I grew up in the nineties as a Star Trek fanatic (for the original series and the subsequent films with the original cast). I had toys of the Enterprise crew, I had the video tapes, and I had an inflatable Enterprise that was manufactured for displays to promote Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). I was, and am, a Trekkie. So when Galaxy Quest (1999) came out it felt like I was seeing my fantasy of somehow interacting with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy remotely in an effort to aid them on an adventure realized. It’s a film that, then and now, encapsulates the defining attributes of Star Trek fan culture. Galaxy Quest also happens to be pretty darn funny.
There are so many films about the pleasures and absurdities of the cinema. Galaxy Quest moves in the same space as that tradition but, like Pleasantville (1998), focuses upon television rather than film. What sets Galaxy Quest apart from the pack is that its narrative encompasses within its discourse a wider reach of the television/cinema experience. Most films about film struggle to accommodate more than one theme, let alone three. Galaxy Quest is as much an homage as it is a parody of the original Star Trek, addressing its fans, the episodes themselves and the drama behind the cameras. Fans will no doubt recognize accounts of convention shenanigans just as easily as they will be able to recall which specific episodes the writers are drawing upon for the science fiction sequences.
And so we have Tim Allen channeling William Shatner without falling into the trap of playing a caricature, Alan Rickman as Leonard Nimoy with a weird scalp as opposed to pointed ears, Tony Shalhoub who does a send up of Scotty by giving a performance that’s antithetical to the Scotty character, Daryl Mitchell taking on Chekhov duty by stressing the impracticality of having someone so young at the helm, Sam Rockwell as the “red shirt” gone neurotic and Sigourney Weaver who manages to capture all of the shortcomings of Star Trek and how it handled its female characters without actually repeating those mistakes. It’s a strange cast at first, but they are so good you can’t imagine anyone else in these parts.
There’s something Joe Dante-esque about Robert Gordon and David Howard’s premise of aliens watching a Star Trek type of show and mistaking it for a historical record. Once these aliens abduct our stars to aid them in their fight for freedom on a ship designed after the one on the show the film takes a subversive turn that nonetheless still finds time to get caught up in the wonder of a program like Star Trek. Galaxy Quest never makes fun of Star Trek it simply has fun playing with the formula.