GALAXY QUEST - DVD review

While gently spoofing the old Star Trek series and honoring it, Galaxy Quest creates and inhabits its own uniquely lovable universe.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

"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 series. "Galaxy Quest" is a "what-if" movie, and one that requires a certain background knowledge on the viewer's part. In honor of the film's tenth anniversary and because it ties in with the newest "Star Trek" motion picture, the DreamWorks team are re-releasing "Galaxy Quest" with additional, newly made bonus materials not found in the previous edition. Why they announce "Celebrating 10 years of Galaxy Quest" on a slipcover sticker and then post a production year of 2000 on the back of the keep case is beyond me, but the sticker appears to be correct. DreamWorks released the movie to theaters in December of 1999.

Anyway, about the movie: It does a splendid job of 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 decade earlier, then went off the air, but maintained 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 and 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 all over the globe to this day, and they usually include a cast member or two. However, what the movie "Galaxy Quest" doesn't reveal is that "Star Trek" went on to a successful run of television shows and motion pictures that continue to prosper, and many of the familiar TV faces starred in at least the first half dozen of the movies.

Nevertheless, that first bit of business is clever in itself--the old "Galaxy Quest" cast doing conventions--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 it affects their egos. Yet that isn't all, not by a long shot. The movie goes on to a much more enterprising (pun intended) "what-if" premise: What if visitors from another world mistook the "Galaxy Quest" cast for real space heroes and enlisted them in a real-life fight to save their planet? 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, 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; now, he's a has-been. Allen is an immensely likeable fellow, but 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 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 film, he 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, anyway. 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 doing a talk show.

Allen's co-stars are equally capable. Sigourney Weaver plays Gwen DeMarco, who was the TV crew's obligatory female, and 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 cleavage. 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 episode of the old series, playing an expendable red shirt who dies a few minutes into the show; nobody even remembers his name. Rockwell almost steals the show, by the way, 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.

Video:
First, a question: If Paramount/DreamWorks wanted to celebrate the tenth anniversary of "Galaxy Quest" and tie it into the release of the new "Star Trek" movie, why then would they not have produced a high-definition Blu-ray edition? Instead, we get what appears to be the same audio-video transfer we got almost a decade ago. I can understand the expense involved, but at about the same time the studio issued this standard-definition copy, they issued "Wayne's World," "Black Sheep," "Major League," "Without a Paddle," and several other films on high-definition Blu-ray, none of which benefit from the new technology as much as "Galaxy Quest" would. OK, in fairness, the studio does plan a Blu-ray "Galaxy Quest" edition in the near future; I just question the wait.

In any case, the anamorphic SD transfer preserves the movie's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and seems to do a fairly good job reproducing the colors and definition of the original film. Hues are quite natural, especially facial tones, whatever grain is present appears to be inherent to the print, and there are few or no signs of age or damage beyond the usual minor fleck or line. Black levels could have been a tad deeper, and compared to high-def, the transfer's delineation obviously suffers, but upscaled it still looks pretty nice.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound accounts for itself quite well, with a bass that occasionally roars and thunders, a clear and realistic midrange, and only a touch of brightness. The surround effects are decent, too, but they are not quite as prominent as I remember them from my last viewing of this movie; still, time has a way of clouding one's memory. Like the picture quality, the audio probably remains faithful to its source; I'd just like to hear it some day in lossless Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio because it would benefit from a little smoothing out and firming up.

Extras:
As I've mentioned several times now, the folks at DreamWorks reissued "Galaxy Quest" in honor of its tenth anniversary and because it ties in with the new "Star Trek" movie. For the occasion, they have added several newly made, 2009 featurettes to the pot. The first item is an eighteen-minute piece called "Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest," which includes comments from the film's director, co-screenwriter, cast, and crew. Next, 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 cute; and things wind down with a series of deleted scenes.

In addition, the disc contains twenty chapter selections; a widescreen theatrical trailer; previews of various "Star Trek" products at start-up and in the main menu; English, Spanish, and Thermian spoken languages; and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. 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. Finally, the studio encloses the keep case in a handsome slipcover with a 3-D holographic picture on the front.

Parting Thoughts:
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, "Galaxy Quest" creates and inhabits its own uniquely lovable universe. It surprises me there hasn't been a sequel.

"By Grabthar's hammer, you shall be avenged!"

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
8
Extras
7
Film Value
8