Galaxy Quest (1999)

Sci-fi mania is about more than special effects.

One of the reasons movies and TV series like Star Wars and Star Trek have developed huge, cultlike followings is that their futuristic exploits are set against a well-ordered moral universe. Good and evil are clearly defined in a way that no longer seems possible in our ever-changing, present-day world.

Galaxy Quest is a clever action-comedy about the cast of a 1970s hit series who support themselves by personal appearances and autograph signings at fan conventions. But a real-life nation of aliens called Thermians have interpreted the show's tacky melodramas as “historical documents,” basing all their moral and scientific laws on the programs’ content. They ask the show's leader, Lt. Cmdr. Taggart (Tim Allen), to help defend them against an evil intruder. The washed-up actors who make up Taggart's crew (Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman and others) must now live out for real the heroic roles they played on the tube. Most of the laughs to be had here are good-natured, but, as reflected in the Register Ratings below, some of the content is not appropriate for kids.

Gettysburg (1993)

The Civil War was fought for moral, economic and political reasons. Academic historians have tended to de-emphasize the struggle's moral component — the abolition of slavery — because of their own materialistic biases. Gettysburg, a four-hour TNT minis-eries, restores religious belief to the proper role it played on both sides of the conflict. Based on Michael Shara's novel The Killer Angels, it focuses on the bloody battle itself, in which 158,000 men fought and 43,000 were killed the first three days of July 1863.

The firm commitment of some Union soldiers to the moral rightness of their cause is effectively dramatized by the awesome bravery of the troops from Maine commanded by Col. Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) during an early skirmish. On the Confederate side, we watch Gen. Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) decide to launch a suicidal attack against superior numbers because of an almost mystical faith in his own forces. When it's all over, you'll feel like you were actually there.

Hoodlum Priest (1961)

St. Dismas is the name traditionally given to the repentant good thief who was crucified with Christ (Luke 23:39-43). The Hoodlum Priest, directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back), is a moving, documentary-style, low-budget feature about Jesuit Father Charles Dismas Clark, whose real-life ministry is connected to his middle name. Billy Lee Jackson (Keir Dullea) is an ex-con for whom Clark (Don Murray) finds a job in a produce market. The young man is wrongly accused of a crime by the market's manager and unjustly fired. Determined to get even, Jackson robs his former bosses. But during the heist an employee is killed. The ex-con is convicted and sentenced to death.

Clark continues to try to save the young thief's soul. “I want you to keep thinking of St. Dismas,” he counsels as they walk to the gas chamber. “Remember the only person who went to heaven right away was a convict just like you.”

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

A firm sense of moral values can go awry and become overly judgmental when not allied with reason and compassion. This is the lesson Elizabeth Bennet (Greer Garson) must learn in this Oscar-winning version of Jane Austen's witty novel of late 18th-century manners. Elizabeth is one of five daughters whose country home and estate are bequeathed to a distant cousin (Melville Cooper) by quirk of inheritance. As a result, their scheming mother (Mary Boland) insists they all must marry well.

The Bennets’ fondest dreams seem about to be realized when the rich, handsome, haughty Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier) falls for Elizabeth. However, the independent-minded woman spurns him because of ugly stories she's heard about his past. Later developments prove her judgment wrong, but it looks like her change of heart may h a v e come too late. The movie recreates the novel's brilliant mix of romance and satire with an elegant, classic style that audiences still find appealing.