Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!
In a galaxy far, far, far away, a peaceful and slightly naïve alien cephalopod community is under attack by a cruel imperialist army of crustaceous insect people. Their response is to utilise what they take to be documentary footage of a spaceship, peopled by a human crew, which can evidently protect its inhabitants and travel throughout the universe. From these “historical documents” they replicate this spaceship including all of its technology, regardless of whether they completely understand its exact use, and use it to flee their aggressors. When the threat becomes ever more extreme and their numbers dwindle, they decide on a radical plan. They will find the original crew of the human-populated spaceship from the actual historical documentation, and plead for their help.
Unfortunately, the “historical documents” turn out to be a cheesy TV show from planet earth called Galaxy Quest, its plywood spaceship peopled by actors rather than a bold crew of explorers.
The 1999 film Galaxy Quest is an endearing spoof of cheesy Star Trek-like TV shows. It stars an acerbic Sir Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman) (“I played Richard III. There were five curtain calls. I was an actor once, damn it. Now look at me.”), Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) (“My TV Guide interview was six paragraphs about my BOOBS and how they fit into my suit. No one bothered to ask me what I do on the show.”). Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell), cast as the child prodigy on the show, is no longer a child, and Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) may or may not be quietly losing it. Despite their decline from prime-time television to dodgy promotional events, their fans still love them. Dressed to the nines in full costume and make-up, they flock towards science fiction conventions to see their heroes and ask them very detailed questions about the now rather dated show. Jason Nesbit (Tim Allen) is the actor who plays Captain Peter Quincey Taggart. Crucially for the story, this make-believe “captain” loves being The Captain. It’s his favourite place to be. So when he realizes the alien petitioners are, in fact, actual aliens rather than fans in costumes, he decides to give the rescue mission a go. As this vessel was built to be an exact duplicate of the television spaceship (named “NTE” or “Not The Enterprise”), all they need to do to operate it is to simply replicate their exact actions on the show. Only now their very lives, as well as the survival of what remains of the gentle, now fugitive, race, hang in the balance.
There is such a lot to love in this comedy. The imaginative special effects of Industrial Light & Magic, alien character design by Stan Winston, the stellar cast and the oddball dialogue, which is at times surprisingly touching and often hilarious. And of course the endless quotability. Ironically it winks at a fandom that the film can now, genuinely, also call its own. It is tempting to speculate about what this satire almost became. The brilliant Harold Ramis was involved as director before he abandoned ship. For the lead, the versatile and utterly hilarious Kevin Kline was considered, and even Robin Williams was tapped. What kind of comedy would we have ended up with, had other stars graced it? Another Spaceballs? As it is, it makes for an effective audience-pleaser, and while it could perhaps have been sharper, it benefits from never feeling mean-spirited. It is a bona fide love letter to the same sci-fi fans it affectionately ribs: and the real bite (or rather ‘splat’) is always directed at the bullies of the piece.
What makes Galaxy Quest such a success, and what gives it its longevity, is its fondness for these fandoms. No matter how quaint. As the movie points out, schticks like Shatner’s “Get a Life” skit dismissing fans as rather pathetic are, apart from rather hypocritical, also simply wrong. As fans have united through the internet to celebrate their favourite fictional worlds and characters, it is surely they who keep these franchises alive: hardly the other way around. How fitting, then, that in this particular story the fans are ultimately the ones who take out the trash and save the day!