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'Galaxy Quest' on Netflix: Sci-fi Comedy Done Right

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Jul 28, 2012 | 6:38am EDT

galaxy quest tim allenNeighbor watches have reasons to be vigilant: burglars, prowlers, unwanted solicitors, and people wantonly disregarding the parking restrictions. The one thing they don’t typically watch is the sky, which proves problematic for the heroes of Akiva Schaffer’s new film The Watch. Aliens invade their neighborhood and this hapless quartet discovers that out-of-this-world is way out of their league. The film recalls sci-fi comedies of the past few decades, including one of cinema’s most accomplished entires which is now on Netflix: 1999’s Galaxy Quest.

Why assign such lofty praise to Galaxy Quest? Why not instead feature the superior Ghostbusters or Back to the Future? T films are classics, and taken as a whole are indeed superior, but Galaxy Quest is the most balanced sci-fi comedy of the lot. The key to infusing comedy into any genre not typically known for it is to strike the right balance between both sides of the subgenre distinction. While Ghostbusters is hilarious, it’s far more a story about goofy entrepreneurs than it is about ghost hunting. In fact, its technological and fantasy elements are so overshadowed by the well-constructed jokes as to make dubious its classification as sci-fi in the first place. Back to the Future, on the other hand, is far stronger in terms of its science-fiction aesthetics and time-travel cautionary tale than it is a knee-slapping comedy.

Galaxy Quest finds the happy medium. The film weaves the tale of a group of actors who rose to great prominence many years ago with a sci-fi TV series called, as you might guess, Galaxy Quest. They achieved so much acclaim for the show that they’ve found it difficult to escape the gravitational pull of the series even long after its cancellation. Lead by a highly unreliable, but fan-adored “captain,” played by Tim Allen, the actors are suddenly whisked aboard a spaceship by a group of well-meaning extraterrestrials. These aliens have mistaken reruns of the show for Earth’s historical documents and seek the help of the intrepid crew to save their species from an evil tyrant. This time, it’s all very real.

In terms of comedy, Galaxy Quest begins with an incredibly clever foundation. The idea that aliens would mistake sci-fi television for documented history is an ingenious concept that is artfully and humorously mined in the execution. Also, the show Galaxy Quest could not possibly be more of a riff of Star Trek if it tried. The well-crafted nods to Star Trek series and its subsequent fandom—the conventions, the catchphrases, and even a character named “Guy” who died early in a single episode—keep the laughs coming at a steady pace and feels like genuine fan service as opposed to thoughtless lip service.

The cast of Galaxy Quest is a hodgepodge of varying comedy styles that combine into something truly special. Sigourney Weaver’s character dealing with being an aging sex symbol is delightfully meta, Tony Shaloub is at his likable, awkward best, and I absolutely defy you not to laugh when Alan Rickman says, “by Grabthar's hammer, what a savings.” galaxy quest berylliumEvery actor in this film is delivering gold. The whacky specificity of the Thermians, the principle alien race of the movie, is fantastic. Their odd cadence of speech, the absurd way in which they walk, and the bizarre human forms they take all culminate into a memorable alien race.

And here we arrive at the other side of Galaxy Quest’s greatness. Not only is it funny, but also it is quality sci-fi. The film delivers reverence toward Star Trek even while lampooning it, creating a rich, diverse universe of its own. Look at the makeup design of the sinister Sarris to see that there is far more craft invested in this film than one would expect from a studio comedy of any cross-pollination. The visuals utilized for the starship battles were outstanding, and the practical effects of the inside-out creature were like a wonderful cartoon version of Rob Bottin’s work.

Ultimately, the underlying conceit of Galaxy Quest services both its sci-fi and comedy personalities in equal measure. It’s about traversing through multiples planes of reality and uses space-age technology to question the notion of identity. Whether you’re laughing at washed-up actors dealing with a whole new facet of ill-gotten fame, or you’re contemplating the reality/fiction relationship of your favorite science-fiction story, Galaxy Quest is the ideal sci-fi comedy.

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[Photo Credit: Universal Pictures]

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