I finally got to rewatch Galaxy Quest the other day. I’ve been trying to get my hands on it for a long time, but it’s inexplicably and absurdly expensive on dvd. So weird, how that happens. I submit that this might be the perfect scifi comedy. Mostly because there are very few of them to begin with, but that’s beside the point.
A short rundown: the cast of a defunct scifi television show gets abducted by real aliens, because the aliens have seen broadcasts of the show and think that these were actual historical documents of adventurers on an intrepid spacecraft. Their race is being exterminated by a big galactic meanie and they want the help of these explorers who seem to be undefeatable. But the actors don’t have the heart to tell them that they don’t know what they’re doing, because the aliens have no concept of lying and therefore wouldn’t understand acting. So they do their clumsy best to save the day. Hilarity ensues.
Here’s the thing about this movie that I love: It’s not so much about adventures in space and cool aliens and blowing shit up, even though, admittedly, those are all things I enjoy often and in large, unhealthy doses. No, what’s great about this one is the metafiction of it. It’s structurally beautiful. The crew has to use their knowledge of the ship (which the aliens built to spec from watching the show), their dynamic as a functional crew (both in character and out), and their experiences from past scripts and plots to get through this very real space crisis. It’s well done. And, bonus nerd points for having the captain turn to a group of fans when they get stuck and need help, relying on their freakishly thorough knowledge of the actual science of the ship. It’s cliché, sure, but a very nice nod to fandom in a movie that is itself an homage.
And it is an homage, obviously. It’s Star Trek. Ish. But more ridiculous. The show, the cast, the fans – they’re all caricatures, taken to the extremes of stereotype. They even went so far as to give the ship the designation NTE-3120, which stands for “Not The Enterprise.” Delightful, right? I love a good inside joke. But, again, it’s done well. It’s not making fun of scifi or of scifi fans. This movie was clearly not made by outsiders who are looking down their noses at something they think is silly. Because scifi fans are rabid. We know our shows through and through, every line, every piece of trivia, and we are fiercely loyal. We’re also prone to angst and we are everywhere. Given the opportunity, we could do some Project Mayhem level shit, I’m sure. If anything, Galaxy Quest makes more fun of the group of has-beens who were once, long ago and far away, on a great tv show. Which I would bet hit home for some of the folks who used to be on Trek. We fans are the outsiders to their experience of the show and its fallout in their real lives. It’s really very interesting, if you dig down into the sociological, psychological, and cultural ramifications of entertainment. Lots of subtle layers. I could write a whole book, I think it’s so fascinating.
But I probably won’t.
Oh, now I’m sad. Dammit.
Anyway, this movie also has an all-star cast. I won’t go on and on about how I really can’t stand Tim Allen, but otherwise it’s a brilliant group: Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Rainn Wilson, Missy Pyle, Enrico Colantoni, Robin Sachs. (It’s a long list of awesome, just look it up. IMDB is your friend, you guys.) But mostly? Sigourney Weaver. Sigourney Weaver is the reigning queen of science fiction. I know she’s done a bunch of other stuff, too, but just hear me out: all four Alien movies, Snow White, Futurama, Wall-E, Avatar, Paul, Cabin in the Woods, Planet Earth, and both Ghostbusters. (Yes, I actually like the second Ghostbusters! There, I said it. Don’t judge me.) She simply doesn’t do things that suck. Her first role was in Annie Hall for fuck’s sake. She’s brilliant. She’s talented. She’s tall. She speaks four languages. She’s 63 and still smoking hot. What more do you want? I’ll watch her in anything.
So here’s a good question: why aren’t there more scifi/fantasy comedies? Why’s everything got to be so dire when there’s spaceships or magic involved? I think it comes from literature. Genre fiction has had to prove itself worthy for a century. Despite being hugely popular it’s still largely not seen as “real.” This bothers me, irks me down to my bones, frankly. And there’s this perception by the media (and, therefore, by people who absorb and trust the media) that in order to be taken seriously, the material itself must be serious. Which isn’t true. I think we have an innate need to laugh. And a one-liner here or there just doesn’t cut it for me. Not that I’m asking for a sudden increase in space slapstick or anything, I’m just saying that genre fiction/film/television and comedy don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Look at Mel Brooks’s work, or Joss Whedon’s, or Terry Pratchett’s. It’s possible, if done right. I think our generation has some good role models in this arena. We’re getting there. And the fact that more and more people are making art on their own terms certainly helps. Self-publishing and -producing are giving artists the opportunity to do exactly what we want exactly how we want. And we’re a funny bunch of people, us genre fans. We have to be. Hopefully there are some good scifi comedies in our future. Get on it, creators of things.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen Galaxy Quest, go track down a copy. It’s definitely worth the watch, especially if you’re a fan of science fiction television. Or Sigourney Weaver. And if you’re a funny person, make a thing! Anything! Please, I’m begging you.