A ridiculously funny space adventure, Galaxy Quest begins when a hapless group of aliens (who believe that all Earth television shows are true ‘historical documents’) search out the washed up stars of a cancelled television series, Galaxy Quest, in order to help them defeat a real enemy that is killing them off. The out-of-work and squabbling tv actors suddenly find themselves in a real life – and real death — space battle, and must embrace their old television personalities or face certain death for themselves and their alien friends.
A walking definition of ‘washed-up tv actor,’ the former captain of the Galaxy Quest tv series appears at a low rent science fiction convention, and while using the public the restroom, he overhears a couple of kids mocking the entire convention, especially the pathetic actors who are so desperate for a few extra bucks that they are charging for signed photos. This hits home, these actors have struggled since the show was cancelled and achieved very little; from the ‘captain’ who relives his former glory by watching old re-runs of the show to the Shakespearian-trained actor forced to endlessly repeat the ridiculous credo, “By Grabthar’s hammer…you shall be avenged,” they all seemed doomed to a future of paid appearances at cheesy grand openings of local businesses.
But the heart of the film lies with the ridiculous and naïve aliens, who put their trust in the questionable talent of these bickering actors because they believe that the television shows were real and that these actors are really heroes. The fumbling Galaxy Quest cast try to live up to these expectations, and in so doing, the film manages to lovingly mock every Star Trek cliché in the book, from the captain who can’t keep his shirt on, to the poor red-shirted extra who knows he is doomed to die.
In order to capture the low-budget quality of the fictional Galaxy Quest tv series, the film’s director used fake plaster rocks and aliens that looked like guys in monster suits so that the clips of the old show would look ridiculous, but he also knew that the spaceship and aliens in the real adventure had to look as impressive and realistic as possible. So they hired the best of the best, Industrial Light and Magic and Stan Winston, for the visual effects and creature design.
And they paid attention to the details, instead of using the “Irwin Allen rock-and-roll” – where actors ridiculously fling themselves back and forth in front of a shaking camera to simulate a space battle — they built the set of the space ship so that it could actually shake violently enough to knock the actors out of their seats, and then they shook it so hard that they broke the set!
Galaxy Quest has become a modern science fiction classic. When it was released, the studio did not know how to market it, but word of mouth spread, and it eventually found its audience. It won many awards, including the prestigious Hugo, and even though it pokes fun at Star Trek, many Star Trek actors, including William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and William Fraker, have gone on record as enjoying the film – George Takei (Sulu) even joked that Galaxy Quest is a “chillingly realistic documentary.”