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.