Vamps review

vamps poster

In Amy Herckerling’s film, being a vampire is ordinary rather than remarkable – which pretty much describes VAMPS.

Writer-directed Amy Herckling’s horror-comedy is a bit clueless about what makes vampirism interesting. VAMPS is  built around a premise as thin as the last anemic drops of blood dripping from the veins of a blood-sucker’s victim: For a couple of beautiful women, being vampires isn’t all that different from being ordinary humans; you share a nice apartment, go to clubs together, lie about your age, pine over past relationships, and hope to meet Mr. Right. In other words, being a vampire is rather ordinary – humdrum, rather than remarkable. Which pretty much describes VAMPS. The potential in the concept of a hip, sophisticated vampire-comedy-romance goes mostly untapped, as the film focuses on silly sit-com humor and poorly executed sight gags.
Alica Silverstone plays Goody, who is trying to keep up with modern times with the help of the much more recently vampire-ized Stacy (Krysten Ritter). Living off rat’s bloody, the pair work a night job as exterminators and find time to hit the clubs while earning multiple college degrees at night classes. The SEX IN THE CITY story line is not enough to transfuse any life into VAMPS, so a couple complications arise: Goody and Stacy are occasionally summoned by their domineering “stem,” named Cisserus (Sigourney Weaver), who is ranking up quite a body count around town. (What’s a stem, you ask? A vampire that can make other vampires.) Next, Krysten meets Joey (Dan Stevens), who surname just happens to be Van Helsing (cue spit take – and I mean that literally). Joe’s father (Wallace Shawn) just happens to work in Homeland Security. This is meant to explain the persecution being suffered by the vampire community, whose members are being hit with a raft of subpoenas, tax audits, and jury summons – all of which are presumably meant to force the vampires, figuratively and literally, into the daylight.
It’s a sign of VAMPS’ overall sloppiness that Dr. Van Helsing’s connection to this persecution is never clarified; although we presume he must be behind it, he is never shown shown orchestrating these events, nor is he held accountable for it. Likewise, we never learn how a vampire becomes a “stem” (the concept is just used as a plot device to contrive a happy ending: kill your stem, and you revert to normal). Nor do we get a convincing reason for why Goody, who has been undead since the 1840s, tells her much younger companion Stacy that she’s from the 1980s; the deception never pay off in any dramatic way (unless you count the unfunny running joke, in which Goody continually explains her vast knowledge of past events by crediting the History Channel). You get the impression that Heckerling just ran with her premise wherever it took her, regardless of whether it made any sense.

Vamps (2012) Sigourney Weaver Wallace Shawn
Sigourney Weaver and Wallace Shawn

Which would be okay of the comic set pieces were hilarious, but they’re about as lifeless as the drained rats on which Goody and Stacy dine. A few of the jokes are amusing (e.g., the girls applying embalming fluid instead of skin lotion), but the scenes that attempt to exploit the vampire element for scary giggles betray signs of a director who simply does’t know how to make this kind of material work. To cite two examples: When Stacy foils an armed robbery, the speeded-up photography looks about as lame as the effects work in the first TWILIGHT FILM. Later, when Cisserus attacks Dr. Van Helsing, her smooth glide across the room – meant to convey an unstoppable supernatural attack – takes so long that Shawn has to just stand there and wait for Weaver to reach him, leaving you to wonder why he doesn’t use the time to raise a crossbow at her heart or swing a scythe at her neck.
Silverstone and Ritter are pretty but bland, unable to breath life into either the comedy or the romance. Malcolm McDowell is amusing in a bit as Vlad Tsepes – yes, that Vlad Tsepes, who has learned to sublimate his impaling proclivities through knitting and shoving the sticks into candy appels. Richard Lewis, as Goody’s old flame, has a sincere moment or two. Sigourney Weaver is okay at best; we know she can do much better, judging from her work in GHOSTBUSTERS, but her role here feels rushed, as if she was paid for a day or two, and every first take was printed as long as there were no obvious flubs. Shawn fares a little better, because his nervous-humor shtick suits the material. Somehow, Dan Stevens comes across well in what is essentially a straight leading man role – usually a thankless task in this kind of genre comedy.
Girls just want to have fun, even if they're VAMPS.
Girls just want to have fun, even if they're VAMPS.

Amy Herckling had big hits with CLUELESS and LOOK WHO’S TALKING, but VAMPS (which is currently in limited theatrical engagements and available through VOD) is not likely to follow in their footsteps.  The film offers occasional glimmers of wit, and even a moment or two of genuine pathos, but Heckerling never comes to grips with the horror element, which seems tacked on as an afterthought. (Even the title is a misnomer: Goody and Stacy are not “vamps” who ruthlessly enthrall and seduce victims.) Even on a spoof level, Heckerling winds up trashing her own best gags (when Goody and Stacy find Cisserus sated amid a pile of drained victims in a Chinese restaurant, we instantly get the joke – when you eat Chinese, you get hungry again – but then Heckerling has Weaver say it out loud for the benefit of those too stupid to figure it out on their own). Perhaps Herkerling should have taken a cue from Ivan Reitman’s handling of GHOSTBUSTERS, in which the special effects (though not played exactly straight) were handled as well as in any serious movie, allowing the humor to come from the characters’ reactions to the supernatural shenanigans.
It’s too bad that, in the era of TWILIGHT, recent vampire-comedies (this means you, VAMPIRES SUCK) have been unable to hit such an easy target. Perhaps the problem is that the TWILIGHT films are so bad that they make parody irrelevant; there is simply nothing that anyone else can do to top their absurdity. VAMPS is not intended as a TWILIGHT spoof, but it plays with similar elements (veggie vampires versus homicidal blood suckers, love stories, vampires as outsiders trying to blend inconspicuously with humans). You would think that a film could do something better with these elements; unfortunately, VAMPS does not. In the end, this vampire-comedy is much less funny than any of the TWILIGHT films.
VAMPS (Anchor Bay, theatrical release: November 2,2012). Written and directed by Amy Heckerling. Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Dan Stevens, Richard Lewis, Sigourney Weaver, Wallace Shawn, Malcolm McDowell, Marilu Henner, Justin Kirk.


Comedy on Ice: Prehistoric creatures deal with vast, geological calamity in ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT.
Comedy on Ice: Prehistoric creatures deal with vast, geological calamity in ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT.

By any logic, the prehistoric creatures of the ICE AGE franchise should be extinct by now, or at the very least have migrated to the direct-to-video market, like their colleagues over at THE LAND BEFORE TIME had the grace to do. But no, here we are with ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT, the 3D, CG-animated film in which we rejoin family mammoth Manny (voice by Ray Romano), irascible saber-tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary), and wacky sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) as they deal with the break-up of Pangaea, an iceberg full of animal pirates and, for some reason, a teen mammoth (Keke Palmer) who just wants to belong to the cool gang (never mind the shifting of land masses that WILL VERY LIKELY KILL HER).
Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons went to see all the animal hijinks and weigh in on how the fourth installment of the ICE AGE franchise fares, whether the filmmakers are at all invested in these films at this point, and where the hell did all the humans go? Then, Steve takes a look at the genre elements in Woody Allen’s latest, TO ROME WITH LOVE, and Dan gives his thoughts on the paranormal thriller RED LIGHTS. Plus, what’s coming to theaters next week.


Paul: Science Fiction Film Review

Paul_Poster_1Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the actor-writers of two the very best comic horror films of the previous decade: SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ.  SHAUN OF THE DEAD brilliantly and humorously used zombies as a metaphor for braindead slobs working braindead jobs, an appalling fate to which much of the populace can easily relate. HOT FUZZ tackled the excesses of the police-action-drama with a dollop of serial cult killers in an out-of-the-way town for good measure. Both of these films were brilliantly directed by Edgar Wright, who last year offered the incredibly offbeat videogame contest-as-comedy-movie SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, a film which connected more with its audience on video than it did in the theater. Unfortunately, Pegg and Frost’s latest offering, PAUL, doesn’t scale the same heights of inventiveness, though it is not without humor and some charm.
This time Greg Mottola (SUPERBAD) directed, and the setting and humor are pitched more to an American audience rather than a British one. PAUL gets off to a reasonably good start as two Brit fanboys, illustrator Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and writer Clive Gollings (Nick Frost), achieve their lifelong dream of attending the San Diego Comic Con, literally the world’s largest genre convention. Mottola effectively limns the milieu from costumes to dealer’s room to author meet-and-greets. The pair are particularly excited to meet their favorite sci-fi author Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), who has inspired Clive to write his own sci-fi novel featuring a green female Amazon with three breasts.
To round off their trip to America, the pair rent a Winnebago and tour famous UFO sites across the country, from Area 51 to Roswell, New Mexico. Along the way, they witness a car crash and encounter an escaping alien who has named himself Paul (Seth Rogan’s voice). Paul needs a lift north to sync up with his fellow aliens, and cajoles the starstruck pair into helping them. While he is a knowledgeable alien gifted with invisibility and other powers, he is also has a bit a fratboy; he smokes, drinks, and moons others in pursuit of his own amusement. Though Graeme and Clive are initially fearful of their saucer-eyed friend, they become fond of him and vice versa.
Adding to the fun is the introduction of RV park attendant Ruth Boggs (Kristen Wiig), a brainwashed Bible Belt babe who wears a T-shirt depicting Jesus shooting Darwin in the head with the slogan “Evolve This!” Confronted by an actual alien, Boggs finds all her preconceptions challenged and winds up embracing the kind of life she daydreamed about but never had the courage to pursue. Wiig demonstrates a very sure sense of timing, though jokes concerning her inept attempts to curse, unfortunately, don’t improve with repetition.
PAUL benefits for a great supporting cast who play mostly underdeveloped characters. Jane Lynch is mostly wasted as a waitress at an alien-themed café, though she reappears and gets off an amusing line to Wiig at the end. Adding a sense of peril, Clive and Graeme put a dent into a truck belonging to a pair of insensitive locals, David Koechner and Jesse Plemons, who accuse the pair of being gay. Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) is charged by the Big Guy (Sigourney Weaver) with the task of bringing the escaped Paul back to Area 51, where for the past half century he was being pumped for information (including, in an amusing flashback cameo, the voice of Steven Spielberg) while his image was promulgated to keep the public from panicking once his existence became known. Zoil brings in a pair of inept but determined detectives (Bill Hader from SNL and Joe Lo Truglio from Reno 911!) to aid him in the recovery.
Adding to the fun are a series of references and insider gags best appreciated by long-time genre fans, with bits of dialogue and business copied from STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE X-FILES, E.T. (Paul specifically requests some Reese’s Pieces at a gas station stop, gets disguised as a kid in a costume, and possesses magical healing powers), and ALIENS. Some of the bits are obvious, while others, such as a bluegrass band playing the “Star Wars Cantina Theme” in a bar, are less so.
Though he sounds and acts much like the regular Seth Rogan, the Paul character comes off pretty well. The motion-capture animation here is not exceptional, but the character is emotionally expressive and demonstrates personality. The main difficulty is that the movie’s story loses direction near the end and resorts to replaying action movie clichés as the agents trying to recapture the alien close in while Paul visits his first human contact (touchingly played by Blythe Danner). Mottola simply doesn’t have the flair for action scenes that Edgar Wright does, and so these come off as slightly generic.
Like many modern movies, PAUL leaves a lot of destruction in its wake (the RV gets trashed, a house blown up, a couple of characters are killed in nasty ways), but there is no sense of consequence to these actions. Clive and Graeme proclaim the experience the best in their lives, but the movie doesn’t give any hint of what their regular lives were like, or whether they can afford to fix the things broken in their wake.
PAUL_PromoPegg and Frost clearly work well together, but once again Pegg is the nervous Nelly who winds up romancing a girl, while Frost is the hopeless best buddy who becomes jealous that Pegg’s attention gets focused elsewhere. The film takes potshots at close-minded religious fanaticism (“You just can’t win with those people”), but doesn’t offer anything particularly profound or controversial.
PAUL is a pleasant enough diversion for science fiction fans, but in the end leaves us hungry for the conclusion of Pegg and Frost’s “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy.
PAUL (March 18, 2011). Director: Greg Mottola. Writers: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg.

  • Simon Pegg…Graeme Willy
  • Nick Frost…Clive Gollings
  • Jeffrey Tambor…Adam Shadowchild
  • Seth Rogen…Paul (voice)
  • Jason Bateman…Agent Zoil
  • Sigourney Weaver…The Big Guy

Paul: March 18

Universal Pictures releases this science-fiction comedy, about two British comic-book geeks (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who encounter a smart-ass alien who wants to escape from the top-secret military facility at Area 51. Taking their new friend for a ride, our hapless heroes are pursued by federal agents and by the father of a young woman whom they accidentally kidnap. Greg Mottola directed, from a script written by Frost and Pegg. Seth Rogan provides the voice of the epynomous alien. Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Blythe Danner, and Jeffrey Tambor fill out the cast.

'Paul' — UFO Alien Comedy Trailer

PAUL is a comedy by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (SHAUN OF THE DEAD).

“Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunite for the comedy adventure Paul as two sci-fi geeks whose pilgrimage takes them to America’s UFO heartland. While there, they accidentally meet an alien who brings them on an insane road trip that alters their universe forever.
For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town-a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost). Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes…”

Directed by Greg Mottola (SUPERBAD), PAUL  also stars Kristen Wiig, Jane Lynch,  Sigourney Weaver, Jason Bateman, and Jeffrey Tambor.
Due in theaters March 18th, 2011 from Universal Pictures.

Avatar: The Special Edition review

Avatar Special Edition banshees
A new hunting scene for the Special Edition

As you all know, AVATAR is back on the big screen, showing exclusively in Digital 3-D and IMAX 3-D engagements. As you also know, this release is billed as the “Special Edition,” because writer-director James Cameron has restored nearly nine minutes of footage, expanding the already lengthy film’s running time to nearly 170 minutes (the maximum capacity for analog IMAX 3D screenings). Is the new special edition truly all that special, or is this just a cynical money-grab?

The answer is: neither. Despite the new scenes, AVATAR remains much the film it was before: a blockbuster entertainment of magnificent proportions, lacking subtlety while proudly wearing its heart on its sleeve – when it’s not blasting away bad guys with all the over-heated enthusiasm of THE EXPENDABLES. Yes, 20th Century Fox’s decision to re-issue the film was based on bottom line considerations, but in this home video era, we should appreciate the opportunity to re-experience the film on the big screen: AVATAR had still been doing good business when it was pushed out of 3D venues by ALICE IN WONDERLAND last March, and since then, ticket buyers have been ripped off by a succession of 3-D post-production conversions (CLASH OF THE TITANS, THE LAST AIRBENDER, PIRANHA 3 D) that were almost enough to permanently sour discerning viewers on the process. A return trip to Pandora is enough to eclipse those bad faux-3D memories

The special edition offers another opportunity to savor the 3D beauties of Pandora.
The special edition offers another opportunity to savor the 3D beauties of Pandora.

The real reason to see AVATAR again is to remind yourself what 3D looks like when done right. Although Cameron avoids gimmicky images of objects projecting out of the screen, he uses the process to great effect in flying scenes: separate from the background, all those copters, banshees, and floating jellyfish truly seem to be suspended in mid-air. Also, the clear separation of objects in the foreground from objects in the background allows Cameron to load the frame with details that would seem cluttered in a 2D rendition (all those virtual monitors, view screens, and lab equipment start to look like a jumble if you close one eye and watch the film flat).
The additional footage, which represents just about 5% of the total running time, is not enough to make a substantial difference in the film overall. Some of the extra minutes fill in expository details that only sharp-eyed fans would notice:

  • A trip to a school house, riddle with bullets, gives a good clue why Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver)’s Na’Vi outreach program is not going so well.
  • Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) reveals her full name to Jake (Sam Worthington) in the scene wherein she introduces him to her tribe (so now we know how he knows her name).
  • Jake’s narration explains why the legendary floating mountains of Pandora stay airborn.
  • We see the aftermath of a Na’Vi attack on some bulldozers that were smashing down trees. It’s obvious that the Earth forces can use this “provocation” as an excuse to justify action they wanted to take anyway: namely, attacking the Na’Vi’s tree-home.

avatar_special_edition_movie_image_01Other footage adds more action or simply expands on scenes that already existed:

  • Early on we glimpse some dino-size creatures we had not seen in the previous cut. Later, Jake in his avatar-body joins the Na’Vi’ as they fly on their banshees, hunting down these large creatures.
  • The “mating” scene between Jake and Neytiri is a bit longer but not at all explicit – unless you count the shot of their braid tendrils intertwining which is a bit suggestive of…something or other.
  • In this version Tsu’tey (Laz Alonso) does not die from his fall during battle. He lives long enough to pass the leadership baton to Jake, who then, according to Na’Vi ritual, puts Tsu’tey out of his misery with a stroke of his blade.

This new footage does little to expand on the plot or themes, nor does it address any of the reservations I expressed about AVATAR during its initial release (such as the absurd use of the word “unobtanium,” which should have been explained away as a joke). It’s nice to have the little narrative gaps filled: I had always wondered why Dr. Augustine’s outreach program was faring so poorly; now we know it was sabotaged (whether intentionally or inadvertently) by gunfire from the company mercenaries. And the burning bulldozers (along with the dead human crew) make it more understandable why the company drones are convinced that military force – not peaceful negotiation – is the only option.

The Na'Vi ride their banshees in the restored hunting sequence
The Na'Vi ride their banshees in the restored hunting sequence

Mostly the new scenes give us more of Pandora, which is for usually worth seeing. Sometimes, however, the extra minutes make themselves felt. The hunting sequence, for example, offers some nice aerial thrills, but it also expands the weakest portion of AVATAR: Jake’s learning the ways of the Na’Vi is a necessary plot point, but it could have been conveyed in a brief montage; instead, it virtually becomes the second act – a lengthy series of scenes that does little to advance the story but does give Cameron more opportunities to show off the beauties of Pandora.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the re-release is the opportunity to see AVATAR post-backlash. A second time around, the heavy-handed message and the one-dimensional villains seem simply like part of the film’s texture – not great virtues but hardly the fatal flaws that detractors would have us believe them to be. The movie’s strengths are more than enough to eclipse its weaknesses, which seem more and more like trivial nitpicking. Though far from perfect, AVATAR emerges victorious – a film with a Sense of Wonder as wide and beautiful as the skies of Pandora.

Sigourney Weaver "Vamps" it up for Amy Heckerling

Hollywood Reporter notes that Sigourney Weaver (ALIEN, GHOSTBUSTERS, AVATAR) has been cast the vampire queen Ciccerus in VAMPS, a horror-comedy from writer-director Amy Heckerling (CLUELESS, LOOK WHO’S TALKING). Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter are set to play beautiful young vampires whose immortality is threatened when they fall in love with mortals; Ciccerus is the age-old vampire who gave them the dark gift. Production is being planed to start in April.

Galaxy Quest (2000) – 10th Anniversary Science Fiction Film Review

Despite a premise that sounds far from promising, GALAXY QUEST turns out to be an amusing adventure that ofers both good comedy and reasonably exciting science fiction; its obvious inspiration is the STAR TREK franchise, and it manages to best the majority of those films. The basic idea is to take some actors with a long history of play-acting in an imagnary world, then thrust them into a “real” version of that world. This sounds a bit like the sadly disappointing THREE AMIGOES, which undermined its own premise by presenting little contrast between the Hollywood West and the “real” West (which in the movie became just a slightly grimier version of the Hollywood west). GALAXY QUEST does something similar by taking the cast of an old, canceled sci-fi show and putting them in Outer Space, but it makes a running joke out of the fact that everything they experience in reality conforms to the cliches of their old tele-dramas. And it has one extra act up its sleeve: the actors in question are typecast has-beens whose only gigs, since their show was cancelled, consist of promotional appearances and fan conventions – an area ripe for parody.
When we first meet the cast of the old “Galaxy Quest” TV show, they are about to make a convention appearance for hundreds of rabid fans. Soon, however, they meet the ultimate fans: a group of Thermians who turn out not to be humans in costume but actual aliens. The Thermians have intercepted the old “Galaxy Quest” signals and misinterpreted them as historical documents. Faced with extermination by the evil Sarris (Robin Sachs), Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni) and his comrades seek out the help of Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, Lt. Tawny Madison, Dr. Lazarus, Tech Sergeant Chen, and navigator Laredo, little realizing that these are actors, not astronauts. Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), who played Taggart, is too flattered to break the awful truth to the Thermians, so he convinces his old cast to go along with the gig. Although they really don’t know what they’re doing, the actors are able to fake it, because the Thermians have faithfully recreated their ship, down to the last detail, from watching old episodes of the show.

Some dangerous aliens that our TV stars encounter
Some dangerous aliens that our TV stars encounter

The cast soon find themselves trapped in dangerous situations from which they must extricate themselves by acting as they did in the show. The only one obviously uncomfortable with this is Guy (Sam Rockwell), a bit-player whose only role in the show was dying in the first five minutes of episode #81. Things go reasonably well at first, but then ugly reality rears its head. Will the cast rise to the level of expectations placed on them because of the larger-than-life roles they played, and do they really know enough about their own show to negotiate a plot without a script and a director to tell them what to do? (Well, no they don’t; fortunately, their fans do, and in one of the funniest sequences, a group of fan geeks manage to put all their knowledge of trivia to good use, saving their heroes from certain death, with a little help from the Internet.)
The film’s opening is weak. The attempt to spoof the “Galaxy Quest” show is not nearly as funny as one would hope, although the material seems on target in terms of details (rock sets and cyclorama skies suggest the original STAR TREK series with efficient accuracy). But once our heroes are taken on their quest, the picture takes off and really flies. The script is peppered with funny dialogue, and the cast make the most out of it. Tim Allen, without doing a William Shatner impersonation, captures the feel of a starship commander; you believe he could have played this part, and the humor comes from his reactions to the situations, not from acting like a bad actor. Sigourney Weaver actually gets to be funny (she played more or less a straight man role in GHOSTBUSTERS); her character’s frustration at the limits of her role are believably amusing, and Weaver herself is stunning as a blond bombshell, quite the opposite of her usual image. Rickman gets the frustrated, pretentious English actor routine down pat; more than that, he actually makes the scene work when the film shifts to serious mode—something usually deadly in a comedy of this sort. Tony Shalhoub’s deadpan delivery is the perfect counterpoint to Sam Rockwell’s increasing edginess as guy, and Daryl Mitchell has one of the best scenes when his character is asked to really pilot a starship out of dry dock.
Dean Parisot captures the science fiction ambience perfectly, thanks to fine technical help form Stan Winston’s makeup, ILM’s visual effects, Jerzy Zielinski’s cinematography, David Newman’s music, and Linda DeScenna’s production design. The overall production is geared to capturing the glory and awe of the best science fiction, because we have to believe that the prospect would successfully lure some out-of-work actors who would know better if the whole thing just didn’t look so amazing. Rather like Blake Edwards, who made those kung fu scenes in the PINK PANTHER films really funny by doing them really well, Parisot takes the position that this story is not a spoof or send up of genre clichés, and humor is not derived from cheesy looking effects or cardboard sets. Instead, he handles the situations as if they were real, and the humor comes from the absurdity of actors reliving their familiar situations in real life.
The result is exciting and buoyant and fun. The movie doesn’t entirely sell the reality of its situation: it still seems rather easy for the actor-characters to rise to the occasion and succeed in real life just as they did on their show. But what works earns enough good will for us to overlook the minor flaws. And in a year that has poked much fun at science fiction fans (TREKKIES, FREE ENTERPRISE) is nice to see a film that acknowledges the eccentricity of fanatics but ultimately embraces them. With any luck, GALAXY QUEST will go on to generate its own fan following. Here’s looking forward to Quest Con #1.


The original dual-layer DVD release of GALAXY QUEST featured a good widescreen transfer, a Dolby Digital 5.1 English soundtrack, and optional captions. There were a handful of bonus features: a promotional featurette titled “On Location in Space,” Deleted Scenes, a Theatrical trailer, production notes, a Thermian Language audio track, and cast and crew biographies. The deleted scenes were the most interesting, finally explaining how Sigourney Weaver’s blouse got ripped open in such a provacative way. Least interesting was the Thermian audio track, which replaces the English dialogue with the alien language of the Thermians heard in the film; it’s funny for maybe a minute. The 10th Anniversary DVD (released on May 12, 2009) retains these bonus features and adds several others, making it a preferable replacement
GALAXY QUEST (2000). Directed by Dean Parisot. Written by David Hoard and Robert Gordon, story by Gordon. Cast: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni, Robin Sachs, Patrick Breen.

Galaxy Quest – DVD Review

GALAXY QUEST was one of 2000’s nicest surprises; a sci-fi comedy that was neither snarky nor silly with a cast of both seasoned comic and more traditionally dramatic actors. The sci-fi spoof genre is littered with titles like Quark and Homeboys from Outer Space – not the sort of heap that anyone would want to be at the top of. It’s possible that the genre’s only real success has been Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, which had only a partly-successful film adaptation. Galaxy Quest’s clever conceit was to skewer Hollywood’s presentation of sci-fi while respecting the tenets that drew in fans in the first place. The initial ads brought in people looking forward to laughing at the typical convention-going fanatics, only to find it taking a surprising, welcome turn to affectionate homage. As Nicholas Meyer says in the supplemental features, “it’s a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ movie.”
The inspired beginning of the film finds the cast of early 80s television show “Galaxy Quest” making their umpteenth appearance at a sci-fi convention. Tensions among the cast are rising as aging ingénue Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), frustrated thespian Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), burnt out Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub), and former child star Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) discover that leading man Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) has agreed to a personal appearance sans castmates at the home of a fan. From someone who has been to more than a few horror/sci-fi conventions in his life, the accuracy with which the details are rendered here is depressingly impressive. As the actors are introduced to the audience, a giant screen plays images from the long canceled TV show behind them, and we’re treated to the first of many terrific Alan Rickman moments when he cringes at hearing his character’s catch phrase “By Grabthar’s Hammer…” but the film makes takes a brilliant turn when Nesmith takes the stage. Instead of playing off the famous SNL bit where Bill Shatner famously (and hilariously) berated conventioneers to “get a life!” Tim Allen relishes his celebrity and greedily soaks up the adoration of the fans. When he goes into a bathroom at the hotel (complete with a line of Klingons standing at the urinals) and overhears a civilian mocking both the actors and fans, it sucks the wind from his sails, depressing him to the point where he rudely dismisses a young fan (Justin Long).
After spending the night tucked into a scotch bottle, he wakes to find 4 people waiting outside his home in unusually detailed alien costumes (including an amazingly recognizable Rainn Wilson) ready to take him to his solo fan gig, and Jason passes out in the limo just before it turns into an alleyway and lifts off. Jason awakens in what he assumes to be an expensive set built in a fan’s basement. Allen is particularly good here, with a convincing weaving around asking for soda and complimenting them on how realistic everything looks. Of course everything is absolutely real, and the Thermians (as the benign alien race is called) have been intently watching the Galaxy Quest “historical documents” and designed their entire ship and all the technology on it after what they’ve seen on those records. The Thermians believe that the characters are all real space explorers and have no conception of what a television show is; an attempt to describe what an actor does simply translates as a “liar” to them. They have traveled to Earth to secure the services of Nesmith’s alter ego “Capt. Taggart” in the tense negotiations with the evil, lizard-like Sarris, who has already destroyed much of their civilization looking for a device on the Thermian ship called the Omega 13. The problem is, no one knows what the Omega 13 actually does – “Galaxy Quest” was cancelled before the plotline could be resolved. A still clueless Nesmith orders the Thermians to open fire on Sarris and blithely walks off the bridge, looking for his limo ride home. Only after being transported across the galaxy in a gelatinous pod does he realize that everything was real, but it’s tougher to convince the rest of the cast when he arrives late to the opening of an electronics store. This is one of the film’s most hilariously uncomfortable moments, with Rickman despondently hissing out his catch phrase and adding the suffix ” … what savings!” just prior to the release of about 4 small helium balloons. Even the arrival of the Thermians, who need urgently Taggart to return to their ship before it is destroyed by an enraged Sarris, fails to convince them – until the thought of turning down a paying job convinces them to go with Nesmith, with bit player Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) insisting on tagging along.
As good as Allen is here (and this is his best screen work by a wide margin) the show really takes off once the rest of the cast has arrived aboard the Thermian ship. The film’s unexpected charm is that each member of the large ensemble cast is given room to maneuver; some roles, like Shalhoub’s engineer and Rockwell’s glorified extra (Guy would have been the red-shirted security officer killed before the first commercial break on Star Trek – the ‘no-duh’ inspiration for the Galaxy Quest show-within-a-show) would have been lost in the shuffle in lesser hands, but director Dean Parisot and writers David Howard and Robert Gordon keep most of the humor character based, and actor-dependant. We never cared much for Wings, but before Monk made him a viable star, Shalhoub was perpetrating minor comic masterpieces in films like Quick Change and Men in Black and his deadpan delivery is murderously funny. Ditto Sam Rockwell, whose reaction to being probed by the Thermians in their un-disguised form is a brilliant moment, and one that we wouldn’t be surprised to learn wasn’t always on the page. it’s also great to see Sigourney Weaver as loose and funny as she is here; even though she’s no stranger to the setting, the comedic element of the story – and blond bombshell wig – seems to have lit a spark, even if one of her best lines was clipped to avoid a PG-13 rating (watch her lip movements when she and Allen first arrive at the “chompers”). In this company, it seems disingenuous to say than any one actor steals the film; Galaxy Quest is definitely a case where every actor is given at least a handful of opportunities, but Rickman might have the juiciest role. Serving as the Spock surrogate to Allen’s Kirk, he wears an amazingly uncomfortable looking head appliance to give his Dr. Lazarus a nicely generic alien appearance, and spits venom at the aliens who worship him. Lazarus has the most interesting character arc; when an unexpected death late in the film breaks his resolve and he recites his hated catch phrase in utter earnestness, Rickman nails a difficult moment, and earns the scene a large measure of pathos. That’s the not-so-secret secret of Galaxy Quest’s success – a character-based comedy that walks the finest of lines; an affectionate parody that pokes gentle fun at a genre that it clearly loves.
Apparently, Galaxy Quest is still considered enough of a cult item to deny it a higher profile Blu-Ray release – a real shame, as Paramount and DreamWorks have assembled a very respectable array of extras. No commentary track is present, though it’s hard to imagine watching this film without listening to the actors.
Here’s what is:

  • Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest – Here we get a general overview of the production, from screenwriting and casting through shooting and reception. Impressively, each major player – both in front of and behind the camera – is on hand for interviews, an impressive feat for a 10 year old comedy that was far from a blockbuster.
  • Never Give Up, Never Surrender: The Intrepid Crew of the NSEA Protector – This featurette concentrates on the cast, all of whom remember the film fondly. Sigourney Weaver has a particularly take, having been part of the sci-fi universe with the Alien series for so long, she clearly relished the chance to play such a different character.
  • By Grabthar’s Hammer, What Amazing Effects – a bittersweet recollection, as it features a vintage interview with one of the great creature creators of all time, Stan Winston, who passed away last year.
  • Alien School: Creating the Thermian Race – This piece focuses on Enrico Colantoni, who played Thermian leader Mathesar. During his audition, Colantoni came up with the distinctive method of Thermian movement and speech.
  • Actors in Space – Similar to the Crew featurette, the actors discuss certain aspects of their characters that might his too close to home.
  • Sigourney Weaver Raps – Unable to attend her agent’s birthday party in New York, Weaver, with help from Mitchell and Rockwell, perform a brief hip hop tribute from the set.

There are also about 12 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, which include two hysterical moments, including Dr. Lazarus being shown his Spartan quarters aboard the Thermian ship, and Rockwell’s reaction to a malfunctioning gun in a scrapped version of the finale. The set is rounded out with the original trailer and a Thermian language track which is funny for about the same length of time it takes to go back to the menu and turn it off.