Alan Rickman died on this day, Jan. 14 in 2016. It came as a shock to a lot of people as he was suffering from pancreatic cancer. It had been diagnosed the previous August when he suffered a minor stroke. Despite the terminal illness, he didn’t tell many people. A month shy of his 70th birthday, it seemed he was gone too soon.
While many actors are skipping college and trying to break into Hollywood right out of high school, Rickman was 42 when Die Hard, his first movie role ever, came out. His portrayal of Hans Gruber is one of the best cinematic villains. When you consider he had never handled a firearm prior to the role, he looked like a pro as he used firearms in the movie. In actuality, he still flinched during filming even with blanks, and some good editing made it look like he was a grade-A terrorists.
Despite being cast in dramatic roles, Rickman had a dry sense of humor that was on display in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which made his role as Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest one of his most memorable roles. Alexander is a classically trained stage actor who unfortunately has been typecast as an alien humanoid Dr. Lazarus on the fictional sci-fi show Galaxy Quest. Two decades later he’s living in an cramped apartment in the bad neighborhood still thinking about the good acting roles he used to have.
Alexander is angry at his Quest co-star Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), a nice parody of William Shatner, who played Commander Peter Quincy Taggart on the show and is a fan favorite much to the co-stars’ chagrin. Even worse, he excludes them from other venues where he can hog all the attention. With most of them typecast, they’re forced to making money at fan conventions and reliving their Quest days.
As the movie opens, Jason is running late at a convention in the Los Angeles area as the fans are restless. Backstage, there’s Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver looking good for 50 which she was at the time) who plays Lt. Tawny Madison who plays a character with a big cleavage and her only role on the show was to repeat what the other characters said to the computer and what the computer responds. Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) played Tech Sgt. Chen and is constantly snacking on food. The movie makes a statement about “white-washing” as Shalhoub has Lebanese-ancestry but he’s playing characters with east-Asian names. Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) is a former child actor who played precocious Lt. Laredo, the main pilot on the show.
After Jason encourages Alexandar to come to stage by finally saying, “The show must go on,” the convention is the same as most fans flock to Jason who has his own table. Alexander has grown tired of all the fans coming up to him repeating his catchphrase “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged.”
When a young teenager, Brandon (Justin Long) and his friends approach Jason and ask him very technical questions of the show’s ship Protector and other scientific questions about the show, Jason excuses them and goes to the restroom. On the way there, he meets Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni), leader of the Thermians, and others who want to talk with him. Because of their space-age clothing and dark hair, Jason assumes they’re just fans cosplaying as a gig he had previously booked. But in the restroom, he overhears some young men criticizing him as a has-been and mocking everyone at the convention.
Later when confronted by Brandon and his friends, Jason yells at them because it was just a TV show and they’re asking questions that don’t mean anything. He then leaves abruptly and goes home to get drunk while watching old episodes. The next morning hungover, Mathesar and other Thermians, Laliari (Missi Pyle), Teb (Jed Rees) and Lahnk (Rainn Wilson) arrive at his house for what he thinks is a gig where he will play Commander Taggart in someone’s basement. Because he’s hungover, he doesn’t realize when the limo they leave in is zapped up into the spaceship.
Jason soon realizes the Thermians are the real deal when he’s taken to a bridge and sees Sarris (Robin Sachs) a general of a reptillian humanoid species that is out to destroy the Thermians, who have disguised their appearance to appear more human. They are in fact more like giant octopi. But still believing this is some fans with some good make-up and special effects, he orders the Thermians ship to fire on Sarris’ and then takes off looking for the limo he arrived in. But the Thermians send him back to Earth as his body is covered in a protective liquid substance and sent flying through light years of space back to his home.
Later Jason arrives at the convention and convinces his fellow actors including Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) who played one small role on a Quest episode before his character was killed off before the first commercial to join him. Jason literally bumps into Brandon again and they get a fake transponder mixed up with a real one the Thermians gave Jason. The other cast members are angry because Jason was missing at the opening of a store where they appeared in their costumes. But when Jason tries to get them to come with him as Laliari appears again needed them, they think Jason is talking about an acting job so they get interested. But they soon learn like Jason, it’s real as well as seeing the Thermians in their true form, even though they’re peaceful.
The Thermians, unfortunately, aren’t the brightest and have confused the episodes of the show with “historical documents” as their species can’t grasp the concept people would pretend to be something they’re not, which they see as lying. The Thermians are very friendly but their demeanor seems a little off. Because they’re octopi in form, they have a bounce shuffle walk in human form.
If this sounds somewhat familiar, it is a lot like Three Amigos in which a Mexican town confuses three movie actors as actually crime-fighting gunslingers. The difference is the actors know the Thermians think they’re the characters they portrayed but initially, they’re too modest to tell them they’re not as heroic. Tommy can’t fly the ship properly. Fred is expected to know everything about the ship but gets confused.
At the same time, Gwen seems to almost revert to her on-screen character as she is constantly repeating what the computer says. Alexander starts to continue his jealousy with Jason. And Guy realizes that since his character died early in an episode, he is the redshirt who will be easily killed. This leads to some funny moments when they have to go to a rock-like planet, a nod to all the sci-fi shows and movies filmed in the desert and American West as if they were on a foreign planet. They must retrieve a beryllium sphere for the ship but come across some miners, small blue humanoid creatures who look cute but are very violent. And Guy feels at any moment that he’ll be killed. Gwen even says they’ll attack and kill him.
Scream had just been released three years prior when Galaxy Quest was released in theaters, so the notion that audiences were starting to see tropes and cliches in movies was becoming more apparent. Trekkies, fans of Star Trek, were entering the American vernacular and even the cosplay when the Star Wars original trilogy was released was more embraced than mocked.
It would be easy to make a few quick jokes at the cosplay and fandom of sci-fi/fantasy movies and TV shows, but what’s the point in that? Mel Brooks once said you make fun of the movies you love. And Galaxy Quest seems on par with Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein. It’s still a sci-fi movie regardless of its tone. And the fact that the actors are considerate of the Thermians not to just tell them they’re “liars” but help them gives them movie a light heart.
Also, they end up having to communicate with Brandon and his friends for help when the inevitable show-down between the Thermians and Sarris and his people climaxes in the final act. Fans are important to TV shows and movies. If anything else, this is about actors realizing that even though they’re the stars of their shows or movies, it’s actually a group effort of actors and crew as well as the legion of fans who watch and enjoy their work.
Rickman does some of his best work as Alexander, who still can’t help be jealous of Jason, including one scene where Jason has to be left on the rock planet as he won’t fit with the sphere in the shuttle. This causes Alexander to chide him for his heroic efforts and even scream, “It’s always got to be about you!” as Jason is surrounded by the miners.
It’s well known now as well as in the 1990s how the Star Trek cast felt about Shatner and Alexander is obviously a reference to Leonard Nimoy and Dr. Spock. Nimoy even titled his autobiography I’m Not Spock and spent many years trying to shed the Spock typecasting and even went into film directing. It’s also come out more how much Harrison Ford didn’t care for the Han Solo roles in Star Wars, even though it was what made him a star.
Galaxy Quest was only a modest success when it was released making $90 million about twice as much as its budget of $45 million. Some criticism is that Dreamworks Pictures didn’t market it as well. I saw it when it was released and enjoyed it. I’ve watched it many years since and after Rickman’s death it’s a shame he didn’t get more comedic roles. He had a smaller role in the 1999 satire Dogma as Metatron, the Seraphim angel who was the voice of God. He was just as comfortable making us laugh and like many actors, it’s a shame to see him go, even when he was near 70, because he could’ve done so much more.
What makes Galaxy Quest so great is it doesn’t rely on cheap laughs. All the actors seem to play well off each other. This was the first film role for both Wilson and Long. And Rockwell stands out well. Colantoni and Rees as the Thermians know how to handle their roles with a charm. Allen and Weaver have great chemistry together in their scenes.
It’s been reported that during the “Chompers” scene, Weaver dropped the F-bomb that would’ve slapped the movie with an R-rating. And the joke actually got a good reaction from the test audiences, but they had to dub it anyway. I don’t know if it was the best move. I’m not for sure if one F-word would’ve done it but if Steven Spielberg can’t even get the MPAA to reconsider, then they had to do it.
Regardless, Galaxy Quest is a nice sci-fi comedy that you don’t have to be a fan of sci-fi to enjoy. It speaks to both fans of the genre as well as fans of comedy. It’s popularity since its release speaks volumes to how a movie about fandom became the subject of fandom itself.
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