USA 1999, dir. Dean Parisot, stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman

GalaxyQuest is OK, but it could so easily have been a whole lot better. There’s a moment about two thirds of the way through that sums up what’s right and what’s wrong with the entire picture. To fill in the background – the story revolves around a group of washed-up actors (including Allen, Weaver and Rickman) who had their closest brush with fame around 15 years ago in very Star Trek-ish TV series, GalaxyQuest, but are now reduced to relying on personal appearances at fan conventions. During one such session they are contacted by the Thermians, a troupe of real-life aliens who received the original transmissions of the series and, having no concept of fiction, treated them as ‘historical documents,’ upon which they constructed an entire interplanetary culture. Through various plot machinations the actors end up joining the Thermians in their battle against the evil General Sarris and his warrior hordes, living out their roles for real, in an actual working spaceship built to the exact GalaxyQuest specifications.

At one point Allen and Weaver are hurrying through the bowels of their ship when they find their way blocked by a corridor full of huge metallic piston-type objects clanging together and serving no actual purpose except for the fact that they were once glimpsed in the background of an episode. Confronted with the necessity of negotiating the lethal “clanging, banging things,” Weaver recoils with a breezy “Fuck that!”. Well, that’s what her lips say. What comes out is a rather less impressive “Screw that!” GalaxyQuest, the movie, repeatedly falls short of realising its potential in exactly this way – if the film-makers had really gone for it, they could have had a campy comic classic on their hands, as opposed to the only fitfully entertaining, unevenly amusing finished product we’ve got instead. The problem seems to be that they never quite made their minds up who they were actually making the film for, resulting in unsatisfactory compromise between pleasing the kids and teenagers, and the adults; between keeping the Trekkies happy with playful satire and satisfying the rest of by really having a pop.

The actors certainly seem game for wilder high-jinks that the script offers. The film’s satire casts a wide net over a range of soft targets, taking in both the obsessive fans of cult sci-fi and its producers, scriptwriters and performers. At the wilder edge of the satire there’s an engaging deadpan giddiness epitomised by Tony Shalhoub – a one-of-a-kind comic performer who’s invariably the best thing about every movie he’s in (Barton Fink, Men In Black, Big Night.) He has his moments here, but it’s frustrating that he’s never given enough to do. The same comment applies to Weaver – she’s clearly having great fun in a more relaxed role than she’s usually offered. Resplendent in blonde wig and wonderbra (can she really be 50?) she makes the most of her role as a limited actress whose GalaxyQuest function was to provide superfluous paraphrases for the pronouncements of the ship’s omniscient computer.

Incidentally, legendary critic David Thomson must have felt a rare thrill of vindication when he saw this movie. Back in his 1993 Biographical Dictionary of Film he correctly spotted that “It is in her readiness to go to extremes – to be out of breath and control, unmade up, naked in a flop, or slumming in a silly hit – that Weaver is most herself.” Well, GalaxyQuest is, by Weaver’s standards, certainly silly, and it did make enough money in the US to qualify as a hit – although it took a while, as the various ad campaigns shared the film’s dithery uncertainty about the nature of its target audience. Although I did laugh pretty much all the way through, I also kept thinking that if they’d had the nerve to cranked up the silliness to warp-drive levels, the box office might have responded in kind to a quicker and greater degree. To do full justice to this type of material’s considerable potential you need an outrageous, odball sensibility behind the camera – a Paul Verhoeven or a Tim Burton. On this evidence, however, Dean Parisot is, more a join-the-dots kind of guy, a directorial black hole. Pity.

by Neil Young
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