This week in Sci-Fi Time Capsule, we are watching Galaxy Quest. This is a comedy sci-fi parody, with Star Trek (mainly the original series) firmly planted in its sights. It stars Santa Claus (Tim Allen), an alien exterminating astronaut (Sigourney Weaver), Monk (Tony Shalhoub), and Professor Snape (Alan Rickman). When it came out in theaters, I thought it looked like one of the stupidest movies ever, and I didn’t bother going to see it. My bad. My friends set me straight though, and I’m glad they did. I’d put this right up with Mystery Men in the pantheon of spoof movies that are actually funny (must have been a 90’s thing).
(WARNING: Spoilers begin below)
The cast of a nearly 20-year old sci-fi TV show (which totally isn’t Star Trek) are mistaken for actual space heroes. An alien race called the Thermians (from the Klaatu Nebula) has built their civilization around the “historical documents” broadcast from Earth, detailing their exploits. Those aliens turn to their heroes for help against a being called Sarris, who is intent on wiping them out.
The plot is pure cornball cheese, but that’s the point. This is a parody, and a brilliant one. It lampoons just about every Star Trek trope it can lay its hands on, from the redshirt extra tagging along, to the conventions packed with detail-obsessed fanboys. Stripped of its sci-fi trappings, it’s actually the same story as ¡Three Amigos! A bunch of actors get mistaken for the heroes they play on screen, and they have to become those heroes in order to prevail. Watch both movies back to back and the parallels would be sledgehammer-obvious, even down to the detail of the protagonist being inspired by his own fictional character’s speech about righteousness and protecting the weak.
Why is this a classic?
This is the definitive parody of the definitive sci-fi TV show. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and was named one of Reader’s Digest’s 100 funniest movies of all time.
Oh god, where to even begin? This is a movie that was written to be filled with quotable quips. You can’t swing a dead garnak without hitting one. It’s both part of the parody, as well as part of why it has such staying power.
Of course, I could keep going, but from “I know! You construct a weapon. Look around you – can you form some sort of rudimentary lathe?” (a reference to previous Sci-Fi Time Capsule episode “Arena” from Star Trek TOS) to “This episode was badly written!”, the writers’ tongues were firmly planted in cheek the whole way.
How it Holds Up
I’ve already mentioned that the plot was ¡Three Amigos! (the Spanish punctuation is part of the title, by the way), but reversing the premise gives us John Scalzi’s novel “Redshirts.” While Galaxy Quest is a Star Trek parody that looks at a real life actors realizing that their fictional world might be real, Redshirts takes a real starship crew and presents them with the idea that their world might be fictional (and badly written). The success of Redshitrs tells me that the hunger for good parody (and specifically of Star Trek) hasn’t died away. I think if Galaxy Quest came out in theaters tomorrow, it would be a top grossing film. I wouldn’t even modernize the special effects, since they play well to the source material.
Galaxy Quest is one of those movies you should rewatch once in a while. For a bit of dissonance, try to think that Severus Snape is playing Doctor Lazarus, instead of Alan Rickman.