A ridiculously funny space adventure, Galaxy Quest opens with a group of hapless aliens seeking the washed up stars of a cancelled television series (similar to Star Trek) in order to help them defeat an evil nemesis—you see, these aliens believe that television shows are documentary footage of real events. The squabbling actors suddenly find themselves in a real life—and real death—space battle and must embrace their old television roles so they can run the ship, or face certain death for themselves and their alien friends.
A walking definition of a ‘has been’ actor, the former captain of the Galaxy Quest television series appears at a science fiction convention and excuses himself from signing photos. In the restroom he overhears a couple of kids mocking the entire event, especially the ‘pathetic actors’ who sign photos for a few extra bucks. This hits home; the Galaxy Quest actors have struggled since the show was cancelled.
But the heart of the film lies with the naïve aliens who put their trust in the questionable prowess of these bickering actors. They are ridiculous, but sincere. When asked, “Surely you don’t think that Gilligan’s Island was real?” The aliens look down and respond with pity, “Oh, those poor people.” The fumbling Galaxy Quest crew try to live up to these expectations, and, in so doing, the film manages to lovingly mock every Star Trek cliché: from the captain who can’t keep his shirt on to the poor red-shirted extra who knows he is doomed to die.
You will recognize almost every actor in Galaxy Quest, from the established stars to those whose careers soon took off. Alan Rickman commented that this troupe of actors worked so well together that from moment to moment you never knew who would be stealing the scene. The actors playing the aliens even created their own ‘alien school,’ attending every morning to refine their quirky movements and ridiculous language, which they described as “a baby caught in a bagpipe.”
While filming, instead of having the actors ridiculously fling themselves back and forth in front of a shaking camera to simulate a space battle, they built the set on a gimbal so it really could shake violently enough to knock the actors out of their seats—and at one point they shook it so hard they broke the set!
Although Galaxy Quest received many positive reviews from critics, it took awhile to find its audience. People assumed the film was just a silly parody of Star Trek, but once the positive word-of-mouth got around it started performing well in the box office, ultimately earning $90 million worldwide.
It won many honors, including the prestigious Hugo, Saturn and Nebula awards, and even though it pokes fun at Star Trek, many Trek actors, including William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and William Fraker, have gone on record as enjoying the film—George Takei (who played Sulu in the original series) even joked that Galaxy Quest is a “chillingly realistic documentary.”