Sunday, August 3, 2008

Funny Uh oh - Galaxy Quest

I've recently read the comments from a few movie fan bloggers that feel that the art of comedy in movies is on the wane. They end up pointing at parody films like "Meet the Spartans", "Epic Movie" and "Date Movie" as evidence of this. These movies don't stand up to the first viewing much less repeat viewings. Their scripts are nothing but sight gags that aren't anything other then taking a scene from a popular film and recreating it with a twist (having the spartans from "300" dancing around and behaving stereotypically homosexual).

In a way these films are attempting to ape the popular Zucker brothers ("Naked Gun" and "Airplane") and Mel Brooks ("Blazing Saddles" and "Spaceballs") films from the past. The big difference is, those films actually provided some laughs even if they were on the stupid side of things. The idea was to bombard the audience with so many sight gags, word play, non sequiturs and actual jokes that something will end up sticking. Some of these films are more successful than others (and I think it has lots to do with which of these films you ended up watching first).

What is more difficult to pull off is to create a parody that not only succeeds in spoofing the film or genre, but to make it an entertaining movie in it's own right. The trick is to write a solid script, and to work the humor in creating a balance between comedy free from the parody and comedy based on the parody. I haven't seen one of these succeed in quite a while (a example of a spectacular failure of this was "My Super Ex-Girlfriend").

"Galaxy Quest" does it right. It takes a familiar genre - science fiction and specifically "Star Trek" and uses it as a jumping off point for the comedy. For those of you who haven't seen the film, the basic plot is the following. A group of actors of the popular sci-fi show "Galaxy Quest" encounter real aliens. These aliens think the television series are actual historical documents and that the actors really are the characters they play. At first the actors think that the adventure will be a bit of fun, but things go wrong when a sinister alien despot and his crew also believe the actors are real heroes. Can these actors step up to the challenge, or are they way out of their league?

One of my favorite moments is when the starship leaves it's space dock. In nearly every "Star Trek" film, this moment is accompanied by majestic music and special effects meant to create a sense of exhilaration that the adventure is getting underway. In "Galaxy Quest" the moment is handled in the same way... but our pilot isn't too good at his job. He ends up scraping the hull against the side of the space dock and making a sound like a giant car scraping the side of the garage. Anyone who's done this before gets a good chuckle out of this scene.

A great second dynamic is added to this and is the fact that our heroes are just actors, not space explorers. They are used to handling special effects, and written dialogue, not fighting aliens and flying space ships. On top of that each actor has a specific personality that helps or hinders. Tim Allen is perfect as the egotistical actor who plays the captain. He starts to believe his own hype but quickly finds out that he's not cut out to be a real captain. Nearly stealing every scene is Allen Rickmen who plays a Spock like character on the television series and loathes his lot in life. Now that he's in space with aliens that are convinced he's not human... well he's not the happiest of campers.

The parody moments are hilarious. Everything from the music, to the search of a mysterious planet, to the fact that everyone always goes flying out of their chairs in dangerous space battle is modeled after "Star Trek". For the most part, these parody moments doesn't feel mean spirited. More often they cause the viewer to wonder, "Hey, why does that seem to happen in nearly every 'Star Trek' film or episode".

Even if you are not very familiar with "Star Trek" or have only seen a few sci-fi movies, there's plenty to enjoy. The dialogue is funny, and the performances are spot on. The overarching plot of good versus evil is solid. There is also plenty of humor once the fans of the show appear near the end of the movie.

"Galaxy Quest" isn't the funniest movie ever made. And people more familiar with "Star TreK' will enjoy it more than people who haven't seen any of the series or films. However the film is re-watchable and good for a laugh on a Friday night. Certainly it's more entertaining them much of the "comedy" that's been released lately, especially those ill conceived spoofs. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend it. And if you have, but haven't seen it in a while, check it out again. It still holds up well.

What did you think of "Galaxy Quest"? Do you think modern parody films are funny? Why or why not? Can you think of a film comparable to "Galaxy Quest"?

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