All year long we’re taking a look back at some of the best, most memorable, or at least culturally significant movies from 1999. That was twenty years ago and it feels like last Thursday. Already in the series we’ve considered M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout hit: The Sixth Sense. It’s a horror-thriller that stands the test of time and works as a great movie that would have been great in any year of release. M. Night could have made this movie yesterday and he would have had a smash on his hands. He could have released it in 1989 and it would have been just as tremendous.
We then looked at Fight Club, a movie very different from The Sixth Sense. It was very much a product of its time and time has not been good to it. It’s obnoxious, pretentious, gritty but undramatic, and the twist at the end was flat compared to Shyamalan’s first big shocker. In March we reminisced about the bygone fun of The Mummy, a film that has certainly held up, precisely because it leaned heavily on the past and its Indiana Jones inspirations. Already we have a tremendously eclectic few movies. One modern-day thriller/horror, one gritty 90’s-esque macho-fantasy, and one 1920’s-set throwback.
In April, everything was thrown aside as we reflected on the revolutionary and genre-defining sci-fi feature, The Matrix. In May, we talked about the awesomeness that was Star Wars Episode I….’s teaser trailer, before lamenting in June how the masterful IRON GIANT fell through the cracks. In July we reflected on the seminal low-budget horror hit, The Blair Witch Project before taking a break in August to consider how culturally-defining the year of 1999 was in all aspects of entertainment. In September we looked back on just how timeless the dated setting of Office Space is, twenty years after release and last month we ruminated on the macabre thrills and fun of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
Galaxy Quest can be enjoyed if you’ve never watched an episode of Star Trek.
The movie’s premise is absurdly simple: Aliens mistake one of earth’s cheesy sci-fi shows for reality, and enlist the help of the actors (thinking they are really intergalactic heroes) to save their race.
If you’ve never seen a Star Trek hour, you can grasp the big picture idea, and enjoy the ride that follows, especially since the script is tight and punchy, loaded with great gags, visual and spoken. The film’s a riot and works as a comedy with sci-fi elements as opposed to a sci-fi movie that’s meant to be comedic. General audiences can enjoy it, and certainly did in 1999. The movie doubled its budget, raking in close to 100mm. That sounds like a paltry amount but at the time it was a strong showing, especially for a movie with an original premise.
All that being said, Galaxy Quest was meant to be seen by Trekkies.
The movie is an absolute love-letter to the franchise, which makes the initial reaction to the movie by many Trek stars interesting in hindsight. Patrick Stewart initially refused to see the film, believing it was making fun of Star Trek and particularity the franchise’s devout fanbase.
On the contrary, the movie is in love with both Trek and its fans.
The show itself is spoofed in everything from its tone, to its acting, even to its camera-angles. There are a hundred little things that a non-Trekkie would never notice, like the way Tim Allen leans to one side, stroking his chin as he thinks; the classic Kirk move, the way the cast loathes the star of the show (Allen’s Jason Nesmith), and especially the scene as the ship leaves the spacedock. The way the music swells and the camera slowly lingers on it is a direct homage to the same scene in the first Star Trek film. Of course, this being Galaxy Quest, the homage is filtered through a comedic lens, as the ship drifts to the left and scrapes the wall on the way out.
Star Trek fans, typically, are treated as the worst kind of nerds; the stereotypical virgin in their mother’s basement, overweight, playing World of Warcraft and arguing online about which one is better, Kirk or Picard, etc. It’s an unfair characterization (though that’s not to say there aren’t some who fit the bill). Galaxy Quest doesn’t pluck the low-hanging fruit, however; instead it makes the fans the true heroes in the film’s climax, using their knowledge of the show and fanatical devotion to it, as the linchpin for the heroes’ victory.
Far from being rejected by the sometimes-sensitive Trekkies, Galaxy Quest was embraced as a reminder of the humbler, cornier days of Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley and co. 1999 was the last year of Deep Space Nine. By that point, Trek had been on TV uninterrupted for twelve years and though it had pumped out many phenomenal hours of TV, it had lost a lot of the whimsical, wild-west charm that the Original Series was known for.
Galaxy Quest brought it back in a big way, and as a result fans adopted it whole-heartedly, and now regard it as an upper-tier quasi-Star Trek movie (2, 4, 6, 8, Galaxy Quest, 3, 1, 9, 5, 11, 13, 7, the rest). It’s witty, charming, adventurous, and above all, fun from beginning to end; just like Star Trek at its best.
And it’s still awesome, twenty-years later.