When news hit that Alan Rickman had died of cancer at 69 years old Thursday, fans of the British comedian all rose to rally around the actor's impressive body of work. Harry Potter fans insisted they would remember the actor, always. Die Hard fans lauded his epic and star-making turn as Hans Gruber, a name that will live in infamy. But not nearly enough film fans are recognizing Rickman's contribution to comedy. Because Rickman's performance in Galaxy Quest is, believe it or not, one of his best.
Those who did not grow up watching Star Trek or did not consider themselves aficionados of Tim Allen's body of work might not have seen the 1999 spoof, which disappointingly came and went before you could say, "What's Galaxy Quest?" Yes, the film earned $70 million in the box office in the U.S., but its legacy made it seem far cheaper. For most of the population, it doesn't have the nostalgia factor of Austin Powers, the bawdy imprint of American Pie, or the Hugh Grant-iness of Notting Hill. When it came to late '90s movies, you were more likely to conjure up images of the latest teen release than conjure up images from a film starring a future wizard like Rickman.
And that's a damn shame. Because Galaxy Quest is funnier than every film mentioned above, combined. It's a witty display that perhaps was released 10 years before its time, before the cool factor of geek culture led to the success of projects like The Big Bang Theory and, well, all of the 14,673 superhero films released in the last five years. And Alan Rickman, playing classically trained actor-turned-sci-fi footnote Sir Alexander Dane turns in a performance that is (I'm sorry, I have to do it, there's no other way to describe it) out of this world.
The rallying cry in the 1999 comedy Galaxy Quest is, "Never give up. Never surrender." And the exact same thing could be said about Rickman's performance in the spoof. The premise of the film is insane — a group of sci-fi has-beens find out there is life out there, and that life is obsessed with their old space TV show — as is the costuming and the script. It would be a gamble for any actor but Rickman. If not sold properly, Galaxy Quest could have been written off as a complete joke, an embarrassment that forced a 50-something man to parade around in a bald cap for 1 hour and 42 minutes. But Rickman, as fans of the actor know, can sell anything. And, as Sir Alexander Dane, Rickman never gave up, never surrendered, and the result was not only hilarious, but transcendent as well.
I know that seems a lofty word to use to describe one man's work in a comedy co-starring an actor whose catchphrase is a grunt. But it's true. Rickman injects every single line of Galaxy Quest with feeling. So much feeling, that all fans of the film can recall shedding tears hearing the actor utter, "By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged." (Seriously, I'm close to tears as we speak. The man could move you saying complete nonsense.)
It's ridiculous, it's silly, and it's so perfectly Rickman. No matter the material, there was always a sense of humor to Rickman's roles. It's what made him so watchable, so charming, so contagious. Rickman might not be known as a comedian, but the medium was perfect for him. There was always a wink in Rickman's eye, a sense that you, the audience, were as in on the joke as he was. In all his roles, Rickman made himself impossible to root against, whether he was a maniacal killer, a philandering husband, or a disgraced, curmudgeonly British actor. (Another reason why his work in Galaxy Quest was so fascinating — Rickman gave us an interesting look into what he might have been without that patented sense of humor.)
No matter who he was playing, Rickman brought himself down to earth. And that's precisely what made his Galaxy Quest performance so otherworldly. And so I have nothing else to say but: By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Worvan, Alan Rickman, you will be remembered.
Image: DreamWorks Pictures