Longtime, diligent readers—which is to say, “me”—will recall what I call “The Buffy Factor”, which is where a movie so brutally mocks its audience that the audience takes their ball and goes home, or at least doesn’t buy tickets. One of the best counter-examples to this is Galaxy Quest, which makes fun of TV show fan-nerds, but in an ultimately nice way. And when I saw it back in 1999, I was generally pretty pleased—which isn’t to say I wouldn’t have enjoyed a savaging of said nerds, but savaging seems a lot easier to come by these days than a nicer, gentler, but still very funny approach. The kids were somewhat “meh” on seeing it at the theater’s “Trektember” month which featured 3 original-cast “Star Trek” movies, a documentary on Leonard Nimoy by his son, Adam, and this film, which some say is the best of all “Star Trek” movies.
The kids had, after all seen all or part of it on TV before, though not in many years. But if we’ve learned anything this year it’s simply this: Movies are much better on the big screen. Period.
And what stands out about this movie 15+ years later is that it’s really, really good. My initial impression was that it was a bit facile, a bit formulaic, and even reflecting now on my recent viewing, I’d still say that was true. But where that seems to be true, it’s done in the service of telling a good story (as opposed to “hitting the beats” per the Save_the_Cat formula). It balances the inherent cheesiness of the original (fictitious) TV series with the aspirational aspects of science fiction—said aspirations sincerely exemplifying the best aspects of mankind.
The acting is about perfect. They say Harold Ramis dropped out because Tim Allen was cast, and later recanted after seeing his performance, and I can see both of those things occurring. He’s channeling Buzz Lightyear here (minus most of the delusional confidence) and doing a good job of it. Sigourney Weaver is delightful as the increasingly highly-strung and busty actress-who-repeats-what-the-computer-says. Of course Alan Rickman is great, with his self-loathing line delivery that switches into complete, convincing sincerity as the situation demands. Probably the most remarkable thing about Rickman is that he doesn’t overshadow everyone else, they’re all so perfect in their roles. Tony Shalhoub as the anti-Scotty, so laid back about virtually everything, including the tentacles on alien Missi Pyle (in an early role). Daryl Mitchell pitch perfect as the guy who actually has to drive the ship. And Sam Rockwell, fresh off of The Green Mile, doing comic relief as the guy, named Guy, who knows he’s expendable because he doesn’t even have a last name!
Besides Missi Pyle, it was Rainn Wilson’s big screen debut, and Justin Long’s debut, period (even before the PC/Mac ads and Jeepers Creepers). It was a breakthrough role for Enrico Colantoni, who would go on to be a fixture on things like “Just Shoot Me” and “Person of Interest”, as well as a bunch of other movies and shows, demonstrating all the range of a great character actor. Actually, quite a few of the actors were well accomplished TV people, just not the big stars, perhaps because Dean Parsiot, who would later go on to direct a few episodes of Tony Shalhoub’s “Monk” (where a number of the other GQ actors would turn up over the years) is also a big TV guy. It doesn’t hurt.
It’s funny, it’s fast-paced, it’s good-natured—originally, the script by David Howard was much darker, and they trimmed it back. I’ll bet the cut stuff was very good, but the tone they ended up with was basically perfect. David Howard, somehow, has no other credits to his name, though his co-writer Robert Gordon is credited on the (much less memorable) Addicted to Love, A Series of Unfortunate Events and Men in Black II.
The score, by David Newman, the least Newman, reminds us that even the least of the Newmans is still pretty damn good.
It goes without saying that, 15 years out, the special effects are dated, but they still read and they still work. Stan Winston’s makeup is still awesome. The CGI shows its seams, as it must, but it has aged more like an old matte: Getting the idea across without seeming tacky.
If you haven’t seen it in a while, it’s definitely worth revisiting. The Flower and The Boy both loved it.