There is a small category of films which failed in theatrical release, but which, when played and replayed on television, found their audience and proved themselves to be authentic heart-warming and important films striking a chord with a very wide audience and proving watchable again and again and again.
In a just world, O.J. Simpson would currently be serving the 24th year of a double life sentence; Ronald Reagan would have been president during America’s bicentennial instead of Gerald Ford â€” and Galaxy Quest would’ve earned half-a-billion bucks at the box office when it came out in 1999.
But inept and indifferent studio marketing (plus competition from another “sci-fi” comedy, Ghostbusters) relegated Galaxy Quest to semi-cult status. Which is ironically appropriate, given its plot:
At a science fiction convention, fans await an appearance by the cast of Galaxy Quest, a hokey interstellar TV adventure series unceremoniously cancelled in the early 1980s. The show’s fatally typecast has-been “stars” (played by Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub and Daryl Mitchell) are reduced to reluctantly signing autographs at tacky gatherings like this one, when they’re not cutting ribbons (in full costume) at supermarket openings.
That is, until genuine aliens â€” who, in cargo cult fashion, have based their civilization on Galaxy Quest re-runs transmitted through space â€” touch down and beg “the crew of the NSEA-Protector” to help them defeat the villain bent on destroying their planet. The adorable Thermians innocently believe the program’s “crew” are fearless, intrepid space warriors and technological geniuses, not just washed-up actors in laughable uniforms. Their language has no word for “pretend”…
Lazily calling this movie “a Star Trek spoof” unfairly slots it alongside broad, coarse parodies like Blazing Saddles or the soulless Mars Attacks! In truth, Galaxy Quest is a tender, big hearted valentine â€” more My Favorite Year than Airplane.
That the film’s jokes and, more incredibly, its special effects, hold up so well twenty years later is a testament to the loving care with which Galaxy Quest was crafted. Obeying the first (yet often ignored) commandment of movie comedy, all the actors “play it straight.”
Genre veteran Sigourney Weaver of Alien fame never winks “Get it?”; neither does Alan Rickman, a classically-trained Shakespearean actor stuck wearing a rubber prosthetic forehead, portraying… a classically-trained Shakespearean actor stuck wearing a rubber prosthetic forehead:
While I’d have preferred the director’s original choice for the leading role â€” Kevin Kline â€” Tim Allen acquits himself surprisingly well as the pompous, Shatner-esque Jason Nesmith, a.k.a., Commander Taggart.
Cast as Thermian leader Mathesar, Yale Drama alumnus Enrico Colantoni conceived of his species’ quirky gait, rictus grin and off-key speech patterns during his winning audition, then led hour-long “alien school” on set each morning to ensure uniformity and, therefore, believability; of all the Thermians, Missi Pyle’s Laliari is so indelibly delightful that John Updike gave her a shout-out in his novella Rabbit Remembered.
Speaking of famous writers, David Mamet has called Galaxy Quest “a perfect film,” ranking it with The Godfather (and another of my other favorites, Dodsworth.)
But all that came later.