Paramount // 1999 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // November 17th, 2009
The show has been cancelled...but the adventure is just beginning!
On the same day that J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot of Star Trek hits DVD and Blu-ray, the 1999 Trek-inspired spoof Galaxy Quest also makes it debut on Blu-ray. Can you think of a better double feature?
The cast of the long-cancelled '80s sci-fi TV series Galaxy Quest has got a problem, and it's not the fact that their lives are now devoted to autograph signings and supermarket ribbon cuttings. No, it seems a race of aliens has misinterpreted reruns of the TV show for actual historical documents and recruits the group of actors to help save their race. Now, the fate of an extraterrestrial civilization lays in the hands of the washed-up Galaxy Quest cast: Commander Peter Quincy Taggert, played by Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen, Wild Hogs); half-alien Dr. Lazarus, played by classically-trained British actor Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman, Die Hard); Lt. Tawny Madison, played by sexy blonde Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver, Imaginary Heroes), perpetually-mellow Tech Sgt. Chen, played by Fred Kwan (Tony Shaloub, Big Night) and whiz-kid Laredo, played by the grown-up Tommy Webber (Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, 10 Things I Hate About You).
On the making-of featurette that accompanies this new 10th anniversary Blu-ray of the 1999 comedy, filmmaker Nicholas Meyer (director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) summarizes what makes the movie work in a nutshell: he describes it as a "have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too movie." He's exactly right; Galaxy Quest is one of the few spoofs that's able to poke fun at its source while still functioning perfectly within the genre it's goofing on (Scream also comes to mind, but not many others). It's a movie that can be embraced by everyone: those who laugh at the cult of Star Trek and those who love it.
While savvy viewers may recognize the basic premise of Galaxy Quest (also worked out in Three Amigos! and Tropic Thunder), it's Robert Gordon's incredibly clever script that gives the films its more lasting nuances. The movie knows the ins and outs of Star Trek and sci-fi conventions, but never stops to pat itself on the back or call attention to the details it's getting right -- it assumes you're just as smart and literate as the film. I like the small touches, such as the room built entirely out of automated "mashers" that serves no purpose other than that one existed on the TV show (it leads to one of the film's biggest laughs, courtesy of Sigourney Weaver). I also really like the way that the dynamic of the cast instantly informs their dynamic when they're forced to become an actual spaceship crew; Tim Allen becomes the default leader because he was the leader on the show. It's a small touch -- commented on at one point by Rickman's character -- but I think it speaks volumes about the way we can easily fall into prescribed roles without questioning the reasons why. It may not be what the makers of Galaxy Quest were going for, but it's always nice when a goofy comedy can take on deeper meaning.
What really sells Galaxy Quest is the performances. All the actors commit to their roles, playing their parts absolutely straight and never winking at the audience. It's too easy to imagine this same film with a different cast, played all too broadly and destroying the comedy. Thankfully, the group in Galaxy Quest is first-rate: Tim Allen is pretty much the perfect person to play the Shatner stand-in Jason Nesmith, largely because his TV background and a history of mugging in terrible "family" films leaves the actor on the same page as his character, credibility-wise. It's one of those rare instances where typecasting pays off, and the baggage Allen brings to the role only helps enhance his performance; even Allen admits (in the special features) that the large number of people who hate him and his films can all agree that Galaxy Quest is the only good thing he's ever done. He's helped out immeasurably by Alan Rickman as the put upon Alexander Dane, who could just as easily be seen as slumming underneath his rubber alien appliances as his classically trained alter ego. Sigourney Weaver is clearly relishing the chance to actually have fun in a sci-fi film (usually, she's beating off acid-spitting beasties in a giant mechanical loader), scoring a number of big laughs. The rest of the cast is made up of actors competing for who's going to steal the scene they're in: Tony Shaloub creates something hysterical out of nothing, while Sam Rockwell (as a crewmember determined he's going to die, because that's how it works on the TV show) manages to walk away with every scene that Justin Long (in his first role) isn't in.
For its 10th anniversary, Galaxy Quest is hitting the HD Blu-ray format with an MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1080p transfer that looks good but not great. The image retains its 2.35:1 theatrical ratio and shows a lot of fine detail and solid black levels throughout. For me, however, the colors felt slightly washed out; while the metallic silvers of the ship look very good, flesh tones and uniforms don't always pop the way they ought to and the image can sometimes feel a little flat as a result. It's still the best-looking Galaxy Quest we've had yet, but the excellence of many Blu-ray titles has set a high standard that this transfer can't quite live up to. The audio options run into the same problems, in that they're good but not quite what you want from a film this lively and fun. The Dolby TruHD track keeps the dialogue clear in the front channels while supplying some solid low end and a reasonable amount of dimensionality. Still, for a movie filled with space battles and other fun sequences, I have to confess I expected more. These are likely my own inflated expectations talking, as there's a good chance that viewers won't have any complaints about the technical aspects of the disc.
While the special features are mostly enjoyable, they're the same ones featured on the Deluxe Edition DVD -- there's nothing that's exclusive to Blu-ray. My favorite pieces were the two retrospective featurettes on the making of and the casting of the film, including insightful and often amusing comments from most of the participants (there's a sense that there may have been some division among the serious "actors" -- Rickman and Weaver -- and the rest of the cast, though everyone speaks highly of everyone else). A collection of deleted scenes and a "galactopedia" are decent but forgettable, and the Thermian-only (the alien language spoken in the movie) audio track is an amusing inclusion, though I defy anyone to last more than a few minutes listening to it. The joke wears off pretty quick. All of the special features are presented in standard definition with the exception of the original theatrical trailer, which is in 1080p.
While certainly not reference quality, there's little to complain about with this Blu-ray of Galaxy Quest. It's one of those movies that's not seen by everyone, but liked by everyone who's seen it. It stands alongside Ghostbusters and Men in Black as one of the best special-effects comedies of all time, and is essential viewing for any Star Trek fan. What a fun, clever film.
Review content copyright © 2009 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Alien Audio Track
* Theatrical Trailer