"Never give up. Never surrender!"
"Galaxy Quest" is a wonderfully silly film, but in order to appreciate its satire fully, I suspect one has to be at least marginally familiar with the "Star Trek" television and film series. The movie is a "what-if" proposition and one that requires a certain background knowledge on the viewer's part. But it's still OK even you've never seen a "Star Trek" episode. Because it ties in with the newest "Star Trek" motion picture, DreamWorks re-released "Galaxy Quest" with additional, newly made bonus materials and, as reviewed here, in Blu-ray high definition.
The movie does a splendid job mimicking the old "Star Trek" crew and their "what if" aftermath by pretending that "Galaxy Quest" was a real television show that played for a few years a couple of decades earlier, then went off the air maintaining a loyal following of "Questerian" fans. As the movie opens, the cast of the old show find themselves reduced to doing "Galaxy Quest" conventions since the show so thoroughly typecast them, they can't find any other work. To some extent, I suppose this actually happened to a few of the original "Star Trek" cast members. Certainly, there are "Star Trek" conventions to this day all over the globe, and they usually include a cast member or two.
The bit about the old "Galaxy Quest" cast doing conventions is also clever because it allows the scriptwriters, David Howard and Robert Gordon, and the director, Dean Parisot ("Fun With Dick and Jane"), to poke some lighthearted fun at washed-up TV stars and how their diminished status affects their egos. Yet that isn't all the movie has to offer, not by a long shot. It goes on to a much more enterprising (pun intended) "what-if" premise: What if visitors from another planet mistook the "Galaxy Quest" cast for real space heroes and enlisted them in a real-life fight to save their race? In other words, what if stars of a fictional sci-fi television show became involved in an actual outer-space adventure? It's fun stuff in the humorous mold of such comedy fantasies as "Men in Black" and "Ghostbusters," but it has the added twist of being based on familiar cultural icons.
Part of the fun of the original "Star Trek" series was the cozy, family atmosphere of the crew, all of them bickering as families do but showing genuine respect and love for one another when it counted. That's another aspect of the old show that "Galaxy Quest" spoofs. Although the "GQ" actors play conventions and supermarket openings together, they essentially hate each other's guts. Naturally, as the adventure warms up, the old gang of actors begin to warm up to one another, too, just as the old "Star Trek" crew did. So "Galaxy Quest" lampoons the old show, while paying tribute to it at the same time.
Tim Allen stars as Jason Nesmith, the star of the former "Galaxy Quest" television show, which ended its prime-time run about eighteen years earlier. Nesmith, like the rest of the cast, has been running on the old show's fumes ever since, but his ego has suffered. He was, after all, captain of the Starship NSEA Protector, and now he's a has-been. Allen is an immensely likeable fellow, although he hasn't been in too many films I've enjoyed. This one and the first "Santa Clause" head the list. Here, he shows his ability not only as a comic actor but as a serious actor as well, since there are several dramatic moments in the film among the humorous ones. In a featurette accompanying the movie, Allen says he wasn't consciously trying to mirror William Shatner's speech or gestures but admits that a few such nuances sneaked into his portrayal. To Shatner's credit, he never became a has-been, having gone on to success in a television cop show, supporting parts in a number of movies and TV commercials, and, as of this writing, a talk show.
Allen's co-stars are equally capable. Sigourney Weaver plays Gwen DeMarco, the TV crew's obligatory female, whose only jobs on the old show were to repeat whatever the captain said and to reveal as much cleavage as possible. As the movie goes on, amusingly, she shows more and more skin. Think of Weaver's first significant sci-fi role in "Alien." And Alan Rickman plays Alexander Dane, the TV show's Spock-like non-Earthly science officer. Dane continuously bemoans the fact that he used to be a promising Shakespearean actor, and now he's signing autographs and playing second fiddle to Allen's character at fan conventions.
Among the supporting players are Tony Shalhoub as Fred Kwan, who was the crew's unflappable tech officer (think Scotty). Sam Rockwell is Guy Fleegman, who was in only one installment of the old series, playing a red shirt so expendable he dies a few minutes into the episode, with nobody even remembering his name. Rockwell almost steals the show, doing a hilarious imitation of a whining Bill Paxton in "Aliens." Daryl Mitchell is Tommy Webber, the old show's obligatory young person and token black; Justin Long is Brandon, a typical teen fan geek so wrapped up in his love of the old series, he can't tell the difference between fiction and reality; Enrico Colantoni is Mathesar, the leader of the space aliens who are enlisting the help of the "Galaxy Quest" crew; and Robin Sachs is Sarris, the head bad guy.
Drop in music by David Newman that approximates the tone and feeling of Alexander Courage's old "Star Trek" themes, computer graphics by Industrial Light and Magic, and the makeup artistry of the late Stan Winston, and you get a movie parody that works on almost every level. What can I say: It continues to make me laugh out loud each time I watch it.
For this high-definition Blu-ray edition, DreamWorks use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4 audio-video codec in a transfer that preserves the movie's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It appears to do a fairly good job reproducing the colors and definition of the original film, with hues that are quite natural, especially facial tones. Whatever fine grain is present seems to have been inherent to the original print, and the screen is quite clean, with few or no signs of age or damage. Black levels are more than acceptable, and while object delineation is often a bit soft, it still looks OK. This is a good, though not great, video transfer that nevertheless probably represents the film in its natural state.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound accounts for itself pretty well, too, with a clear, clean, realistic midrange and a bass that occasionally (but not often enough) roars and thunders. The new lossless audio modulates the touch of brightness I noticed on the standard-definition Dolby Digital, firming it up and smoothing it out. The surround effects are decent, too, but they are not quite as prominent as I would have liked. Anyway, just as the picture quality probably remains faithful to the source, so does the audio.
As I mentioned earlier, because this new Blu-ray edition ties in with the new "Star Trek" movie, DreamWorks made several new (2009) featurettes to accompany it. The first item is exclusive to the Blu-ray release: It's a "Galactopedia," a fairly elaborate system of delivering text information in pops-ups as the movie plays. Frankly, I found it somewhat overwhelming in scope, touching on just about every aspect of the cast and show, with about 800 different icons to press. Fortunately, you can simplify the mechanism if you choose to do so.
The next item is an eighteen-minute segment called "Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest," which includes comments from the film's director, co-screenwriter, cast, and crew. After that, we have the twenty-three-minute "Never Give Up, Never Surrender: The Intrepid Crew of the NSEA Protector," which intermixes vintage filmmaker interviews with more-recent comments. "By Grabthar's Hammer, What Amazing Effects" is a seven-minute featurette on the work that Stan Winston and Industrial Light and Magic did on the film. "Alien School: Creating the Thermian Race" is a five-minute bit on the development of the space aliens. "Actors in Space" is a six-minute segment telling the story behind the story of the story within the story (huh?). "Sigourney Weaver Raps" is a cute bit. And things wind down with a series of deleted scenes.
In addition, the disc contains pop-up menus; twenty chapter selections; bookmarks; a widescreen theatrical trailer in high def; English, Spanish, and Thermian spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. Did he say the disc included a "Thermian" language track? Yep. Like Ms. Weaver's rap, it's a cute gimmick, good for a minute of your time before it wears thin.
I love "what-if" movies of most kinds, and "Galaxy Quest" with its top-notch cast, dead-on caricatures, and imaginative plot captures all the "what-if" you could ask for. While gently spoofing the old "Star Trek" series and honoring it at the same time, "Galaxy Quest" creates and inhabits its own uniquely lovable and quite attractive Blu-ray universe. It surprises me there hasn't been a sequel.
"By Grabthar's hammer, you shall be avenged!"