Star Trek 50th anniversary: Poking fun at Trekkies made this Questarian value them more

Originally published September 5, 2016

As part of CNET’s coverage of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, I talked with a dozen cast members from across the franchise about everything from Star Trek’s inclusive message to how best to lampoon the Trek universe.

By Ian Sherr

What if TV broadcasts of Star Trek were intercepted by a technologically advanced but naive race of aliens?

That’s the premise behind “Galaxy Quest,” a 1999 parody/homage that lovingly hits on every aspect of Star Trek, from the corniness of the original series to the incomprehensible technobabble to the pajamalike costumes and, of course, the franchise’s dedicated fans. You didn’t need to know Star Trek to get the gags, but diehards could spot many inside jokes, including Alan Rickman’s masterful sendup of Leonard Nimoy’s love-hate relationship with his character, Spock.

But it was Enrico Colantoni who won over many a Trekkie’s heart with his portrayal of Mathesar, leader of the Thermians, the alien race at the heart of “Galaxy Quest.” The civilization of octopoidal aliens was in disarray until broadcasts of the “Galaxy Quest” reached their planet from Earth.

Believing the TV episodes to be “historical documents,” the Thermians modeled their lives on the show’s teachings. And when they got into trouble with the evil General Sarris, they head for Earth and ask for help from the “Galaxy Quest” actors, believing them to be extraordinary space-farers.

Although Colantoni knew about Star Trek — fellow Canadian William Shatner is a legend, after all — he didn’t know about the conventions “Galaxy Quest” would parody. “It didn’t dawn on me there was a whole subculture.”

startrek50cropped2.jpgTo help create Mathesar, he drew from “The Coneheads,” a massively popular “Saturday Night Live” sketch about aliens with conical-shaped heads stranded on Earth. He borrowed the characters’ monotone speech, but replaced their robotic personalities with a heartfelt innocence.

“I made him born again,” Colantoni, now 53, said of his character. “His innocence was so transparent. He wasn’t hiding anything.”

“Galaxy Quest” fans may remember talk of a “Galaxy Quest” TV series in the works before actor Rickman died. The death stopped any efforts, Colantoni said, and he hopes it stays that way. But if a TV series does come to be, he wants to be invited, because he enjoyed playing an alien.

“Any character where you’re allowed to extend the imagination beyond the here and now is great fun,” he said. “I know how much fun an actor has when they put on goofy makeup.”

Of the many things he learned from playing Mathesar, Colantoni said he developed a deep appreciation for Star Trek’s fans. “When I found out these people were real, I discovered compassion where I might have made fun of them before,” he said. “They’re no different than a sports fan or a fan of anything.”

It also taught him that sci-fi is about the human spirit. “Human evolution is where Star Trek lives,” he said.

Colantoni’s since gotten into directing, including an episode of the sci-fi drama “iZombie.”

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