Thursday, November 3, 2016

“Did You Guys Ever Watch The Show?!” Galaxy Quest As An Intentional Parody of Star Trek

One of the things that I want to with this blog is start writing about films again. For those NOT in the know, I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Film and Culture. Mainly, I like to look at films and see how the film was influenced by the times and how the times was influenced by the film. Mainly, I got to think big thoughts about movies and got a degree while doing it.

What I think I may do is every Thursday, I'll post up a small paper I wrote for one of my classes with some thoughts / explanations of WHY this paper, WHY this topic. 

One of the things that I walked away from during my college years was a strong sense of female representation within film and frequently how there is a lack of strong female characters on the screen. I later wrote my senior thesis on the Action Heroine and the Science Fiction Film and has been a large focus for me when thinking about... well anything. In this paper you can see the beginnings of my focus (I believe that I may have lifted some concepts from this paper for the thesis, but I digress) as well as my general amusement with Galaxy Quest

I hope you enjoy. 

“Did You Guys Ever Watch The Show?!” 
Galaxy Quest As An Intentional Parody of Star Trek
Originally Submitted for Grading: March 1, 2012
Grade, A- 

One of the most well known forms of comedy is the imitation and thus was born the intentional parody. Frequently, parodies take every day events and exaggerate them, like a dog show in Best In Show, and blow them out of proportion and point out the hilarity in the everyday. Then there is making fun of a group of people or points in popular culture and that is where Dean Parisot’s Galaxy Quest comes in. Galaxy Quest looks at the original Star Trek and blows it out of proportion. “I think it’s a chillingly realistic documentary. The details in it, I recognized every one of them. It is a powerful piece of documentary filmmaking. And I do believe that when we get kidnapped by aliens, it’s going to be the genuine, true Star Trek fans who will say the day,” said George Takei, one of the original cast members of Star Trek said after he saw the movie. Not only is Galaxy Quest an intentional parody film, the subject matter lends itself perfectly to parodying how most people view fans of science fiction as well as showing us that just because we see someone do it on television, that does not mean that they are at all qualified to do it in real life. However it is also in a much smaller degree, reductui ad absurdum. The basis for the entire film is based around the fact that the aliens are convinced that the fictional series is in fact ‘historical data tapes’ chronicling actual events. Galaxy Quest is a classic example of parody while at the same time being an excellent example of comedy. 

The film sets itself up from its very first moments; we know that this film is to be funny by virtue of the fact that we see an overacted, poorly produced sci-fi show. Once the ‘to be continued’ flashes on the screen the movie then transitions to a group of dressed up geeks watching their favorite show at a convention. While the audience waits for the cast to make their appearance we see that same cast fight with each other over future jobs and the ruination of their respective careers. It becomes quickly apparent that this group of actors no longer work well together, coming to consistent blows. This sets the stage for future comedic moments of arguments, disagreements and general bickering. 

We see a group of aliens, the Thermians, approach and ask Jason to help them negotiate with Sarris (Robin Sachs). Jason, thinking that is simply an acting gig, goes along with it. It is only when he is returned home via a gooey version of a Star Trek transporter does he finally realize the truth. Deciding that his friends and ‘crew-mates’ need to get in on this action. After at first believing him to be drunk, the group quickly signs up, unsure of how many more jobs Jason may offer them. 

What results is a comedy of errors, stupidity and general mishaps as the six of them attempt to run a ship, acquire a replacement fuel source and survive in a very real world where they can and will die, should they make a mistake. Eventually it comes out that they are not who they say, thus breaking any trust that they had with Mathesar (Enricho Colantoni), the leader of the surviving Thermians. What results is a rallying point to save everyone on the ship that results in hilarious actions from the actors and using a young fan in order to direct Jason and Gwen through the bowels of the ship in order to prevent the self destruct sequence. They finally make it home, and have their show revitalized with filming new episodes. 

Frequently fiction is confused for real life; in fact we’ve seen this phenomenon happen with Orson Wells’ production of ‘War of the Worlds’ on a CBS radio station in 1938. Therefore it isn’t completely unbelievable that aliens with no knowledge of television or even make believe could make the leap that the television show is reality. Therein lies much humor. 

As director Dean Parisot says in the DVD documentary [Hardy, 1999] this is a classic fish-out-of-water film with a giant twist. Typically in films of this sort, we see mistaken identities such as Big Business or gender swaps like in Tootsie. Galaxy Quest takes the formula from a simple mistaken identity and raises it to a life changing level. The aliens truly believe that this is a legitimate crew with actual knowledge of the technology around them

We first see Tommy try to steer the ship out of a spaceport and instead of it being a smooth task, something that his character could have easily done, he slowly drags the ship against the sides of the dock which causes a very loud and very long scratching noise until the ship is away from the confined area. We liken this embarrassing event to having someone who is supposed to be a suburban driver slowly put a scratch on a brand new Mustang. It is painful to watch as the entire crew winces at the noise and the Thermians watch smiling and blissfully unaware of this huge error. Other instances of this ineptitude is watching Fred Kwan attempt to use the digitizer to move Jason from a bad situation and back to the ship and instead he beams up a pig creature which results in “[pig turning] inside out… and then it explode[ing].”

One of the most recognizable science fiction icons is that of Ellen Ripley, the heroine of the Alien franchise. Ripley is strong, independent and completely no-nonsense. She challenged conventional gender roles for females in male dominated genres of action, horror and most importantly science fiction. This is exactly why placing Sigourney Weaver as Gwen, the blonde, low cut wearing, slightly ditzy female who exemplifies sex is full of hilarity. Her movements can be described as flouncy, with her blonde hair slightly reminiscent of Farrah Fawcett and she does not exude confidence in all that she does. This is comedy at it’s most enigmatic. It plays on our preconceived notions of what Weaver should play and deliberately contradicts it. This disparity is an excellent example of comedy. 

Weaver’s role on the ship is as the communications officer, which in theory would mean that she handles monitoring of the ‘radio’ and similar duties. In reality she repeats exactly what the computer says, regardless of the fact that everyone can hear the computer’s reply. The following exchange highlights this fact. 
Tommy Webber: “You know, that is really getting annoying!”
Gwen DeMarco: “Look! I have one job on this lousy ship, it's *stupid*, but I'm gonna do it! Okay?”
Tommy Webber: “Sure, no problem.” 
Amusingly, this gag is replayed repeatedly through the film to the point where the crew doesn’t even notice that she is doing it towards the end of the movie. Other classically stereotypical moments include her losing half of her shirt, being helpless and becoming emotionally needy towards Jason. The blank looks, adjustments of her breasts and the way in which Weaver moves is comic, especially when compared with her role as Ripely who moved with purpose and determination. The crew frequently stares at her in disbelief while she is performing her job until it just becomes second nature and what they expect of her. 

To touch on pop culture again, there is the instance of Patrick Stewart who played Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and after the conclusion of the show, had a difficult time finding work that wasn’t type casting him as a commander of a star ship. Previous to ST:TNG, Stewart was a classically trained Shakespearean actor, working extensively with The Royal Shakespeare Company. Alan Rickman’s character, Sir Alexander Dane, appears to all intents and purposes to be a caricature of Patrick Stewart. He frequently makes reference to ‘the craft’, speaks about motivation and is obviously miserable with how his career turned out. 
Sir Alexander Dane: “I played Richard III.”
Fred Kwan: “Five curtain calls...”
Sir Alexander Dane: “There were five curtain calls. I was an actor once, damn it. Now look at me. Look at me! I won't go out there and say that stupid line one more time.”
Alex is miserable and makes no bones about the fact that he has very little patience for the fans, his coworkers and the show as a whole. He is snarky, sarcastic and looks down his nose at the other actors, in particular Jason who reveals in his stardom as the captain. One could look at the character of Alexander in broader strokes as a character of all serious actors, working on his motivation and the way in which his body moves. 

Frequently comedies have some sort of commentary on life and Galaxy Quest is no exception. What appears to be a lighthearted fish-out-of-water film actually comments on a greater opinion of geeks, nerds and more importantly: Trekkies. Early on we see the obsessive nature of Galaxy Quest fans. They study blueprints, ask insightful questions and quote their favorite lines to the actors. This is something that is frequently mocked today. However, the important thing to note here is that it is not intelligent scientists or even the actors saving the day. No, it is those same obsessive fans with their incredible attention to detail that help Jason and his crew stop the ship from exploding and then landing the ship, albeit with a lot of property being damaged. Galaxy Quest shows the American public that being a geek, while funny, isn’t something to be ashamed of. A focus on science fiction and the blueprints for a ship could conceivably lead to a lucrative career. And in some instances, could save quite a few lives. Thus, Galaxy Quest manages to take a clearly comedic approach through parody to reveal larger, more serious insights about society.

Galaxy Quest. Dir. Dean Parisot. Perf. Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman. Dreamworks Pictures. 1999. Film. 

On Location In Space. Produced Christen Harty. Perf. Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman. Dreamworks Pictures. 1999. Film.

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