Wednesday, December 29, 1999

Galaxy Quest

Posted By on Wed, Dec 29, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Well, strike me pink: Galaxy Quest actually works! Who would have believed it? Surely, not the "Star Trek" fans whose overwhelming dedication to the series makes them immune to any ironic twist. But not those bent on mocking the Trekkies, either. In fact, there isn’t one category we can think of that would have expected this awkward little fantasy to amount to anything at all.

A Barbie-blond Sigourney Weaver in a role driven solely by cleavage? British actor Alan Rickman (Sense and Sensibility) as Leonard Nimoy in the season of his discontent? Tony Shalhoub (The Siege) as a Sulu-Geordi-Chekov-Scotty combination bearing the politically correct name of Sgt. Chen? Handyman Tim Allen as badass William Shatner in the shadow of Patrick Stewart’s stylish Jean-Luc Picard?! Come on!

And yet it all works, better than many of the actual Star Trek films, better than the spoofs, better than the tired "Voyager" series or the perpetually rowdy "Babylon 5" episodes. A funny, well-acted script and a clever premise — aliens mistake a canceled ‘70s sci-fi show for real "historical documents" and ask Commander Taggart (Allen) for help — may have something to do with it. But there’s more.

Dean Parisot’s Galaxy Quest goes where no cynical, sappy or simply bad story of intergalactic travel (see Mars Attacks, Independence Day and Wing Commander, respectively) has gone before. Playing on the difference between the disillusioned actors and their heroic characters, Galaxy Quest shows a profound understanding of the "Star Trek" phenomenon on- and off-screen — the friendships, the failures, the dream behind the cardboard sets — and a genuine affection for fans, characters and actors alike. More than that, the perfectly balanced mix of comic situations and tragic moments turns, in the end, into a delicate meditation on dramatic existence in general.

Faced with the aliens who need their help, the actors of "Galaxy Quest," the TV show, are expected to behave like their characters. But with no one to write their lines, they feel lost. Without a script, the actors have no identity and their characters no right to independent (dramatic) existence. It’s at this moment that we understand typecasting as the end of an actor’s career, and success and failure as sometimes interchangeable categories.

Forced to make a decision (to act or not to act?), the crew of "Galaxy Quest" reminds us of Pirandello’s Six Characters or Stoppard’s Ros and Guil (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) — lonely silhouettes on the deserted stage of a theater, doomed to repeat words and acts of already known consequence forever and ever ...

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