Thursday, April 24, 2014

Galaxy Quest


It's been an exhausting few weeks. I have been running from pillar to post looking for fresh new talent to appear on my new reality television show, American Idyll. We think we have a surefire concept - audition girls between the ages of four and eight, take the best and have them come live with me at Chateau Maine so I can teach them to be a truly great star and then introduce America to a Shirley Temple for the new millennium. I just know it's going to be a ratings winner. Just look at how America fell for little Jon Benet Ramsay.

Last week, we had an open audition call here in Los Angeles at the Staples center. We were absolutely mobbed by thousands of little girls, many of whom were absolutely worthy of inclusion. I was not quite so prepared for several thousand obnoxiously pushy stage mothers. I have played Mama Rose in Gypsy three times, most triumphantly at the Wichita Light Opera, but nothing quite prepared me for this pack of hyenas. The worst of the bunch belonged to Mrs. Tuttle's tapping tots who arrived from Utah in several chartered busses. After frisking the children for incendiary devices (having learned from past mistakes), we allowed them to do a charming little routine to a Celine Dion recording of Who Let the Dogs Out. It took a phalanx of rent a cops, however, to hold back the mothers, led by Mrs. Tuttle herself, from rushing the judges table. Debbie Reynolds and June Allyson, who are helping me pick the finalists, were both frightened out of their wits and poor June had to be excused rather quickly to replace her padding.

I was absolutely tuckered out by the end of the day and had just strength enough to pour myself into my limousine and get back to Chateau Maine where I collapsed in the home theater with a film. I decided to watch a film which might give me a little more insight into the wacky world of television and settled upon Galaxy Quest, the 1999 comedy starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman, a sort of behind the scenes look at a cult science fiction television series, twenty years later.

As the film opens, we meet the cast of Galaxy Quest, a somewhat cheesy 70s space opera, very reminiscent of Star Trek with a rabid cult following. The cast, trapped by their roles, make their living appearing at low budget events like the opening of appliance stores and fan conventions. They include Jason Nesmith in the role of Commander Taggart (Tim Allen), the dashing resourceful hero; Gwen DeMarco in the role of sexpot Lieutenant Tawny Madison (Sigourney Weaver in a rather improbably blonde wig and push-up bra); Alexander Dane as Dr. Lazarus, the scientific alien (Alan Rickman with some sort of tropical fish glued to his head); Fred Kwan as the Engineer Chen (Tony Shaloub whose casting as an 'Asian' points out the cheesiness of the show) and a couple of others.

Jason who has always loved being the center of rabid fan adoration, is starting to have doubts about what he's been doing with his life. Just as it seems that the cast are about to squabble their way to oblivion, there is a strange turn of events. A real race of extra-terrestrial aliens, the Thermians, appear on the scene appealing for help. The Thermians, sort of psychedelic octopi who generate the appearance of Italian mimes for human interaction, have advanced technology but no common sense. They have intercepted the television signals from the old TV show, mistaken them for historical documents, and decided that the Galaxy Quest cast are the perfect people to come save them from a marauding interstellar band of evildoers. To do this, they have created the spaceship from the television show, based solely on the photography and, guess what, it really works. Soon the cast have been beamed aboard and these out of work actors have to really inhabit their roles and try to save the outgunned Thermians. As this is a comedy, as one might expect, everything works out all right in the end.

The concept of the film, actors forced to really inhabit fantastical roles, is one ripe for satirical comedy. The writers (David Howard and Robert Gordon) take on a few of the more tired tropes of the space opera genre but never really get at the heart of why we love these shows or why they become such cult favorites. They pull too many of their punches to allow the film to become more than a divertissement. The easy targets such as bad dialogue, conventional plotting, and besotted fans are all treated perfunctorily and dismissed. There are occasional flashes of wit (such as the only people with a true understanding of the ship's operation being a group of Trekkie type teens back on earth), but the majority of the jokes are obvious and telegraphed well in advance.

The saving grace is the strength of the supporting cast. Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman, in particular, have a field day with their roles. They're obviously having a blast playing against type and sending up the conventions of the genre. Weaver's role requires her to repeat everything the computer says as if she's interpreting for the language impaired and she does it with such élan and a shake of her polyester blonde mane that you can't help but giggle. Tony Shaloub and Sam Rockwell (as a bit part player hanger on who tags along and takes on all of the day player cannon fodder clichés) also have a grand old time with their characters. The weak link is Tim Allen in the central role. He's simply not the right actor for the part; rather than sending up bad TV actor, he is bad TV actor and it throws the production out of balance, especially given the strength of his support. A better actor with a flair for a more subtle brand of comedy would have given this spaceship a better lift off.

The DVD release is in widescreen with decent color and sound transfer. It contains the film and many of the usual extras including a number of cut sequences, most of which were removed for good reason. The highlight being some excess exposure of Sigourney Weaver's underwiring.

Frozen blackhole transport. Fan conventions. Electronic store super bargains. Group hug. Interspecies sex. Evil scaly villain. Nasty little space creatures. Large rock thing dueling. Gratuitous shirtless Tim Allen. Gratuitous crunching metal blocks. Gratuitous references to Grabthor's hammer. Garbage emptying. Stage crash landing.

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