"By Grabthar's Hammer, by the sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged."
'Galaxy Quest' is the type of comedy that sneaks up on you. During its theatrical run in 1999, the film had the misfortune to be marketed as a typical Tim Allen slapstick farce. The trailers made it look like 'The Santa Clause' in outer space. That really undersells its charms, to both the actor's usual fans (who may not be so interested in science fiction) and to sci-fi fans (who might be put off by his presence in it and the tone of the ads). The movie therefore comes as a pleasant surprise. Over the years, its history has been marked by viewers claiming that they expected to hate it, only to be won over in the end. I know that I fell into that category the first time I saw it. In fact, between viewings, I'd pretty much forgotten just how funny the movie is.
The film is a pitch-perfect send-up of sci-fi TV shows and movies. Specifically, 'Star Trek' shows and movies. Allen plays Jason Nesmith, one-time star of a cheesy cult TV series that went off the air in 1982. In the years since, he and the cast of fellow washed-up actors (Alan Rickman as the bumpy-headed alien, Sigourney Weaver as the aging sexpot, Tony Shalhoub as the mildly-offensive racial stereotype, Daryl "Chill" Mitchell as the former annoying child star now grown up) have been wasting away in the convention circuit, signing autographs for geeky fans that continue to dress up in costume and demand answers to ridiculous plot holes in the old show. Their lives seem trapped in a dreary cycle of rejection, failure, and despair.
That all changes in a big way when a group of genuine space aliens from a planet with no concept of fiction arrive on Earth. These Thermians have been monitoring the transmission of "historical documents" from our planet, and now request assistance from the valiant crew of the NSEA Protector to help them deal with an evil grasshopper-like warlord called Sarris who wants to wipe them out. To prepare, they've studied every episode in depth and built an exact replica of the Protector spaceship – one that actually works. All they need is the heroic Capt. Peter Taggart (Nesmith's alter ego) to tell them what to do. Now, the band of has-beens will need to muster up the courage and conviction to become the people they've long pretended to be.
The genius of 'Galaxy Quest' is that it functions as both a cunning satire of all things science fiction and 'Trek' related, and yet also a loving tribute to them. The film's creators obviously love and respect the real 'Star Trek' and its fans, but aren't afraid to poke a little fun. The movie is filled with clever references and twists on such things as phasers, tricorders, transporters, communicators, shuttlecraft, warp drive, force fields, the universal translator, and assorted nonsense technobabble. The ship's bridge shakes when attacked. Alien planets naturally have Earth-like gravity and air. The daring captain will of course find excuse to tear off his shirt. When it comes down to it, even the show's fans will play an important role in the adventure.
Tim Allen is surprisingly well-cast as the cocky, vain, attention-hogging blowhard who must find the hero within after his confidence is shaken. Alan Rickman embodies defeated dignity as the classically-trained actor forever trapped in a role he hates. I don't generally think of Sigourney Weaver as "hot," but the actress really had it going on in this movie. She's sexy, smart, and knows how to deliver an exasperated one-liner. Also hilarious is Sam Rockwell as the anonymous random crewmember convinced that he's expendable and doomed to die horrifically. Backing them up are some very funny supporting actors such as Enrico Colantoni, Rainn Wilson, Missi Pyle, and Justin Long, many in early screen roles.
'Galaxy Quest' is a spoof, but also a legitimately funny and exciting story in its own right. The characters are well-developed, the dialogue is sharp, and the jokes consistently hit their targets with laser-like precision. You don't have to be a Trekkie to appreciate this comedy, though it certainly doesn't hurt.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Galaxy Quest' comes to Blu-ray from Paramount Home Entertainment. The studio has programmed one annoying trailer before the main menu. Once you get to it, the menu itself is utterly generic in appearance and seems to be directly recycled from the original DVD release.
The first thing to note about the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is that the movie's aspect ratio has been changed a bit since its theatrical release in 1999. Originally, the film started at a 4:3 ratio during the opening scene (footage from an episode of the fictional TV series), then expanded to 1.85:1 for all the scenes on Earth during the first 20 minutes, then expanded again to 2.40:1 once the action moved to outer space. Home video versions, including the Blu-ray, have bypassed the 1.85:1 stage. The opening scene remains in 4:3 (windowboxed in the center of the frame with black bars on all four sides), but the picture then expands directly to 2.40:1. (No footage from the movie has been removed. Rather, the Earthbound scenes have added picture information on the sides of the frame.)
There is no indication as to whether or not the film's director approved this change. He quite possibly may have. The experience of watching a 1.85:1 image windowboxed in the center of a 16:9 TV for 20 minutes is quite different than seeing it pillarboxed in the middle of a 2.40:1 cinema screen. If the director felt that this might be distracting or disorienting, he may have made a deliberate decision to jump directly to a standard 2.40:1 letterbox format, which home video viewers would already be familiar with. Then again, maybe someone at the studio made this decision without his approval. At the present time, I don't know what really happened.
In any case, if you didn't know about this change in advance, you almost certainly wouldn't think twice about it. The present configuration looks perfectly fine. The movie also has two or three lines of subtitled alien dialogue, and the subtitles are placed within the 2.40:1 movie image. As a result, the disc is safe for viewing on Constant Image Height projection screens.
In other respects, the Blu-ray transfer looks fairly good overall, if not quite great. The picture is reasonably sharp and detailed. The texture of the actors' costumes is visible in many scenes. However, it appears that a light coating of Digital Noise Reduction has been applied. This causes a little mushiness in facial features in some scenes and a slight smearing during motion in a few instances. Neither is a severe problem, but they may be noticeable on large screens.
The picture has a mild amount of film grain (despite the DNR). Colors are clean and accurate, if not necessarily eye-popping. The movie's photography is sometimes hazy, but that's not a transfer flaw.
Again, by and large, the disc looks pretty good. Could it be better? Perhaps, but what we have is a respectable presentation.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is also perfectly serviceable. The film's sound mix is restrained in its sonic excitement. Scenes on Earth have very little going on besides dialogue. Things pick up a bit in the outer space scenes, where some moderate bass action and surround activity kick in. Still, 'Galaxy Quest' is far from an auditory rollercoaster.
David Newman's score makes use of some brassy themes reminiscent of the later 'Star Trek' TV series. Fidelity across the board is crisp and clear, but rarely calls attention to itself.
In a couple of scenes, the actors can be seen quite visibly mouthing swear words that have been overdubbed with milder language. This was done during the original production in order to secure a PG rating, and is not the result of any later censorship.
'Galaxy Quest' was first released on DVD back in 2000 with a meager selection of bonus features. The title is now being re-released on both DVD and Blu-ray with a better assortment. Ironically, what little the first DVD did have has not made the transition.
The Blu-ray has only one exclusive feature, but it's a really good one.
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
The old DVD released back in 2000 had a 10-minute making-of featurette, some cast & crew bios, production notes, and a secret "Omega 13" gag that tied in with the movie. None are significant losses.
'Galaxy Quest' is an extremely fun movie that 'Star Trek' and sci-fi fans are sure to enjoy. The comedy has held up remarkably well over the decade since its release. The Blu-ray may not be a home run, but looks and sounds decent enough. It also has some fairly interesting bonus features, especially the hilarious Galactopedia trivia interface. The disc is highly recommended despite its minor issues.