Galaxy Quest is a television show that may not have been on air since the eighties, but through the adoration of its fans it endures to this day. Of course, the cast are so identified with their roles that they haven't had much luck in securing any other work, but there's always the sci-fi conventions to attend for easy money. And that's what they're doing this afternoon as Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), who played the Commander on the show, is keeping the other cast members waiting for the 18th annual Galaxy Quest convention. To tell the truth, they're all royally sick of being identified with the show, all except Jason who always makes the fans feel welcome. But there are some fans who might not be of this Earth...
This science fiction comedy appears to take place in a parallel universe where it's most obvious influence, Star Trek, never happened. Instead there's a show eerily familiar to its fans, but rather than pander to them, the film was willing to take a step back and survey the landscape of fantasy television with a keen eye. David Howard's script, co-written with Robert Gordon, is the only film he has had made to date, but shows such a generosity of spirit towards practically all its characters that it was a breath of fresh air to a project that could have been happy to lampoon the nerds and geeks.
Yet it goes deeper than that, sympathising with everyone's plight whether it be catching your favourite actor on a bad day (Jason overhears some fans laughing at him because his fellow cast have taken such a dislike to him) or your civilisation is about to be wiped out by an interstellar warlord. After the convention, Jason goes home to get drunk, but wakes up the next morning to find representatives of his next appearance staring at him through the window of his home. He humours them through the hangover, all the time thinking he is improvising for them on a suspiciously accurate-looking version of his old control room set.
That's because, as he finds out when these "fans" send him hurtling back to Earth, it is an actual spaceship built by scientifically super-advanced aliens who have been watching transmissions of Galaxy Quest and think it's all true. Not only that, but they want the crew of that TV starship to assist them in their fight against seemingly-insurmountable villain Sarris (Robin Sachs) and once Jason has persuaded his co-stars, plus an actor who was in the film for half an episode before his character was killed (Sam Rockwell), they go along for the cash and end up lauded as heroes in outer space. Every actor here couldn't have been better, from Alan Rickman's bitter and longsuffering Alexander, a Shakespearean on hard times, to Sigourney Weaver's Gwen, who finds her purpose on the actual ship is to repeat what the computer says, just as it was on the show.
However, what gives the film its depth is that it's unafraid to turn serious. The aliens, called Thermians, led by Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni, standing out amidst some great performances), have such faith in these actors that they don't realise they are backing the wrong horse and their show was all pretend. This is part of what makes it all so endearing, as while it's not a shock when the TV heroes become real life heroes, you realise that they rely on that old show as much as the aliens (and the fans) do. The plot may be a reworking of ¡Three Amigos!, but this is an example of how to take a middling idea and make with the movie alchemy to fashion gold out of it. Not only are there tense moments, but it's hilarious at times (how I wish someone could have hidden under their desk when the Starship Enterprise was being hammered), better than any Star Trek movie and the cinematic equivalent of a group hug. Music by David Newman.