The Book Lightwalker Files

Science fiction by Victor Travison

Lightwalker's View

The Thermian Dynamic

Posted on March 28, 2012 at 6:15 AM

Regardless of their philosophical bent, there’s one thing all science fiction has in common. The story begins when somebody asks “what if” such-and-such was true? The 1999 movie Galaxy Quest, for instance, asks, “What if aliens received TV sci-fi transmissions and thought everything they saw on the screen was real?”


Jason Nesmith (played by Home Improvement funnyman Tim Allen) plays Captain Taggart as a good caricature of Kirk. The rest of the crew of the NSEA Protector, however, are harder to place, for the actors probably drew several familiar qualities from the Trek universe and other fiction for their own roles.


Sigourney Weaver, known for her sci-fi/horror work, plays Gwen DeMarco, who in turn plays Tawny Madison, more of a Deanna Troi type since sexism is part of her complaint. She hates repeating the computer’s words, just as Nichelle Nichols wanted to do more than run communications.


Tony Shalhoub, now more commonly known as Adrian Monk, plays a rather clueless Fred Kwan. To “Engineer Chan” in Galaxy Quest, he brings the same charming uncertainty as when he plays the germophobic detective.


The character Alexander Dane is a former Shakespearean actor who despises his role as Dr. Lazarus. In some respects he’s like Spock, but probably closer to Worf in The Next Generation. Tommy Webber had been a child when he played Top Gunner Laredo, who also runs the helm.


Then there’s Guy, a cowardly fan who once appeared on Galaxy Quest, but was killed before the first commercial. Throughout the movie, he whines about being “Crewmember #6,” a security guard who typically dies early in the film, just as the red-shirts were often the first to buy it on the original Trek.


It’s impossible to include every nuance of how Quest resembles Trek in the word count I’ve allowed myself; but just about every bit of Trek technology is renamed. Communicators are “voxes,” replicators are “food synthesizers,” dilithium crystals are a “beryllium sphere,” and the transporter is a “digital conveyor.”


Also, many comments involving Nesmith apply to the Shatner/Kirk image. He speaks of wrestling a Kreemorian fangor beast, which may reflect the mugatos in “A Private Little War.” During his battle with a rock monster, he manages to lose his shirt, just as Shatner was often seen bare-chested. Over the vox, Tommy suggests he “build some kind of rudimentary lathe” to defeat the beast, a clear reference to “Arena.”


As to plot, the movie opens on a Galaxy Quest convention about 20 years after the show ended, and the actors are at each others’ throats—especially against Nesmith, their pompous commander. While Nesmith still loves his catchphrase, “Never give up, never surrender,” Alexander Dane despises his own lines beginning with “by Grabthar’s hammer.”


“How did I come to this?” he complains. “I played Richard III. There were five curtain calls. I was an actor once. … I won’t go out there and say that stupid line one more time!”


But Nesmith’s ego is brought down a few pegs when he enters a restroom stall and overhears three fans at urinals talking to each other.


“Did you check out Nesmith?” says one. “He actually gets off on those retards, thinking he’s a space commander. And his friends …”


“I know!” says another. “They can’t stand him. Did you hear them ragging on him in there?”


“Dude, he has no idea he’s a laughingstock, even to his buddies. He’s pathetic!”


According to the trivia list at, the scene reflects an actual experience Shatner once had at a convention. I don’t know how he handled it, but Nesmith falls into a depressed funk while signing autographs. He snipes at a technically astute fan named Brandon, who’s trying to resolve a disagreement with his friends. He is short with four short people he takes for costumed fans, with slick hair, stilted speech, and pasted smiles.


Turns out these are not fans at all—not in the usual sense. They are Thermians from a distant planet beyond a black hole; they beg for Nesmith to help because they think the Galaxy Quest episodes are historical documents. Even as their leader Mathesar desperately pleads, “Please, Commander, you are our last hope,” the smiles never change. They have built their own spaceship based on what they’ve seen, with every technical part in place.


The plot gets pretty complicated from there, but they manage to get him aboard their Protector II to negotiate with their brutal enemy, Sarris. The villain looks like a cross between man, lobster, and locust, a monster who has all but destroyed their race. Still thinking it’s an elaborate joke, Nesmith simply fires on Sarris’ ship and leaves. Only when he’s covered in a clear gelatinous goo, vaulted back to Earth through the black hole, does he realize it’s real.


When he tries to tell his friends about his experience, they don’t believe him, and in typical Allen style he mispronounces their race name: “They’re Termites, or Dalmatians.” The Thermians return to say Sarris still lives, and wants “Captain Taggart” back. Nesmith insists the others come with him.


Eventually they do, plus Guy who’s “jazzed at being on the show,” but they still snipe at each other even while dealing with Sarris. But it’s interesting how the crew manages to work as a team by movie’s end. Nesmith shows more compassion toward the others around him. Gwen falls into repeating the computer for real. When Tommy objects, she explodes: “Look, I have one job on this lousy ship. It’s stupid, but I’m gonna do it! Okay?” And Dane’s disdain for the Grabthar’s hammer line transforms into far more feeling when a Thermian fan dies.


Galaxy Quest is a fun movie to watch in many ways, but as with other secular sci-fi, it has problems. A lot of evolutionary assumptions make the rounds, such as Sarris’ form. Also, the Thermians’ true form is shown to be octopus-like, who speak in high jabbers; this reminds me of how the Kelvans in “By Any Other Name” were said to look (last week’s entry). On the beryllium planet we also see bald, runty miners who apparently mine the spheres, a fat and squat pig lizard, and the aforementioned creature of oddly unjoined rocks. I do admire the imagination behind these things, if not the theory.


It’s hard to see how these aliens could mistake a series for historical documents, if each begins with opening credits introducing the actors in their roles. Much more incredible is how the Thermians’ Protector could run on the very beryllium sphere some sci-fi screenwriter had to have invented, complete with a planet where the spheres are made. Also, how can Nesmith’s crew not know how the Omega-13 device works, if it was written into the show?


Problems aside, however, there are a few cool biblical parallels. One is how sci-fi fans, here called Questerians and personified in Brandon, are treated with intelligence and respect, regardless of their passion. Apostle Paul once stated he could be all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), no matter what their station in life—but I’m sure he didn’t mean adopting lifestyle choices as well. This would be counterproductive for a holy (set apart) people.


And is it counterproductive for the crew to try explaining they are actors, not intrepid space explorers. The Thermian mind cannot accept this, because Sarris’ deceptions are fresh in their mind. “If you are saying that any of you could have traits in common with Sarris …” says Mathesar, leading the others in a monotone laugh.


Sarris, on the other hand, is fully aware of the concept, and he laughs wickedly. To Jason Nesmith he says, “[Mathesar] does not understand. Explain as you would a child.” Regretfully Jason tells him in oversimplified terms how “we acted … we lied.”


Actually, playing a role is far different from lying to deceive. The first is meant to entertain; if it were a sin, then the most devout Christian actor must be guilty. However, we may assume this is the only way Mathesar could begin to understand the truth. Simplified truth is how we should present the Gospel to the Bible-illiterate.


Most of all, I like Taggart’s tag line: “Never give up, never surrender,” for it has a great parallel in Galatians 6:9. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Also, 2 Thessalonians 3:13 shares the same idea, and many of the Psalms which speak of being surrounded by evil forces eventually shift into “never give up” mode, by expressing faith in the Lord’s power.


As long as we have the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter who or what we may encounter, we have no reason to give up. Instead, we need to draw from Christ’s strength and overcome, for “he who endures to the end will be saved.”


Categories: Other sci-fi, Original Star Trek, Movies

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Reply SandiGrace
9:57 PM on April 11, 2012 
I enjoyed this re-visit to Galaxy Quest. The characters who left the deepest impression on me were those you mentioned, "On the beryllium planet we also see bald, runty miners who apparently mine the spheres."

These little dudes surprised me, and not pleasantly. When one of their number was injured or handicapped, the others fiercely attacked it. Like Gwen, I thought they would help it. Neither of us should have been surprised. This is a perfect picture of sinful man without Jesus. When someone is down or weak, others move in to destroy. Unfortunately, that's a painful commentary that Galaxy Quest got right.

On the brighter side, the Thermians, though childlike and often clueless like some Christians, were pure and noble of heart.
Reply victortravison
11:58 AM on April 17, 2012 
Sandi, I love the way you think! I wanted to mention the creatures' cannibalism, but was running long as it stood. Your evaluation is one I hadn't thought of, so thank you very much for bringing it out.

~ VT