It may not travel well internationally, but comedy is part of the beat of this blog; good ones are hard to find, and the best should be celebrated. But for one reason or another, I’d missed the rise to cult stardom of Dean Parisot’s ingenious spoof on Star Trek and sci-fi generally; Galaxy Quest wasn’t a hit on initial release, and dropped on UK Netflix this weekend in time for a deliberately familiar voyage in space and time.
Back in 1999, fan-boy events like Comic-Con were on the rise, but Galaxy Quest’s take on an ancient trope fused the growing phenomena with an old-school narrative. Much like Bob Hope in Son of Paleface, or the sombrero-sporting protagonists of Three Amigos, there’s been plenty of fun made from the idea of ingénues mistaken for professionals; The Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai is specifically a springboard. So here we have the regulars of the Galaxy Quest tv show, anchor Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), comms-lag lady Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), pompous alien Dr Lazerus (Alan Rickman) and an unidentified spare wheel (Sam Rockwell) who are nothing but a bunch of washed-up thespians after their show has been cancelled. The group still have some relevance, to fans queuing up for autographs at conventions, but also to a group of real aliens who worship them. These aliens believe that the Galaxy Quest tv series is an artefact of a real space war, and that the crew can save their species from attack…
Rumours of reboots and remakes have followed in the wake of Galaxy Quest, tamped down after Rickman’s death, but the central idea here would work with any well-chosen cast; the expanded gag is that the alien civilisation have based their technologies around the old tv show, and so the cast can actually work all devices, but only with the help of the fan-boys who understand how the tech works. Galaxy Quest nails this idea, but also has a lot of fun with turning genre clichés inside out; the various alien creatures encountered all have an original spark, from the cannibal children to the rock monsters. And the cast clearly have fun with their roles; Allen parodies William Shatner’s clenched-teeth, often shirtless acting style, Weaver enjoys playing against type as an airhead, and Rickman plays a sardonic, slumming actor in a way that plays nicely off his own public image post Die Hard and Robin Hood.
Galaxy Quest maybe doesn’t have enough big laughs for classic status, but the concept is so well developed that it’s a crime not to mine this particular land any further. There’s so few good ideas around, and Galaxy Quest’s melding of a tired Hollywood with enthusiastic fandom seems more relevant every year. Streaming services looking to pick up an established, returnable idea should look no further; it’s been a long time coming, but fans of Galaxy Quest simply should not give up their dream; to quote their captain, Never Give Up! Never Surrender!