There are three types of people: people who like Galaxy Quest, people who love Galaxy Quest, and people who haven’t seen Galaxy Quest. The 1999 sci-fi comedy that pokes gentle fun at Star Trek couldn’t truly find its bearings until it got into home release and cable syndication.
If you've ever wanted to know a whole lot more about this sci-fi classic, you're in luck. 2018’s Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary tracks the film’s unexpected rise and shows it quietly predicted a pop culture revolution. Even better, it's streaming for free right now on Amazon Prime.
Perhaps the least known voice of Galaxy Quest is its director, Dean Parisot. Never Surrender reveals that the movie's producers originally had a totally different director in mind: Harold Ramis, of Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters fame. While Ramis was attached to the project for some time, he eventually left because his vision didn’t align with hiring someone like Tim Allen for the lead role.
Enter Parisot. While he has another movie out this year with Bill and Ted Face the Music, Parison only directs them intermittently, with most of his IMDb page taken up by TV shows ranging from The Good Wife to Justified. He describes himself as the guy lucky enough to get the call after Ramis left the project, and quickly becomes the glue that held Galaxy Quest together.
Directed by Jack Bennet (who coincidentally also made a documentary about Bill and Ted) argues that Galaxy Quest began a seachange in how sci-fi nerds were seen. The film turns an obsession with geeky science fiction into a superpower when the show's super-fans are the only ones capable of helping the actors bluff their way through a real sci-fi adventure.
This feels true enough, although Galaxy Quest certainly wasn’t alone in changing hearts and minds about nerds. The Matrix, which came out the same year and is also mentioned by the documentary as an example of the serious sci-fi that Galaxy Quest contrasts, turned a depressed hacker into a superhero and made science fiction cool using leather, latex, and underground raves.
Never Surrender is also a lesson in how a movie gets made. The script is rewritten several times, names are attached to the project and then drop out, the ones who stick around begin to shape what it looks like. The shooting of Galaxy Quest has some frustrating moments, like Alan Rickman’s increasing frustration with Tim Allen. There were struggles with going between a PG and G rating, but Heart of Darkness this is not.
What makes Galaxy Quest stand out to those interviewed is how wonderfully everything went. With the studio distracted by a chaotic set on the upcoming Gladiator, the crew of Galaxy Quest found themselves more or less free to make the movie that they wanted. Never Surrender is filled with interviews from fans (most cosplaying different films at sci-fi conventions) who say that ultimately, how Galaxy Quest turned out is for the best.
Never Surrender also gets a chance to explore Galaxy Quest’s unusually high rate of future stars, from Rainn Wilson to Enrico Colatoni to Justin Long. Talking about the struggle to find work is a relatable one for many, and to hear Colatoni describe how he relied on his days at acting school to get the Thermian voice just right, it’s easy to put yourself in the place of the actor trying to get the job. Wilson's choice to leave the project early also shows the risks a young actor takes sometimes don't work out.
Never Surrender gives appropriate homage to Rickman, who died of cancer in 2016. During a particularly emotional scene, when Allen’s character has to tell the Thermians that he is, in fact, an actor, Parisot emphasized to Allen, who was just coming off hit show Home Improvement, that the scene would call for serious acting. Allen rehearsed over and over again the day of the shoot, and during filming found himself overcome by emotion and crying. After filming, he asked to leave the set for his trailer to better deal with his feelings. When he left, Rickman snickered that it seemed like Allen had finally discovered acting. The two eventually got along, at least well enough to be seen laughing with each other elsewhere in this documentary.
If this is the type of feel-good story you want to hear, Never Surrender is perfect. It fills in the details on one of Hollywood’s most slept-on success stories, a film that patiently waited for its fans to find it. But once they did, they never let go.
Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary is streaming now on Amazon Prime.