January 17, 2016

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: “Galaxy Quest”, Alan Rickman, Reality…but MOSTLY “Galaxy Quest”

I thought I’d written this before!

In the earlier part of this century, I wrote a series of essays for an online discussion group called THE FRIDAY CHALLENGE. The editor Bruce Bethke, challenged all sorts of my pre-conceptions, the first one being to explore why Michael Shaara, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of THE KILLER ANGELS had dropped out of the science fiction business...

At any rate, I also wrote comebacks for the critical panning of “Green Lantern” and its star, Ryan Reynolds; as well as against the lukewarm reception of “Men In Black 3”. I even wrote at paean to the archetype time travel movies, “Back To The Future”.

I could have sworn I’d written about “Galaxy Quest”…but I was mistaken and today I’ll take make a few of my own observations.

First of all is that GQ was entirely a parody of Star Trek: The Original Series. While this is obviously true, it was far more than that.  Certainly, it used ST:TOS as a jumping off point to show what the writers might have done with the show using today’s sensibilities and technology.

But it was more than just a parody. For example, toward the end of the movie, the alien Quellek is murdered by the aliens who serve Sarris, a vaguely lobster-oid alien with a screwed in eyepatch like the Klingon captain, Chang in “ST: The Undiscovered Country”. Unlike Spock, whom Rickman is intended to mock, his character Dr. Lazarus is not only intelligent, but caring and passionate as well. The moment Quellek dies is a turning point for the character Alexander Dane – all of a sudden, he realizes that there has been an underlying power in the part he’d played so blithely for the three years the show was in production (this is never mentioned so I assume that the length was the same as ST:TOS).

While virtually all the reviews I read dealt with the parody aspect of the film, how well it was executed, how closely it paralleled ST, and how everyone fell off their seats laughing, I believe there was something more. I believe GQ mocked all of us and our absurd glorification of unreality.

The Thermians in the movie are part of a highly advanced technological civilization, that much is undeniable given the movie’s premise, going so far as to use some sort of technology hinted at in another ST television show, VOYAGER. In that series, technology was used that I have never seen discussed anywhere: circuitry in the form of “neural gel packs”. GQ makes graphic note that the Thermians use such technology when the “phaser pistol” is crushed by the “chompers” leaving a gun’s shell in a mass of bluish goo. They have a tremendous ethical system as well, being not only unfamiliar with lies and deceit, but also incapable of subterfuge: it takes no prompting at all from Captain Nesmith to induce them to tell the entire truth about their captain and show the graphic video files of her torture and demise. They refer to the GQ series episodes as historical documents.

This seems to tickle the funny bones of the reviewers of the movie – and not once does anyone mention that we are as naïve as the Thermians. We’re not as virtuous, nor are we as technologically advanced, nor are we as brave, nor as committed to relationships – but we are as idiotic in how we watch television and use all of the other media at our disposal (and I mean that in the literal sense).

We avidly watch “reality” TV – shows like THE BIGGEST LOSER and AMERICAN IDOL and SURVIVOR suck us into their universes and we gobble them up without pausing to think that the weekly “show” we watch is editorial cuts, compilations, and intentional deceit made to lead us to absurd conclusions that we too can lose hundreds of pounds; become a superstar; survive horrendous conditions – all on our own. The TV shows are, after all, sold as “reality TV”.

When Mathesar, the leader of the last remnant of Thermian civilization finally realizes that GQ was a lie, he is horrified. He realizes to Sarris’ huge amusement, that everything his people believed is false.

That would be a great message, but GQ insists on giving our “reality TV” shows back to us by saying, “Nah! Just kidding! BIGGEST LOSER, AMERICAN IDOL, SURVIVOR… they’re all really real!!! You can win the Powerball!!!! You can really win the Publisher’s Clearing House zillion dollar grand prize!!!!! Hahahahaha!!!!!!! We were just kidding about ‘reality’!!!!!!! We are reality...”

And that is what I think is the saddest thing about the movie. It had a chance to say something important. It said it.

Then it chickened out and unsaid it.


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