Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Revisiting 1999: The Forgotten Films --- Galaxy Quest (Dean Parisot)

I figured this would be an appropriate choice for a few weeks back when Star Trek opened, but I was slow with getting other reviews out so this one sat on the shelf. This is my next entry in my look at some forgotten gems from 1999. You can click here to see why I’m doing this thing. So far I’ve reviewed the following for this series with a brief look at what’s on tap:

The War Zone (Tim Roth)
Sunshine (István Szabó's)
Beyond the Mat (Barry W. Blaustein
Mumford (Lawrence Kasdan) – June 8th
Bowfinger (Frank Oz) – June 15th

One of the great things about doing this series is that it’s allowed me to go back and revisit some films that didn’t get their just deserves when they were released. It also has shown me that I truly am one of those nerdy filmgoers who watches something and then rails it against those who think it’s such an original idea when usually a better film did years prior. So is the case with Dean Parisot’s Galaxy Quest, a film that was Tropic Thunder nine years before Ben Stiller tried his hand at the “they-don’t-know-they’re-not-in-a-movie” formula. Galaxy Quest is infinitely better than Stiller’s film: it’s funnier, more subtle, and feels created out of love for the geeks who follow these Sci-fi franchises so closely. It was definitely one of the best surprises of 1999.

The film has a great cast: Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, and Tim Allen (who is actually funny in this!). They are all stars of a hit science fiction show not unlike a certain show with warp speed and Klingons. Now, I’ve never been a Trekkie and I haven’t seen one episode of "Star Trek", but despite my lack of knowledge with the source material that was being satirized I still found something to laugh at.

The stars of the now defunct “Galaxy Quest” show are left to do what these types of actors who have been type casted in cult television series often do: they shill their image, dressed up in their “Galaxy Quest” garb they hit the trade shows and reunion conventions, and despite the fact that they all hate it and are constantly at each other’s throats, they still do it because it’s really the only thing that brings them consistent income. Well, things turn weird when a race of aliens, who have based their entire existence on the idea that the show was real, abduct the cast of the show and bring them to space so that they can help the aliens fight off a genocidal General Sarris.

This is the premise for a movie that reminded me why I thought Tropic Thunder was more of a miss than a hit. In Galaxy Quest you see the filmmakers going for jokes that are just as obvious as the jokes Ben Stiller is going for in his film, except Parisot and his writer David Howard use humor that is more subtle creating moments that make you smile rather than the kitchen-sink type comedy Still throws at you in Tropic Thunder (I am specifically thinking of the scene with Jack Black tied to a tree, there are so many missed jokes, that when something does make you laugh you think it’s funnier than it really is…all of the jokes Stiller throws at you in that film seem to be more of a distraction from the fact that he really only had a few jokes in mind when making the film.).

Weaver and Rickman bring legitimacy to their roles as two people who maybe never wanted to take the roles on the television show to begin with, but they saw how popular it was and how much money they made off of it and decided to it anyways. Especially the Rickman character that draws comparison with classical British actor like Patrick Stewart, and how odd it seems to see somebody of his caliber ding science fiction television. Tim Allen plays the star of the show (think Captain Kirk) a primadona, and he plays the role to perfection. He’s the one the aliens look to for guidance on how to defeat General Sarris. There are also great supporting performances by Tony Shalhoub and Sam Rockwell.

As I mentioned earlier I’m not a Trekkie, but as a general nerd I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers showed appreciation for the cult following the fans have for shows like “Galaxy Quest”. At the end of the film where the actors start to realize that what they’re doing is their show, only now it’s a reality, they don’t have the information from the cannon to fall back on because they have all tried to distance themselves from the show. It also shows that no matter how long actors may work on these types of shows, the details all blur together; they don’t have the wealth of knowledge that the diehard fans have, and something I love about Galaxy Quest is how the nerd (Justin Long), with all of that “useless” information, is the one they call upon to save the day. It’s a sweet nod to the rabid, sometimes annoying, but always rooted in a passion and love for the material, type of fan bases that follow these shows so closely.

Galaxy Quest is one of the truly forgotten films of 1999. It’s a little too average in its humor and its reliance upon one joke over and over to be one of the best films of the year, but I was definitely reminded of how much I liked this movie when I saw Tropic Thunder last year and realized I was watching pretty much the same film. So, if you like Tropic Thunder, give Galaxy Quest a shot; it’s a lot tamer, sure, but it also shows that you don’t always have to be vulgar to get genuine laughs. The writing is witty and sharp, and the acting is first rate; and you get some legitimate actors doing a comedy made by a director who knows precisely where to put the punch line. This is a film that could have been a complete failure and felt completely false had it fallen into much snarkier hands.


  1. Bravo for picking this film during this series. Galaxy Quest holds up as well today as it did when it was released, something that's not always easy for a comedy.

    Your points about the comparison between Galaxy Quest and Tropic Thunder are pitch perfect -- where Stiller opted for loud and overdone (and thus, for my money, not as funny), Galaxy Quest takes the wittier route, leading to something that is far more enjoyable. Add in that the comedic acting in Quest is much better (Downey, the guy who played the director, and Danny McBride were the only true shining moments for me in all of Thunder) and I think it's clear which film is superior.

    It probably doesn't hurt that the genre cliches played up in Quest are so set in stone, that you "know" each character the moment they are introduced.

    Wow, these comments make it look like I think this is the greatest movie EVER. I'll calm down now.

  2. Well...it is a good movie. Don't feel bad about the hyperbole...I do it in every review I write. Hehe.

  3. Nice write-up! I really enjoyed this film a lot and having recently revisited on DVD was happy to see that it has aged very well. Will the same be said of TROPIC THUNDER? Let's face it, with Stiller's film Robert Downey Jr. steals the show. He's the reason to watch it and is amazing in it but other than that it doesn't quite hold up for all the reasons you stated in your post.

    GALAXY QUEST, on the other hand, has a lot of things going for it. But, hands down, Sam Rockwell's freaked out glorified extra is what gets me every time. That, and Tony Shaloub's Zen-like head of engineering. Funny, funny stuff.

  4. J.D.:

    Thanks for the kind words. In writing this review I came across a lot of positive, albeit lukewarm, reviews from critics who reviewed the film when it came out. I've noticed among the blogosphere, however, that the film is still much revered 10 years later. It's aged well and I think more appreciated now than it was upon its initial release. That's what makes it such a special film.

    And you're right about Rockwell...he nearly steals the show. Also, Stiller's film will most likely not be remembered ten years from now because there is nothing memorable about it. It came out at a time where much better comedies were being released. Robert Downey Jr. was brilliant, as you say, but he'll also be more rememebered for his role in Iron Man. It's too bad, I was looking forward to Stiller's film when I was reading about it before it came out. An R rated comedy spoofing the action film, I was intrigued...but a lot of the jokes just felt so sophomoric...

    Anyway enough about that movie...I'm glad so many people still talk about Galaxy Quest as a great comedy. It deserves a wider audience after all these years.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I love Galaxy Quest and will watch it every single time it show up on cable. That's the only Tim Allen movie I can say that about.

    Really glad to see you're revisiting 1999. I did a post some months back that asked "what is your favorite year in film." Though I loved 1994 (amongst others), 1999 was my choice by far. For god's sake, Being John Malkovich came in 7th on my top 10...for that year alone. Galaxy Quest made the list at 9th. God I love that year.

    In case you interested, here's the post.

  6. Fletch:

    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, 1999 was such a great year for film. I'll be posting my top 10 films from 1999 in about a month, and one thing that will prove is that there hasn't been as solid a year in film since perhaps the 60's.

    Thanks for stopping by...I'm glad there's somebody else out there who loves this movie.