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Galaxy Quest Makes a Comeback in a Deluxe Edition DVD

Everyone loves a good comeback story, and the story here is really simple. Cheesy SciFi TV show airs and picks up a passionate fanbase. Cheesy SciFi TV show gets canceled and its cast seems doomed to spend the rest of their careers answering hokey questions from fans at conventions or opening supermarkets with their worn out catch phrases. That is until pacifist aliens with no concept of fiction mistake the actors for the characters and equipping them with real life versions of the weapons, gadgets and starship right off the show, recruit them to save their race.

Years before Tropic Thunder or Star Trek’s own comeback, Galaxy Quest was already there. It’s not Star Trek, though it could be, but with Star Trek itself making a big comeback at the box office, it’s long past time for Galaxy Quest to get its due. Ten years ago, while the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises were busy killing off the goodwill of their fans, Galaxy Quest appeared out of nowhere as a breath of fresh air bringing with it the energy and enthusiasm that mainstream Science Fiction movie franchises had lost along the way. Look back at Galaxy Quest and you can see the genesis of Star Trek’s revival, from the bright white eggshell sets, to the amazing diversity of aliens and that sense of awe, the “gosh factor” that kicks in when everyone from Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith on down actually sets foot inside a starship.

All of those things are part of why we watch Science Fiction movies in the first place, and Galaxy Quest brought them back into theaters, ten years before Star Trek did, backed by that mixture of uneasiness giving way to absolute enthusiasm that sums up what being a fan is all about. So it’s only fair that ten years later, Galaxy Quest is making its own comeback in a well deserved Deluxe DVD edition.

Though the concept of Galaxy Quest started life as a more explicit take off on Star Trek, as the creative process developed (ably chronicled on the DVD in The Story of Galaxy Quest) it came to take on a vivid life of its own, and while the performances of Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver or Sam Rockwell might remind you of famous Science Fiction characters and their portayers, they stand on their own as completely entertaining and believable characters on their own SciFi journey of faith.

Though this is a cast with some faces many will recognize, and others they won’t; no one actor steals the show. Instead they all come together with everyone getting their own moment. From Sam Rockwell’s comic nervousness, to Tony Shalhoub’s unearthly sleepy calm to Enrico Colantoni’s childishly enthusiastic adoration to Tim Allen’s bluff unrelenting confidence, this is a cast that really delivers.

And while Galaxy Quest is filled with inside jokes running across multiple Science Fiction shows and movies, the movie is easily enjoyable even without being able to get all that “inside baseball”, because it plays both as straightforward identifiable comedy and a heroic narrative, side by side. From the opening scenes, the cast know that what they’re doing is ridiculous, and so does the audience, and yet over the scope of the movie, the cast and the viewers come to believe in the ridiculous, and make that journey of faith with them.

“Never Give Up, Never Surrender” is the tagline of Galaxy Quest, both the fictional Galaxy Quest and the meta-fictional Galaxy Quest, holds by that belief. And what seems like a goofy slogan gets taken to heart as Jason Nesmith, Gwen DeMarco, Alexander Dane and Guy Fleegman find that Galaxy Quest is becoming real around them, thanks to the naive faith of a childlike alien race, of their fans and finally of themselves.

Galaxy Quest may have an alien planet, faster than light travel, a giant rockmonster, futuristic weapons and ships… but the story at the heart of it is a very human one, about believing in yourself.

The first time out in theaters, Galaxy Quest did a respectable amount of business and then faded away, the way cult classics usually do. Its comeback as a Deluxe Edition DVD gives anyone who never saw it a chance to discover it for the first time, and people who remember seeing it and enjoying it, a chance to get the full package. From the gorgeous holographic cover that just seems to shoot out at you, to the many extras and specials inside, the Deluxe Edition DVD feels like as much of a labor of love as the movie itself.

Though it has a healthy dose of parody and self-parody, Galaxy Quest also boasted groundbreaking visual effects and alien makeup for its time, with work from ILM and Stan Winston, that still hold up really well today. From the giant convention scenes to the gleaming interiors and exteriors of the NSEA Protector, to the Rockmonster smashing his way through or the near collision between the Protector and Earth, this is a movie that was meant to look good, not just feel good. Which means if you’ve been clinging to a dog eared VHS of Galaxy Quest like I have, it’s time to trade up to the Deluxe Edition.

The Galaxy Quest Deluxe Edition DVD’s specials such as “Never Give Up, Never Surrender: The Intrepid Crew of the NSEA Protector”, “Actors in Space” and “Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest” take you inside to show you just how much of a labor of love it really was. And there’s even an unbelievable bit with Sigourney Weaver rapping. And of course that’s not mentioning the deleted scenes and just the good feeling that comes from seeing an often overlooked SciFi classic get the treatment it deserves.

Galaxy Quest Blasts to the Stars

There’s a long history of fan fiction that plays with the idea of the actors on a Science Fiction show actually ending up in a real life Science Fiction situation, most notably Jean Lorrah’s “Visit to a Weird Planet.” “Galaxy Quest” is likely the only piece of fanfic to actually make it to film. Originally written by a “Star Trek” fan and intended to showcase the real life “Star Trek” cast, the script eventually evolved into a story about a Star Trek-like classic SciFi series, whose actors bear a certain amount of resemblance to the Original Series cast.

Like “Star Trek”, “Galaxy Quest” is a canceled classic network series that became a cult classic in reruns. (Galaxy Quest was canceled at the end of its second season. “Star Trek” was nearly canceled at the end of its second season, but survived to continue in a disastrous third season on Friday nights sans creator Gene Roddenberry, before being canceled.) Like the Star Trek cast, its actors have become sufficiently identified with the roles they played, as to seriously damage their ability to find other work.

Star Trek relaunched with a new motion picture. So does “Galaxy Quest”, but it’s a motion picture inspired by a “real life” adventure that begins when a naive race of aliens which has modeled itself on the television broadcasts of “Galaxy Quest” reruns seeking aid from the actors. The idea of an alien race picking up fictional material from humanity to reshape their own societies has been done quite often. The original “Star Trek” series itself featured an episode titled “A Piece of the Action” that had an alien race transform itself into a gangster culture (Al Capone not Snoop Dogg) based on a book carelessly left behind. This proceeds from the idea that our concept of fiction might itself be foreign to an alien race.

The Thermians on “Galaxy Quest” follow this model, having no other way to comprehend fiction, except as lies. In that way the Thermians become the diametrical opposites of the society that rejected the fiction of “Galaxy Quest.” Where the mundane approach is that fiction is worthless because it is unreal and believe nothing, the Thermian approach is to believe everything.

“Galaxy Quest” begins and ends with a Science Fiction convention filled with fans whose devotion to the show is gently mocked. The Thermians are the ultimate fans. If the faith of the fans occasionally wavers, as when passionate fan Brandon (Justin Long) is temporarily shaken by Jason Nesmith’s (Tim Allen) rant that the show is not real, the faith of the Thermians never wavers. Being human, the fans believe in the show as an act of faith. The Thermians naturally believe, because faith is innate to them. Throughout the movie the actors are called upon to prove worthy of that faith by saving the Thermians, to be in turned saved by their fans, led by Brandon, who provide crucial technical information and even landing directions for the returning NSEA Protector.

“Galaxy Quest” is essentially a story of faith packaged as an action movie. Much like the two upcoming Star Wars fan movies, “1977” and “Fanboys”, “Galaxy Quest” spoofs the devotion to a SciFi movie or TV show, even while affirming it.

Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith is part William Shatner and part every TV leading man whose time has come and gone, but still can’t let go of his glory days. Ultimately he learns the same lesson that Shatner did, that a Captain is nothing without his crew.

Tim Allen channels not just Shatner’s arrogance but his boundless self-confidence, the energy and focus that causes Shatner to be parodied endlessly. A good deal of the ribbing aimed at Shatner comes about precisely because he is so serious about himself, that it becomes funny. The popular clip of Shatner interpreting Elton John’s “Rocket Man” comes about because with the seriousness of an actor who spends a lot of time breaking down the most trivial things in terms of his studies in acting, Shatner interpreted the artistic “ideas” of a silly pop song in terms of ego, superego and id. That is also why Shatner never quite understands the parodies of himself. Allen thankfully avoids any all too obvious vocal Shatner parody, instead he captures the sense of faith that underlies an actor, who in believing in his own performance, believes in himself. Unlike the rest of the crew, Nesmith does not need to learn to beleive. He needs to learn a sense of proportion and to believe in others besides himself.

Alan Rickman lends dignity to Alexander Dane, echoing Leonard Nimoy’s discomfort with being typecast as a SciFi character, who comes to realize the effect his performance which he has held in contempt, has had on the character of his fans. Rickman is best remembered for his turn in “Die Hard” as Hans Gruber, here he manages to convey the petty arrogance and condescension which he infuses into his villains, and yet allow such a man to grow and learn, as Dane does throughout the course of the movie.

Sigourney Weaver brings style and life to a character that could have easily fallen by the wayside, just as her fictional counterpart did on the screen. Weaver’s Gwen DeMarco isn’t well written, but she is well acted. Weaver is one of those few actresses who can easily dominate a scene no matter what she is wearing or what her character is, and she duplicates that feat here as well.

Tony Shalhoub’s Tech Sergeant Kwan is the weak point of the movie. Besides wondering why an Asian actor was not cast in an Asian part, Shalhoub’s performance is weird, but not particularly entertainingly so. Another actor might have made it work, but he does not.

The always excellent Enrico Colantoni turns in a stand out performance as Mathesar, the leader of the Thermians. Full of naive goodness and yet vulnerable and capable of being hurt, Matlhesar is the alien as a child writ large.

Daryl Mitchell isn’t as irritating as he usually is, though his role is yet another minstrel show of cheesy racial stereotypes. Sam Rockwell overplays his part, but that’s almost expected in a character who was killed off and is desperate for the spotlight. Justin Long plays pretty much the same part he plays everywhere else and isn’t nearly as irritating as he is in the Apple commercials. Also look for Rainn Wilson, The Office’s Dwight Schrute in a small part as one of the Thermians.

What is particularly startling about “Galaxy Quest” is how much better of a movie it is, than all of the “Star Trek The Next Generation” cinematic features combined. With the Star Trek franchise, that “Galaxy Quest” is based on, in severe decline. Perhaps it’s time for Paramount to look back to “Galaxy Quest” in order to recapture the Star Trek spirit.

Star Trek Voyager: Muse review

Voyager in Love

Muse, the latest episode in Voyager’s sixth season deconstruction craze goes where no officially sanctioned Trek series has gone before, star trek voyager musefanfic. While, admittedly Voyager has addressed fanfic before in episodes like Worst Case Scenario and Pathfinder, Muse stands for now as the most explicit exploration of fanfic. The issue for Paramount is a lot less controversial these days what with Simon and Schuster having issued several volumes of fanfic through the New Worlds series and the Internet bringing fans and producers a lot closer than the latter might like. Still the general attitude remains one of amused condescension and while Muse doesn’t entirely get over that like Galaxy Quest it also takes a fonder and more idealistic view of fan interpretations of Voyager while taking the time to rebut some persistent fan requests.

First of all Muse has to get points for cleverness in that it dodges all of the obvious possible scenarios for spoofing fanfic that would have made it seem like little more than a ripoff of Galaxy Quest. Instead it heads straight for the Oscar winner, Shakespeare in Love, and borrows the basic scenario thereby turning Shakespeare into a fanfic writer and Voyager into a subject of his plays. This is a move that ranges somewhere between gutsy and clueless and on paper sounds like a horrible star trek voyager muse idea. Yet Voyager has had any number of episodes that sounded good on paper and ended up being horribly executed. In a turn of fate, this season Voyager has had some strong successes with episode like Tinker Tailor or the narrative of the Borg children that sounded like horrible ideas on paper but worked very well on screen. The difference lie in execution and Muse is nearly perfectly executed so that the comic and dramatic aspects melt together and the result is an enjoyable episode.

Joe Mensoky is one of Voyager’s better writers and he produces an amusing script with lots of in-jokes and references and navel gazing that never subtracts from the story and in a few touches conveys a neat pseudo-Elizabethan yet appropriately alien culture. The direction transforms the wrecked Delta flyer into a vast dark cave with far more presence and heft than Voyager itself while Dawson unencumbered by yet more doomed attempts at developing her “background and heritage” is simply given the chance to respond to the situation as a person and does a wonderful job.

The only real problem comes once again with the fact that these deconstruction episodes suggest that there is something about Voyager to deconstruct which is a somewhat questionable premise. Voyager is certainly nearing the end of its run but it doesn’t really seem as if there’s that much content to the show or if that much has been accomplished. Muse tries to overcome this by contrasting naive fanfic ideas with “deep dark” scenes of the Voyager regulars but even with this setting those scenes don’t really amount to very much. They’re touching, but all this is elementary material that’s been on the ground since the first season. And the question has to be asked, if there really is this wealth of character relationships in the Voyager crew to mine, why indeed aren’t they mining them instead of doing deconstruction episodes like this that don’t really feature the crew itself?

Muse’s plot in part provides the answer in that it is less a deconstruction of Voyager than of an average Star Trek episode circa TNG. There’s the standard equipment failure-driven episode, the resolution of which requires some equipment repair, a search by the mother ship driven by worry and concern, and eventually a happy reunion. We know this plot so well we can recite it in our sleep. Muse in turn tries to break down the elements of the episode by effectively having a crossover with a bard and an alien culture so that rather than seeing the standard cliched plot, we see it anew, refracted through their eyes with emphasis on them rather than on the standard plot elements. Like Galaxy Quest, Muse uses projected fan enthusiasm to enliven the material and make it seem fresh and exciting. Unlike Galaxy Quest, Muse puts its focus ultimately on the ideals behind Star Trek rather than the cheese.

In this context it is important to note that Muse’s beginning and end take place not on Voyager or even the wrecked Delta Flyer but on the stage version of Voyager. It is not any of the Voyager crew or even B’Elanna who are the main characters of this episodstar trek voyager musee but the aliens. And it is one of Muse’s neatest tricks in that it manages to make the aliens seem accessible, normal while it is the Voyager crew who seem unreal and strange. By making the story be about the story of Voyager, the Voyager crew come to seem more like characters in a story while the aliens seem all-together plausible despite the complete lack of decent sets or even alien makeup. Menosky’s script creates the alien culture as a somewhat pseudo-Elizabethan with mixed bits of ancient Greece while using references like “Winter’s Tears” and the story of the altar to skillfully suggest a much more complex culture behind the scenes.

When the bard discovers B’Elanna he takes her for an Eternal, which seems to be some local variation on the Olympian gods. The idea of Starfleet officers appearing as gods is not new but fortunately the aliens of Muse don’t put that much worship into their idea of Eternals and seem to see them merely as somewhat more powerful beings, but not so in a religious sense. While the bard attempts to pump her for material for his latest play, B’Elanna fairly, coldly, and casually uses him to gain supplies, including an episode that puts his life at risk. This isn’t the behavior of a Starfleet officer but she isn’t a Starfleet officer; she’s a Maquis serving on a Starfleet vessel. The Torres character is meant to be harder and darker than the average Starfleet officer and while this often shows up, here it plays quite nicely. Lt. Torres violates the Prime Directive numerous times in this episode and doesn’t subscribe to a particularly high ethical standard, acting as she thinks is necessary. The result is that she seems a lot more human than when she’s acting in cliched, frustrated, half-Klingon fashion. On Voyager she’s a special category of alien with her own cliched role to play while here she’s a person among other people.

B’Elanna’s stories to the bard reproduce the basic Voyager outline but all set on the sea and with the planets as islands and the Borg as a warrior race. What he does with the source material of the Star Trek universe is to churn out fairly crude approximations of the Voyager crew who enthrall to juvenile fanfic ideas about drama, mostly spend time romancing each other. This gives the producers a chance to rebut fan demands beginning with the demands for various kinds of relationships or more time spent on relationships. The core of it seems to consist of saying that relationships are stupid and there are higher forms of drama out there. Admittedly too, many relationships and weddings turn a show easily into a soap opera, but still it’s not much of a response. The rebuttal to that element of fandom which wants a Janeway/Chakotay relationship is to emphasize how deep and trusting their relationship is already so that romance would only ruin it. This would be slightly more plausible if every major crisis didn’t seem to involve a snit between the two of them in which Janeway makes it clear that she thinks that Chakotay should have exactly as much autonomy as a poodle.

Having exploited the bard in pursuit of repairing the transmitter, B’Elanna finally exhausts her resources (and his) and goes “into town” to see the rehearsals. This introduces us to the rules of drama, the in-jokes that will drive the rest of the plot. Just as Star Trek was driven by the ideals of having a part in creating a better world, the bard also wants to use his play to cause his ruler to seek peace instead of war. Soon enough he hits on the idea of using the Star Trek source material to compose a fairly simple moral tale about violence not solving anything that strongly resembles a number of TOS and TNG episodes. This elevates his work from fanfic character smooching to using Star Trek to spread constructive ideas about the world, which brings him to doing art instead of soap opera and justifies Torres’s title as the Muse who inspires art.

Back at the Delta Flyer, in a humorous jab at the standard plot cliches, Torres’s troubles with the transmitter turn out to be completely star trek voyager muse pointless because Harry Kim was here all along with a transmitter in his pocket. But now Torres has become caught up in the story and arrives at the play just as the bard struggles with his lack of an ending. Here the discovery that Torres is an Eternal combined with the sudden reversal comes into the equation. Finally Torres departs in a blaze of light with a tear trickling down her cheek which makes you wonder if that’s supposed to be Torres the person or Torres the actress playing a part on the stage. Or perhaps at this point there really is no distinction. What matters is not Torres herself but how the audience sees her and what the audience takes away from the play they have just seen. As the final words are recited and the real audience and the stage audience come together on the closing words describing a peaceful world where “hatred has no home.” This as much as anything else is the vision of Star Trek and you realize with a jolt that the possibility of its realization is as alien to us as it is to the aliens applauding. Despite the vast cultural and technological gap between them and us, neither of us is anywhere close; but what brings both the fictional and the real audience of Trek together is that we are both reaching for what is beyond us. Like Galaxy Quest, Muse ends on a hopeful note of belief in redemption through idealism, the idealism of its fans.

This is Muse’s theme and its focus on the way the audience refracts the material presented to it. Unlike Shakespeare in Love which focuses on the idea of actors playing parts and the joy of the theater, Muse focuses on the actual product and the creative process. The key difference between Shakespeare and Star Trek in this context (beyond many of the obvious differences) is that Star Trek seems to inspire people to duplicate it in some way whether that involves collecting merchandise, reading books or writing fanfic. Muse makes the distinction though between trying to duplicate the source material, namely the starships and the adventures and the weird aliens, as opposed to trying duplicate the ideas behind the source material. The bard’s progress comes when he learns to see past the setting and to placing ideas within that setting. Similarly what the writers may be trying to say in their own defense is that what matters about Voyager isn’t the settings or the relationships or the plot resolutions but the meanings and ideas behind it. This is likely to be a tough sell to fans.

Still the writers have made one point pretty clearly, whether intentionally or not. As bad as any present or future series might be, it’s still better than fanfic.

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