Ahoy there mateys! I am not a big movie watcher but sci-fi month of 2019 started this trend with total recall (1990) and sphere (1998). This review is slightly different because I have actually seen this movie before. The First Mate has seen practically every movie of the 80s and 90s and when we met he was saddened that I had never experienced it. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the film and so he asked me to rewatch it and then watch the documentary about the making of the film. Then I
ordered asked him to write a review because a movie parody based on the sci-fi genre counts on a book blog right? So you get one from me and a bonus additional review from me crew. Please note that I write like I talk and the first mate writes like he thinks. We make a good twosome for reviews because it’s a combo of head and heart. Hope you enjoy!
Side note: No movie plot here from me and there will be spoilers. I will assume that everyone else previously saw this movie.
From the Captain:
Aye, this movie was meant to be a parody but really it ends up being a delightful film on its own merits. Watching the movie again followed by the documentary about the movie was so much fun. Much like in the movie Clue, part of what makes it successful comes from top-tier actors who don’t try to force the humor but instead embody their characters in the reality of the world they inhabit. Having worked in the biz, seeing actors who can accomplish this fills me with both giddiness and awe.
Tim Allen was never me favourite actor though I did occasionally watch him on the Home Improvement tv show back in the day. I do believe that this is the best role he has ever had. At the beginning of the film, I want to punch him for being such a jerk but by the end of the film he has completely won me over. Both times I watched it! The scene of him confessing to Mathesar breaks me cold-heart. The documentary section about this scene was lovely to watch and made me even more impressed by Allen’s character arc in the movie. I have a lot more respect now for Allen as both a human and a performer.
Of course ye also have standout performances from the rest of the cast too but I do have a top three. Sigourney Weaver has always been beloved because of Ghostbusters. Her character in this movie is so darn funny. The scene where she yells about her job on the ship is just awesome. She apparently really related to her character Tawny and adored wearing the blond wig. I have never seen her famous character in the Alien movie but adore her in this.
Alan Rickman is of course amazing as always. I am so sad that he has left our world but dang is he fantastic as Dr. Lazarus. I always found it crazy that he would have agreed to be in this movie because I equate him with poignant drama roles but apparently he loved doing comedy. His sense of timing and drama were impeccable. I consider him one of the greatest actors of our era.
And this rewatching made me further love Sam Rockwell’s character of Guy. I love that he gets to be the sole redshirt of the bunch. His angst about his death always being around the corner is lovely. I adore his breakdown about not having a last name. Interestingly, I did not know that this movie came out the same year as The Green Mile. Talk about two very different roles!
Me main takeaway of the documentary is how a perfect series of studio problems allowed this film to achieve the basically perfect form it has today. And in listening to the actors discuss the film, it does in fact seem as though all the people involved loved working on it and treasure the friendships made on the film. Though I would have loved the documentary to have discussed Robin Sachs as Sarris and the construction of the alien costumes. Both the movie and the documentary left me with warm fuzzy feelings of contentment and the knowledge that this film has joined the ranks of the few films that I love to watch over and over again.
Side note: According to Wikipedia “Before the release of the movie, a promotional mockumentary video titled Galaxy Quest: 20th Anniversary, The Journey Continues, aired on E!, presenting the Galaxy Quest television series as an actual cult series, and the upcoming film as a documentary about the making of the series, presenting it in a similar way to Star Trek; it featured fake interviews of the series’ cast (portrayed by the actors of the actual film), “Questerians”, and critics.” So I got to watch a real and a fake 20th Anniversary documentary. ARRRR! Check out the mockumentary here.
From the First Mate:
Watching Galaxy Quest twenty years after it initially came out is a very odd experience. On the one hand, the decades distance have made the subtle quality of the film only more evident. The acting is superb across the board, the sets and special effects sublime, the metafictional nods seem surprisingly current, and the emotional resonance of the script just cuts perfectly. And on the other hand, there’s this incredible sense that the central premise of the film just simply couldn’t exist today.
Centrally Galaxy Quest was part of a late 90s trend of films that were examinations and sendups of Star Trek and Star Wars fandoms in particular and sci-fi fandom in general. “Trekkies,” “Free Enterprise,” and “George Lucas in Love” were other films in the late 90s that took a non-traditionally sympathetic approach to adult sci-fi fandom. Until that point, sci-fi fandom was typically viewed as more or less a disreputable childish fascination that was supposed to be eventually set aside for more adult concerns. Sci-fi conventions and con-goers were typically portrayed as losers. Particular scorn was directed toward the actors that made their livings going to conventions instead of acting; these actors were often portrayed as hating their fans and exploiting the childish nature of their fans.
Galaxy Quest takes the elements of how fandom was perceived in the 90s and spins it to great effect. Every one of those perceptions is used to setup and payoff an impressively satisfying emotional arc. From the actor who finds the emotional resonance in his hated catchphrase to the utility of devoting one’s time to learning the intricate duct system of a fictitious starship to what costs there really are to exploiting someone’s trust for personal gain. It’s a film that works as a straight sci-fi film if you don’t know what it’s parodying. It’s an incredibly satisfying film if you get all of the Star Trek references throughout. And it’s an indescribably delightful film if you have any knowledge of the convention scene.
But one of the elements that is so stark is how much has changed with regards to the cultural perception of fandom. Today science fiction entertainments are no longer fringe; they’re largely the mainstream. The actors that are famous for having been in beloved television series are not pitied for lack of latter work; they’re beloved at the cons they go to and celebrated in retrospectives online. The minutiae of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is discussed in hundreds of places both online and in print. I’m not saying that there’s no static to be had for having geeky pursuits these days, but it’s certainly less stark than it was. Which, of course, means that Jason Nesmith wouldn’t behave the same way today as he did in 1999.
If you want more context for the film, Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary does a fine job of pulling together most of the people involved in its making along with various industry insiders and convention goers to whom the film has been important. Unfortunately, Alan Rickman (Dr. Lazarus) and Robin Sachs (Roth’h’har Sarris) passed away prior to the making of the documentary and thus whatever stories they might’ve added are lost to time. Many of the principals do talk at length about Rickman, though sometimes the stories make his absence even more apparent.
The documentary basically follows the same format as Cary Elwes’ book “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride” (highly recommended), in that it covers the writing, pre-production, casting, filming, problems, editing, failed release, and eventual cult following. Throughout various people involved tell fun stories that illustrate one point or another. We learn that Tim Allen loves science fiction and that the director never watches his old movies. There’s some discussion on alternative casting and even some indications of what the film might’ve become under the direction of Harold Ramis (who knew?). Damon Lindelof comes across as an extremely knowledgeable and passionate fan of the film. Brent Spiner even pops up a few times to sing the film’s praises.
My only quibble with the documentary (and this is totally a YMMV thing) was about ten minutes of the film was devoted to a couple that cosplays as Thermians. The couple seemed like very nice people, but given the choice I’d have preferred to have more interview time with people who were involved with the film. Poor Tony Shalhoub got maybe three minutes of screentime here (though maybe the filmmakers didn’t much good footage from him). I just didn’t think that the Thermian cosplayers added much beyond showing that someone out there is cosplaying those characters.
I’d highly recommend Galaxy Quest and its documentary to anyone looking for a fun metafictional sci-fi double feature. It’s an amazingly good time watching them back to back.