by Brendan Foley
Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.
It is hard to put into words just what a seismic impact Alan Rickman had on film culture during his far too brief career. Rickman provided the definitive “Eurotrash” villain in films like Die Hard and Prince of Thieves, elevated numerous comedies and dramas with his endlessly droll line readings, and captivated the hearts and minds of this generation’s youth with his captivating, haunting work as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films.
And yet, as massive a legacy as he leaves behind, when word of his passing reached us, there was one character and one line that thousands, if not millions, of fans immediately thought of.
“By Grabthar’s hammer…”
Released in 1999 to positive reviews but middling box office, Galaxy Quest has quietly assembled one of the passionate cult fandoms of any 90s film, loaded with a seemingly bottomless well of quotable moments and iconic characters. Besides Rickman as an endlessly frustrated ‘dramatic’ actor forever trapped as Mr. Spock-ish alien sidekick, Galaxy Quest boasts cast members like Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen, Tony Shalhoub, a breakout role for national treasure Sam Rockwell, and even early spots for folks like Missi Pyle, Rainn Wilson and a distressingly young Justin Long.
And yet for all the great cast members, for all the cutting edge special effects, for all the Stan Winston creatures and the canny deconstruction/reverence for all things Star Trek, there is one moment that springs immediately to mind when you hear the title of the film.
“By Grabthar’s hammer…”
Goodbye, Mr. Rickman. No one ever did it better.
Next Week’s Pick:
We’ve had a really amazing run lately, raising up a chorus of resounding praise for incredible films that were almost universally loved, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Big Trouble In Little China, Battle Royale, Starship Troopers, Bone Tomahawk, and yes, even this week’s Galaxy Quest. It’s been a time of sharing. A time of love. A time of camaraderie and mutual affection.
Frankly, it makes me sick.
Are we really content to stand around in a circle singing “Kumbaya”? This week, well, this week we decided we just want to watch the world burn.
To that end, our next Two Cents will be the beloved (by no one) Catwoman. That’s right. We’re getting all Pitof’d out in this mother. Detested by pretty much everyone (no one moreso than the people who made it) Catwoman has long lingered as an embarrassing failure to be used as shorthand for what can go wrong when making a superhero film in the modern age.
So, get the knives out. Bring all the puns and disgust and disgusting puns you can gather and let ‘er rip. Or, heck, maybe you’ll be the one person that comes away loving the film. Either way, we want to know!
Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co!
Doug Tilley:Like many others, I was caught off-guard by the sudden and untimely death of Alan Rickman, an actor whose characters often captured the sort of bitterness and rage towards the world that I can personally relate to. While there are plenty of bigger Rickman performances out there, few are better than his beautifully realized Leonard Nimoy piss-take in 1999’s Galaxy Quest, a really surprisingly entertaining blockbuster that — while eliciting little excitement upon release — has developed a healthy and well-deserved cult following in the Netflix age. Rickman is perfectly cynical in his role as the caustic Shakespearean actor Alexander Dane, and is part of a beautifully realized ensemble that manages to capture both the camp and the soul of the original Star Trek series. It all works thanks to a clever script that never winks too dramatically at the lens, and some truly wonderful special effects — particular the creature designs brought to life by the late Stan Winston. With both Winston and Rickman’s deaths now hanging over the production, I figured that my recent re-watch would be a glum experience, but I was overjoyed to find that the film’s good humor and heart expertly sliced through my gloom. By the end, both Alexander Dane and myself were wearing smiles; proof that even larger films can come from a place of real sincerity. (@Doug_Tilley)
Trey Lawson: “Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie ever made” is a thing that gets said a lot. As a lifelong Trekkie I tend to disagree with that, but I totally understand and respect the intent behind the statement. As a love letter to Trek and its fandom, Galaxy Quest exudes wit, charm, and most of all, heart. On top of all that, it’s essentially ¡Three Amigos! in space which is, simply put, a fantastic idea. Part of what makes the film work is how well the ensemble fits together. There are no weak links, and everyone gets multiple moments to shine. Alan Rickman’s deadpan delivery (perhaps deservedly) gets the most attention, although more than any other film this is the one that made me really take notice of Sam Rockwell as an actor. His twitchy, panicked portrayal of “Guy” is one of the funniest parts of the film. Beyond the slapstick, Galaxy Quest also deals in surprisingly frank terms with the relationship between performers and fandom. This is not to say that the topic is handled in a dark or ponderous way, but it certainly evokes everything from William Shatner’s infamous “Get a life” comment to the subjects of documentaries like Trekkies. The film never feels as though it is pandering to fans of Star Trek (or similar cult properties), nor is it unfair or condescending to those fans. Galaxy Quest walks a fine line — not so affectionate that it forgets to be funny, but also not willing to insult its characters (or its audience) for the sake of a cheap laugh. (@T_Lawson)
Brendan Agnew:How great is Galaxy Quest? The material it’s aping (Star Trek) has gone through so many ups, downs, and reboots, that a lot of Quest‘s jokes manage to land even harder than they did back in 1999. Which is saying something, because even someone with only a passing familiarity with Kirk and Co. will find enough skewed familiarity to chuckle at here. But it’s the cast (who sell the hell out decades of personal history in 100 scant minutes) that make this one for the books. Whether it’s Weaver flexing her underused comedic chops, or Shalhoub and Rockwell walking away with entire scenes, it’s easy to forget how much genuine pathos there is. Even Tim Allen shows up to actually work as one of the two roles he was born for, the flip-side of the coin to Buzz Lightyear.
And, of course, there’s Alan Rickman, the glue that holds the whole thing together. Dr. Lazarus’ signature line serves as not only the best running joke of the film, but then effortlessly transitions into the single best dramatic beat. Like the film itself, it’s a killer idea on the page, but the reason it works is all down to the way Rickman embodied — as he did so many times — a man who knew he deserved to be the hero of his story, and was furious that he wasn’t. (@BLCAgnew)
Dan Hassler-Forest: Here’s a trick question: what’s the best Star Trek movie ever made? Now don’t let yourself be tempted into ranking Paramount’s actual Star Trek movie franchise, most of which are terrible, and hardly any of which capture much of what makes Star Trek great. The only credible answer to the question, of course, is not The Wrath of Khan, but Galaxy Quest, the affectionate spoof that first appeared to moderate success in 1999, and which went on to become an all-time favorite amongst Star Trek fans worldwide.
Not only does Galaxy Quest perfectly nail the dynamics of Star Trek’s ensemble cast and the balance between cleverly conceived science-fiction concepts and interplanetary adventure; it crucially — and uniquely — revolves around the interaction between a nostalgic entertainment franchise and its lively fan culture. So not only does the recently departed Alan Rickman brilliantly capture the essence of Spock, but at the same time, he also plays Leonard Nimoy, the actor so famously frustrated for being saddled with a single iconic part.
But Galaxy Quest is not only the best Star Trek movie. It’s also a film that was ahead of its time in other ways. Way back in 1999, when fandom was still far removed from mainstream culture, this film embraced and celebrated the many ways in which fans find meaning, fulfillment, and friendship through a seemingly frivolous fantasy that, of course, turns out to be all too real. (@DanHF)
Jaime Burchardt:It’s 2016. 17-ish years after its release, Galaxy Quest receives more love and adoration than ever before, and it deserves every single ounce of it. Despite a few technical flaws here and there (the occasionally bad ADR work is actually kind of charming), the warmth that’s given to this material is overwhelming. That’s why it works so well. The perfectly put-together ensemble cast, the direction under Dean Parisot (though it’s weird that he hasn’t made a movie nearly as inviting since), and the editing that pinpoints its confident pace through and through. After all this time it’s still consistent, considerate and hilarious. Now to end my cents on this note: Alan Rickman, there will never be anyone like you again. Thank you for everything you’ve given us. Rest in peace. (@jaimeburchardt)
Elizabeth:Galaxy Quest is a dependable sci-fi comedy; I know I’ll laugh each time I watch it. The perfect casting (even the smaller supporting players such as teen Justin Long), the quotable hilarity of the script, and the thoughtful melding of comedy and the tragic situation of the alien Thermians who turn to the crew for help… these factors are why the film is as beloved as it is. It loses nothing upon repeated viewings. More than fifteen years after theatrical release, the lines still hit and the themes continue to be relevant.
Upon early viewings, it bothered me that Alan Rickman’s character never fully removes his prosthetic headpiece, but now I see how it plays into his role. As actor Alexander Dane, he’d obviously consider it part of his method (even though one wonders how long it takes to fully apply such a getup at home).
I chose to watch Galaxy Quest the day Rickman’s death was announced because I expected dear drama Sense & Sensibility would make me bawl. But I forget how powerful Rickman is in the scene here with his fallen Thermian associate! So I ended up crying anyway. RIP, good sir. (@elizs)
Justin:It’s only 29 days into the new year and we’ve lost multiple music and film icons, but none stings harder for many movie fans than the passing of Alan Rickman. Whether he was infuriating us as Severus Snape, making us laugh as The Metatron, or dying hard as Hans Gruber, Rickman threw himself into every role and captivated audiences.
Over this past week, I’ve watched several of his movies and each one sparked a few tears as I watched such a talented man on the screen. Watching Galaxy Quest was no exception to this. His portrayal of Sir Alexander Dane, an actor who plays the Leonard Nimoy-esque (who just passed last year) role in this film’s Star Trek style TV show, Galaxy Quest, is nothing short of brilliant. In an ensemble cast with great comedians and sci-fi All-Stars, Rickman somehow still stands out. The film wouldn’t work without what he brings to the Alexander role.
Goodbye Mr. Rickman… a brilliant comedian, a menacing villain, and an unlikely hero. By Grabthar’s Hammer, you shall be sorely missed! (@thepaintedman)
Ed:Believe it or not, this was my first viewing of Galaxy Quest. Not being much of a Trekkie, nor much of a Tim Allen fan, I probably intentionally avoided the film, at least for a time. But it’s lived on in the cultural zeitgeist and become a film which was simply embarrassing to not have seen. And I’ll be honest… it did not grab me at first. The second half of the film pays off extremely well at the expense of a whole lot of set up bogging down the first half. And ultimately it succeeds far more as a sci-fi adventure film than it does as a comedy… something I REALLY wasn’t expecting. I barely laughed at all, actually, which is partly a problem, but not entirely. Galaxy Quest works, it’s just more clever than it is laugh out loud hilarious. It’s a knowing humor, a loving ribbing. And damn if the alien race that recruits the cast aren’t both the funniest and most heart wrenching characters in the whole thing! Alan Rickman’s final delivery of his loathed “By Grabthar’s Hammer” line to one of said aliens who reveres him may have even gotten me a bit misty. (@Ed_Travis)
Austin:Galaxy Quest came out at a time when I considered both Star Trek and PG-rated movies to be ferociously uncool, so I gave it no thought whatsoever. A decade later, I had watched the (original cast) Star Trek movies and was more or less a fan by the time the 2009 reboot rolled around. But it wasn’t actually until palling around with folks on Twitter that I learned that Galaxy Quest was a beloved cult hit that many held dear.
Galaxy Quest really does deserve all the love it gets. It’s obviously a parody of Star Trek, but rather than mock the original, it delivers a loving and clever send-up that both embraces and teases its inspiration. Best of all, each of the main characters has a distinct personality (and even two, considering their own character’s personas) and gets a meaningful chunk of narrative. (@VforVashaw)
Brendan:I love Severus Snape. I love Hans Gruber. I love Metatron and the Sheriff of Nottingham and Colonel Brandon and all the other indelible characters that Alan Rickman brought to life. But before all of them, there was Alexander Dane. Beyond wringing giant belly laughs out of the smallest of lines, Rickman found the real pathos within his character and kept a handle on the human soul of this narrative, even as explosions and monsters and all other manner of lunacy cascade around him.
And, yes, the final “By Grabthar’s Hammer” made me cry when I was eight, and it makes me cry now. It’s as beautifully constructed a bit of set-up/payoff as I have ever seen in commercial filmmaking and Rickman crushes that moment out of the damn park. Galaxy Quest confounded the studio on initial release (as evidenced by the wretched trailer embedded below) but it found its way into the hearts and minds of a generation and, like Rickman, it will remain there. (@TheTrueBrendanF)
Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!