Saturday, January 23, 2016

Stubs - Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest (1999) Starring: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Daryl Mitchell, Justin Long. Directed by Dean Parisot. Screenplay by David Howard and Robert Gordon. Produced by Mark Johnson, Charles Newirth. Color. 102 minutes. U.S. Comedy, Science Fiction

Galaxy Quest is to Star Trek as the Rutles are to the Beatles; a comedic spoof done with love and appreciation of the original. And like the Rutles, you don’t have to be familiar with the original product to enjoy it, though it certainly does help.

What started out as a spec script by David Howard found a home at Paramount Pictures, then the home of both the Star Trek TV series and the film franchise. While much of his original idea was thrown out by Robert Gordon, who was asked to do a re-write without reading Howard’s script, the concept remained. What happens when the actors of a sci-fi TV series are mistaken for their fictional characters?

It may come as a surprise to some, but in the days before cable, satellite and the internet, TV shows were actually broadcast through the air. They still are, but having an antenna was the only way to receive them. But broadcasting means that rather than pinpointing a receiver, the show went in all directions, including up and into outer space.

Galaxy Quest is a weekly TV space adventure show following the crew aboard the spaceship, the Protector, as they travel through space and interface with alien races and civilizations. Commander Peter Quincy Taggart (Jason Nesmith) is in charge, with a penchant for losing his shirt during their voyages. His first mate, Dr. Lazarus of Tev'Meck (Alexander Dane) is an alien species renowned for their intelligence. Communications are handled by Lt. Tawny Madison (Gwen DeMarco). The engine room is run by Tech Sgt. Chen (Fred Kwan). The master pilot of the Protector is a child prodigy, Lt. Laredo (Tommy Webber).

Actors get type-cast and TV shows get cancelled. But the show lives on in re-runs and Galaxy Quest becomes a cult-favorite, spawning conventions in which fans dress in their favorite hero and villain costumes. While Jason (Tim Allen) has remained popular, the others, for the most part, are drafting in his popularity. Oh, there are some devoted fans of Dr. Lazarus (Alan Rickman) who can’t wait to repeat to him the catchphrase he’s long grown tired of, "By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!".

The film opens at one such convention in Los Angeles. The cast is waiting in the green room to be introduced, all except Jason, who is, as usual, running late. Waiting to announce them is Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell), a part-time actor who actually appeared in one episode of the series. By the time Jason arrives, Dane has had second thoughts and doesn’t want to go through with it. A Shakespearean actor, he hates that he can’t shake his Dr. Lazarus alter-ego. But Jason talks him down and they all go out for their roll call and the signing that follows.

Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) must convince Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman) that the show must go on.

As with any fan interactions, they ask the actors detailed questions about episodes, relationships and the Protector as if the show had been real. Dane especially shows his disdain for hearing his catchphrase repeated to him by a line of Dr. Lazarus-attired fans. Jason, however, uses the opportunity to hold court with his fans, indulging them until one, Brandon (Justin Long), a devotee with an encyclopedic knowledge, goes too deep with his questioning.

Brandon (Justin Long) is a fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Galaxy Quest.

But there are no more devoted fans than the Thermians led by Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni). The Thermians are a race of octopoids who, using a device, can take human form. The Thermians have seen the Galaxy Quest TV show, but rather than enjoying the stories as fictions, believe them to be historical documents of the crew's real adventures. They have come to ask for Taggart’s help.

The Thermians are being victimized by a warlike humanoid insectoid-reptilian race led by Gen. Roth'h'ar Sarris (Robin Sachs) and have come to plead for Taggart to help negotiate with Sarris. Thinking it is another fan-made show, he agrees to come as long as they supply him with a limousine.

The Thermians pick up Taggart in a limo as promised. 

The next morning, Jason wakes up on his floor with the Thermians standing outside his house, knocking on the sliding glass doors to get his attention. Hungover, Jason barely remembers accepting their offer, but, thinking there is money involved, he puts on his pants and gets into the limo.

But rather than driving to some home-made set, the limo takes off into space. Jason passes out, but awakes to find himself onboard a Thermian-made version of the Protector, retro-fitted from what they had seen on the show. Not believing it’s all real and in a hurry for another engagement, Jason handles the negotiations in a flip-manner, instructing the Thermians to fire all the ship’s weapons at Sarris.

Taggart doesn't take Sarris (Robin Sachs) seriously and, instead of negotiating, fires all the ship's missiles at him.

It is not until he’s sent back to Earth, via a gelatin-like suit travelling through space, does the enormity of what had happened sink in.

The trip back to Earth is scarier than the ride up.

The rest of the Protector’s crew has had to go on without Taggart at a store-opening and signing. When he shows up late, as usual, but with a wild tale, none of the others believe him. But the Thermians return soon afterwards. They tell Jason that Sarris survived and is angrier than ever. Jason tries to get the others to go with him, but they’re tired of dealing with him. It is only when they think there might be a paying job involved do they insist on coming along. Even Fleegman wants to get in on the action this time.

The crew of the TV Protector arrive on the bridge of the actual ship. Guy (Sam Rockwell),
 Dr. Lazarus, Tawny (Sigourney Weaver) with Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni).

Like Jason, they can’t believe that they are actually in space. They are greeted like heroes by the Thermians, who have prepared the favorite dishes from the crewman’s fictional homelands. Dane finds that his might eat him back. They feel compelled by the trust the Thermians have in them to continue the pretense and pretend to be their fictional characters.

The Thermians reveal their true form without their device working.

But they are actors, not spacemen, and are incompetent at their jobs. As an example, Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) has no idea how to actually fly the Protector and even scrapes the sides on the docking bay the ship is harbored in. Things get worse when they encounter Sarris, a trained tactician. They are forced to retreat into a minefield. But though they manage to temporarily escape Sarris, the beryllium sphere, which powers the ship, is damaged as a result.

Tommy Webber flies the Protector into the side of its space dock.

In order to get a new sphere, they take a space shuttle to a nearby planet. The miners seem like happy child-like creatures, but the crew sees their vicious side as they turn mercilessly on a fellow creature that gets injured. While most of the crew manages to escape via the shuttle, Jason is left behind. He is forced to fight an enormous rock creature to which he is powerless to defeat. His only hope is that Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) can master the transportation beam. When his first attempt ends up with the subject turned inside out, he loses all of his nerve, but with the strength of the admiration of Laliari (Missi Pyle), one of the Thermians, he manages to regain his nerve just in time to save Jason from the rock creature and bring him back onboard.

The cute little miners on the planet turn on one of their own.

But even though the new beryllium sphere is in place, things go from bad to worse, as Sarris and his men board the Protector. In order to save Mathesar, Sarris questions Jason about the secret weapon he believes is onboard, the Omega 13. This forces Jason to come clean and admit that he doesn’t know what it is and that he is only an actor. Sarris makes him explain this to Mathesar, who doesn’t seem to quite understand.

Sarris decides to have the actors thrown out into space, but on the way, Jason and Dane re-enact one of the scenes from the show and manage to overpower the guards, who get ejected into space. Sarris orders the Protector destroyed and has his men set off the self-destruct sequence. He also has the 
Thermians locked in an airtight room, where they will slowly suffocate from lack of air.

Jason assumes command and gives out orders. Guy, Fred and Laliari will try to reverse the airflow to the Thermians, Dane will try to free them, and Webber will practice flying the ship while he and Gwen will try to override the self-destruct.

Guy, Fred and Laliari find the controls for the air vent are in the same room as several of Sarris’ armed guards. Rather than take them on directly, Fred gets the idea to transport the rock monster onboard into the room with the guards.

While they’re doing that, Dane gets help from one of the Thermians, Quellek (Patrick Breen), who has avoided capture. Together, they manage to pry open the door to the chamber. But it takes Fred opening the oxygen valve to save the Thermians inside. Even when Dane enters the room, the inhabitants cheer for Commander Taggart delivering their salvation.

Dr. Lazarus frees the Thermians, who chant their thanks to Commander Taggart instead.

Meanwhile, Tommy watches the historical documents to learn how to fly the ship, mimicking his own hand movements from nearly 20 years before.

Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) learns to fly from watching historical documents of his younger self.

When Sarris learns that the cast has managed to escape, he sends his men back onboard the ship and they attack the Thermians, mortally wounding Quellek. As if to grant his last request, Dane repeats his catchphrase about avenging his death to Quellek and then goes about doing it, attacking the beast that shot Quellek with his bare hands and subduing him.

Quellek (Patrick Breen) dies knowing that "By Grabthat's hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!"

To help him and Gwen maneuver through the ship, Jason contacts Brandon using an intergalactic communication device he accidentally swapped with him at the convention. Brandon initially apologizes for being over anxious with his questions until Jason informs him that it is all real.

Brandon rallies his friends, via the internet, to help Cmndr. Taggart.

Using the combined knowledge of his friends on the internet, Brandon, when he’s not having to take out the trash, guides Jason and Gwen through the bowels of the ship, which includes, as all such scenes require, them to crawl through air vents. Stuck in a universe based on the series, Jason and Gwen find themselves dealing with the shortcomings of the show’s writing. To start with there is the Omega 13, which even Brandon and his friends don’t know for sure what it does, as it was never really pinned down in the show. He says some people think the device is a bomb what will destroy all matter in 13 seconds, while others think it might allow time travel into the past for 13 seconds. Towards the end of their trek, Brandon leads them into something call the Chompers, a nonsensical room with horizontal and vertical smashers which they have to maneuver through. After that there is a burst of fire which they’ll have to leap over.

The Chompers, a bad writer's idea.

Gwen sums up her thoughts when she sees the obstacles when she mutters, "Well, screw that!" which is obviously dubbed from its original line. Once they make it through, she exclaims, “Whoever wrote this episode should die!”

Gwen expresses her feelings after running the gauntlet and jumping over fire.

Turning off the self-destruct mechanism is as simple as pushing a button, but when they do, Jason and Gwen watch in horror as the countdown clock continues. Jason and Gwen almost admit to each other their real feelings, but in television tradition, the clock finally stops with 1 second on the countdown.

In a final showdown with Sarris, Jason has Tommy go back through the minefield and then head directly for Sarris’ ship. Sarris thinks he’s daft until he learns, too late, that the Protector is dragging behind it enough mines to blow up Sarris’ ship.

Thinking they are rid of their nemesis, Jason directs Tommy to set a course for Earth, when Fred comes up to the command deck. But it turns out not to be Fred, but rather Sarris in disguise who starts shooting, killing several crew members before Jason has Mathesar set off the Omega 13, still not sure what it will do. Luckily, the theory that it enables time travel proves correct. This allows 
Jason to stop Sarris’ attack.

With the ship hurtling towards Earth, the command deck with the Galaxy Quest crew and Laliari, who has fallen in love with Fred, onboard, Brandon and his friends try their best to help guide the ship down, but they can’t prevent it from crashing into the convention center where the event is in its final day. Despite the damage they do, the crew is still cheered as they come off the ship. But Sarris is not dead and he gets off the ship as well. Jason moves and shoots him, disintegrating the villain in front of the cheering crowd.

Fast forward and Galaxy Quest, the series, is back on the air, with the original cast and two additional cast members, Guy and Laliari, who is credited as Jane Doe. Everyone seems to be happy now with their roles.

The show returns to the air with a new crew member played by
Jane Doe (Missi Pyle) working closely with Kwan (Tony Shaloub).

Comparisons to Star Trek are unavoidable. There are some elements which actually seem to play out like an episode of that show. Taggart’s battle with the rock monster feels a lot like Kirk fighting the Gorn in the 1967 episode, Arena. To drive the point home, Guy even asks the Commander if there is anything down on the planet that he can use to make a weapon, as Kirk did in that episode.

If you’re a big fan of Star Trek and are worried that Galaxy Quest is poking fun at your favorite franchise, fear not. Galaxy Quest is a spoof which is laughing along with Star Trek and not at it. No one or nothing is held up for too much ridicule. Even William Shatner’s overacting is not overdone by Tim Allen as the Commander. In effect, Galaxy Quest is sort of an alternative universe to Star Trek, trotting much of the same ground, but not exactly in its footsteps.

Tim Allen has an uneven track record as a film actor, for every Toy Story (1995) and Santa Clause (1994), there is a Jungle 2 Jungle (1997), but he certainly makes for a good Commander Taggart. Being the leader of a star ship crew takes a certain amount of ego and vanity, just like being an actor in a leading role in a movie or on TV. But there is also Nesmith’s own realization that he is living on past glories and that he is not happy with himself. But he rises to the occasion when called upon and leads his ragtag band of actors as if he is the real Taggart.

Like Allen, all of the characters seem perfectly cast. Alan Rickman comes into the film with enough gravitas as a serious actor that you certainly believe his bemoaning Dane about being typecast as an alien sidekick. Even though he obviously hates this character, he never takes off the headdress he’s wearing. He is obviously channeling Leonard Nimoy, who had a love/hate relationship with Spock.

Sigourney Weaver is surprisingly sexy as Gwen, an actress with more on the ball than the character she plays on the series. She is a composite of several characters from Star Trek, from Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura, the communications officer in the original series, to the babe-of-the-week that Kirk seemed to bed.

Tony Shaloub’s Kwan is the only character that doesn’t seem to have an equivalent in the Star Trek universe. Scotty was no womanizer nor as laid back as Kwan, but it’s better that there is not a one-to-one correlation between the movie and the show.

The young pilot Tommy Webber seems more like a spoof of the juvenile genius Wesley Crusher (Will Wheaton) from Gene Roddenberry’s follow up series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Still, it works.

Sam Rockwell’s Guy is every red-shirt in the show that was killed off right away. Having been on the show already, Guy is always aware that it is his expected fate. It’s not until Kwan tells him he could be comedic relief, does he change his tune.

But this goes beyond the characters and some set pieces previously used on Star Trek, the film throws its rope lovingly over Trekkers as well; fans who know more than any cast member, but who still have to ask detailed questions of anyone related to the show they might meet. While actors merely play a role, these fans live the show and invest their time in understanding everything about it. But few are as fortunate as Brandon and friends, to actually get an opportunity to use that knowledge in the real world.

Galaxy Quest was a fairly successful film when it was released on Christmas Day, 1999, earning a little less than $72 million in the U.S. and about $91 million worldwide. Ratings have a lot to do with box-office as a film rated R will most likely not do as well as one rated PG-13 and Galaxy Quest was nearly rated R, due to one line Gwen says in the film. When she and Taggart first come to the Chompers, she says, “Well, screw that!". Originally her line contained, and if you look closely you can see her still mouth it, an expletive that starts with an “F”. Small changes like that no doubt allowed Galaxy Quest to be seen by a wider age range and thus helped its box-office.

You might hear "Well, screw that!" but you see she actually says something else.

Now, the question is should you see it? If you like your sci-fi with humor, then you should see Galaxy Quest. If you’re a fan of Star Trek, then you should see it. If you like to laugh, you should see it. And the list goes on and on. In short, Galaxy Quest is definitely a film you should see.

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