Friday, June 8, 2007

By Grabthar's Hammer!

In the 1990s in Toronto, a great time was to be had visiting Big City Improv on Queen Street West. A regular improv show was followed by an interval and then - for the hardcore fans - a Star Trek (original series) spoof.

I remember the first time I visited... the lights lowered until we were in complete darkness. A man's voice came over the amplification system... "Space... the final frontier..." As it continued, a man with a foot-long model of the original Enterprise strapped to his head came running down one diagonally-positioned aisle, holding two flashlights at his head to illuminate the spaceship. Whhhhoooooosh... Then he ran down the other aisle in an attempt to recreate the opening sequence of the tv show. It was brilliant and hysterically funny. I remember one night actually having to be held onto by my friend as I was falling off my chair with laughter.

You didn't have to be a big Star Trek fan. The best thing was to go with some real fans. They could explain the irony of what was going on. I seem to recall that a specific original script was used from which the improv could take off.

Around that time a group of friends, most of whom had some understanding of the Star Trek phenomenon, went to see the opening night of Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (1992). I don't remember anything of it. I just remember that it was at the Eglinton (at Avenue Road), one of the great old cinemas of the city that has now gone (sob!). The theatre was packed with Trekkers and there was a hum of excitement in the air. The pre-movie murmuring suddenly subsided as a single line of copy came up on the screen: "Dedicated to the memory of Gene Roddenberry." One of our party, who knew nothing really of Star Trek lore, whispered somewhat loudly, "Who's Gene Roddenberry?" You could almost feel the shudder of horror go through the audience. That was the best moment of the entire evening.

And then there was Galaxy Quest (1999). This is one of my favourite comedies ever. The cast of an old Star Trek-type series is relegated to making personal appearances in their old uniforms at sci-fi conventions and shopping malls. They are bitter and washed up and taken seriously by only their die-hard fans. When a group of real aliens (who have mistaken transmissions of their old shows as "historical documents") come to ask for help against an evil empire, the cast members are suddenly flung into the acting roles of their lives.

Tim Allen is priceless as the self-centered actor who played the Captain, Sigourney Weaver gorgeously against-type as the blonde bimbette, Alan Rickman full of self-loathing as a classical actor who sold out early, and Sam Rockwell in an early, movie-stealing role as the actor who played an un-named crew member in one episode of the old show. As such he is convinced that fate will kill him off.

"I'm not even supposed to be here. I'm just "Crewman Number Six." I'm expendable. I'm the guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is. I've gotta get outta here."

Tony Shalhoub, Enrico Colantoni and Justin Long are among the large supporting cast.

Alan Rickman has the best signature line in the movie, a line he hates quoting during those long years as a has-been, but one that he gets to emote once more with full meaning and resonance:

"By Grabthar's hammer... by the Sons of Warvan... you shall be... avenged!!"

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