Friday, 19 September 2014

Questerians* of the Galaxy

By Grabthar's Hammer, never mind Marvel - 15 years ago another unlikely, squabbling team saved the galaxy with wit, astounding visual effects and a prolific science fiction actress on board.

(*fan of fictional science fiction series Galaxy Quest)

Marvel films continued their seemingly unassailable multi-squillion dollar grip on the box office this year with an adaptation of a title even most comic fans hadn't heard of. Astute use of a retro soundtrack and a wise-cracking raccoon has made Guardians of the Galaxy yet another hit for Stan Lee's Empire.
It was fun, but as memories of exactly what I saw, and in what order, fade, I found myself buying a recently-released Blu Ray of another film which once delivered that most rare of events - a genuine, laugh-out-loud great time at the movies.  "Oh, Galaxy Quest", said the assistant as I handed over my money, "we had a real rush on these when the Blu Ray came out!"
Obviously others were caught up in the same flood of nostalgia that I was, but this was a film I saw one-and-a-half decades ago. And to be honest, hasn't really been talked about since. What if my memory was not only deceiving me, but going back proved to be such a disappointing experience that my happy remembrance would be blown to tiny pieces by a blast of cold hard reality?
Well, if my definition of courage has become daring to put on a movie then I'm in a worse state than I thought.  "Never give up, never surrender" as the crew of the NSEA Protector would have it; so the play button was duly punched.

The NTE in the Protector's designation apparently stands for 'Not The Enterprise'
I'm delighted to report that Galaxy Quest's alchemical combination of spoof and homage is still gold. The funny parts are still hilarious and the performances still walk that perfect knife-edge between conviction and parody - resulting in a crew you'd far rather hang with than most of those uptight Star Fleet guys (even if Tim Allen and Co would inevitably get you killed). And the Production values, well they're somehow better than I remember.  And this scares me a little, as it suggests that the last gasp of traditional miniature and optical effects work in the late nineties puts our contemporary CGI-soaked cinema to shame. But let's not follow that flippant tangent, there is so much more to this film than how good it looks.

Dream Weaver: Sigourney finally gets a flattering film hairstyle.
The cast is both eminent and perfectly suited to their roles, from a beautifully blonde Sigourney Weaver, to the initially aloof Alan Rickman whose character(s) somehow emerge with some shreds of dignity surviving. Sam Rockwell was a welcome bonus - I'd completely forgotten he was in this, but my personal favourite is Tony Shaloub. A baffling performance which seems to be operating on a subtly-deranged, disconnected level all of its own - but it completely works. His delightfully un-phased murmur after the experiencing the nerve-shattering matter transporter which leaves the rest of the crew twitching, traumatised wrecks: "that was a hell of a thing..." sums him up perfectly.

But another of Galaxy Quest's achievements is that despite a large cast, every character has his or her moment to shine. One of Sigourney Weaver's involves an instance of the most obvious over-dubbing of the 'F-bomb' in film history, which has become rightfully legendary.

The conceit of the film is well known: the cast of a defunct science fiction television series unwittingly recruited by a beseiged alien race who believe the episodes to be true accounts and the actors capable of saving them. And this means that we get to enjoy Galaxy Quest's cast in what are essentially double roles: their on and off-screen personas which shift and merge in fun ways as the story progresses.

Alan Rickman, as Alexander Dane, as 'Dr Lazarus'.
No wonder the cast almost unanimously claim on the disc extras that this to be the most fun they've ever had on a film (even Alan Rickman in what must be a rare instance of giving an interview), and it has to be said that it shows in the final result.  Tim Allen self-deprecatingly claims that Galaxy Quest is his salvation - possibly the only thing he's done which people like him in.
The Star Trek allusions are multitudinous, multi-layered but never laboured and not essential to the enjoyment of the film.  I love the fact that in a commentary for his wonderful Star Trek revival, JJ Abrams calls Galaxy Quest " of the best Star Trek films ever made".  Trekkies themselves have rated Quest above some of the genuine Trek films in order of preference.

Why a film which amply succeeds on so many levels isn't better remembered and celebrated is something of a mystery, but certainly not due to any fault of it's own which I can detect. But perhaps it's appropriate: like the imaginary television programme it depicts, Galaxy Quest has a cult following, and that makes it even more fun.

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