy works as a great spoof of both Star Trek and its fandom, while at the same time managing to be an effective space opera. It also finds ways to tweak the franchise and its devoted fans while still respecting both.

That is an amazing accomplishment.

Seventeen years after the cancellation of the TV series Galaxy Quest, the cast still appear at conventions and other events trading on the popularity of their characters. Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), the star of the show, consistently upstages the rest of his castmates. After hearing some attendees trash him and the show, Jason gets massively drunk. Waking up the next day, a group of what he thinks are fans pick him up for what he thinks is just another fan event. Turns out they are aliens—who believe he is really the character he plays on Galaxy Quest and their only hope to defeat a villain who wants to destroy them.

Galaxy Quest pokes fun at many things we know about Star Trek, both in front of and behind the camera. Alan Rickman is brilliant as Alexander Dane, a Shakespearean actor who resents that he’s only recognized as Dr. Lazarus, the alien member of the crew in the weird makeup. (Rickman stays in the Lazarus makeup for the entire film.) He seethes with jealousy over the recognition Jason gets as the star. It is well known that Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed Mr. Spock on Star Trek, had trouble adjusting to the notion that he would always be best known for that role.

The movie also zeroes in on the way women are often portrayed in these kinds of series, with Gwen DeMarco, who plays the show’s sex object, Tawny Madison. (I love that Sigourney Weaver was 50 years old when the film was made.) Her character does nothing but repeat what the ship computer says. When one of the other actors complains, she says, “I have ONE job on this ship! It’s STUPID, but I’m going to do it!”

Then there’s Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) who was an extra on one episode of the show and tags along from the convention. With his character they satirize the “red shirts”—non-speaking characters who would inevitably die during away missions.

As hilarious as the crew’s adventures are in the film what I love most about it is its theme of the power of storytelling. Even if stories seem silly to some, they can still inspire those who love them to greatness. Not only are the alien Thermians inspired by the “historical documents” (the show, which they do not realize is playacting), so are the actors, who become the heroes they once played on TV.

Somehow, the makers of Galaxy Quest found that magic sweet spot where parody and love for a genre converge.

This post originally appeared on MovieRob‘s site as part of his Genre Grandeur series.



12 thoughts on “Genre Grandeur: Galaxy Quest (1999)

  1. Good review and good points. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is hard to spoof films of a particular genre, and part of the difficulty is that the director or writers often do it with a certain maliciousness to it. It’s easy to see in GQ that the directors have a soft spot for Star Trek and other science fictions films and have an appreciation of the fan base. In my opinion the three best films that spoof genres are: ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET, and GALAXY QUEST.

  2. Really enjoyed your post. Laughed remembering some of the great bits in the movie. I thought the costumes weren’t bad either. In this case, the story saved the film, but I also gave the actors a lot of leeway to be goofy or overdramatic because I liked them so much.

  3. This film works so well as a standalone piece that it’s just about perfect. No sequels needed. The issue with too many episodic TV and films is you can clearly see the law of diminishing returns in action with each season or sequel. I kind of wish more TV would take 2-3 seasons, tell the story and be done like some BBC shows. Not every idea needs to get run into the ground.

    1. Oh-oh. Does that mean you haven’t heard they have been threatening to make a sequel and/or a TV series?

      Though I’m guessing the success of The Orville might deflate the chances of those projects ever happening. (Which is a good thing, IMO.)

      1. Oh, I read that somewhere and laughed because I figured it was a bad idea for a few reasons. Hey, I thought a sequel to The Last Starfighter would be a good idea at one point waaaay back in the early 90’s, but I see the wisdom in leaving that one alone (although I can smell someone thinking up a remake within the next 2-3 years).

  4. I also feel THE ORVILLE has a hard time balancing comedy with drama, though I wonder whether or not the solution is to go all-out silly.

    GQ still holds up, all these years later. I’ve always felt that a sequel would have to focus on the Gene Roddenberry-like creator of the series. How would he feel knowing aliens are real and they watch his show?

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