In geek circles, Alan Rickman is known for two particular things: his marvelous run as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies and for the long-suffering and pompous Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest. In pop culture he will always be Hans Gruber in Die Hard or the cheating Harry in Love Actually. The marvelous thing about the late Rickman was that he could be all things and always, always deliver the goods.
Take Kevin Smith’s Dogma. In retrospect, it’s a real mess of a movie. The third act it just collapses in on itself. But whenever Metatron, the Voice of God, is on screen sparks fly. Rickman takes that part and infuses it with such life, such vibrance that you can’t take your eyes off him. It is not the only movie he steals from the principals. He practically made a career of it.
In Galaxy Quest, a movie that does not collapse at all and bears repeated viewings without problem, Rickman’s Dane has a journey that outstrips the rest of the characters. Dane is utterly disgusted at his career. He began with theatrical brilliance and now has stagnated into staggering from SF cons to commercial endorsements. Worst of all, he has to hear fans repeat his catchphrase: “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!”. There is a scene early on in the movie where the non-lead actors are opening a shopping mall and Dane has to say, “By Grabthar’s hammer, what saving.” Rickman, known for his theatrical pauses, takes a long one between hammer and what, bringing up a heroic amount of self-loathing that is just brilliant for an adventure comedy. In a great piece of writing, in the third act of the movie an alien who regards Dane as his mentor, dies in Dane’s arms. Now Rickman repeats the catchphrase as a blood-curdling vow and it’s one of the movies best “Fuck yeah!” moments.
It you really want to appreciate what Rickman could do, watch the British rom-com Truly Madly Deeply. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll avoid explaining it. Just watch it because it is so unlike what Americans would do with such a daft and wonderful concept. It doesn’t hurt that it’s written and directed by Anthony Minghella but there’s a musical scene early on in the movie that is so joyful, so full of life you’ll watch it again and again.
That’s the thing with Rickman. His range was so vast. That voice, it’s cadence, that’s always unmistakable. But the characters are so different, always empowered by that voice but all so different, so full, and just so real.
It might be a while before me and my wife can watch an Alan Rickman film. His movies have been a big part of our life for a very long time. For a very long time we swore we were the only ones that had ever seen and loved Truly Madly Deeply. Of course we were wrong. It’s long been a favorite of movie fans that demand just a little more heart and brains in their films. But if you haven’t seen it, seek it out now. And if you have, watch it again when the grief at Rickman’s passing is not so near and sharp. Because we will always have the comfort that his work will live on.