Why Harold Ramis Walked Away From Directing Galaxy Quest

What is the best "Star Trek" movie? There are a handful of options that Trekkies tend on agree on being acceptable answers to this question. (No, "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" is not one of them, but nice try.) Their ranks often include "Galaxy Quest," itself a loving sendup of "Star Trek: The Original Series" that, in its own comedic way, honors the spirit of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry's utopian sci-fi vision better than many actual "Star Trek" films.

Directed by Dean Parisot, the beloved 1999 film follows the washed-up stars of a popular "Star Trek"-style 1980s sci-fi series as they're pulled away from their monotonous routine of fan conventions and promotional work and into a real-life interplanetary conflict. Parisot had mostly worked in TV prior to making the movie and had recently called the shots on "Home Fries," the 1998 Drew Barrymore dramedy that's only really notable for being one of "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan's early writing credits. The film was also produced by Mark Johnson, who would go on to reunite with Parisot on "Galaxy Quest."

"Mark and I loved working together, but the studio wasn't ready to hire a guy who had only done a small independent movie," explained Parisot, speaking to MTV as part of the outlet's oral history about the making of "Galaxy Quest" to mark its 15th anniversary in 2014. As such, the film's backer, DreamWorks Pictures, turned to Harold Ramis, co-creator of "Ghostbusters" and director of hit comedy movies like "Caddyshack," "National Lampoon's Vacation," and "Groundhog Day." Ramis might have stayed on, too, had he not struggled so much with casting the sci-fi comedy to his liking.

The search for Jason Nesmith

There's no missing the parallels between the fictional actors played by the stars of "Galaxy Quest" and the cast of "Star Trek: TOS." There's Tim Allen as Jason Nesmith, whose egotism makes him the bane of his costars' existence and the obvious stand-in for William Shatner; Alan Rickman as Alexander Dane, a hoity-toity thespian whose desire to pursue more "serious" roles brings to mind Leonard Nimoy's early discomfort with his popularity as Spock; Sigourney Weaver as Gwen DeMarco, who's frustrated by her insubstantial role as the token woman in the "Galaxy Quest" TV show's cast (a la Nichelle Nichols in "TOS"); and so on.

Watching it now, it's hard to imagine any other actors occupying these roles. Even Allen is pretty perfect as the movie's in-universe equivalent of Shatner, if not entirely for the right reasons. "The studio wanted Tim Allen to do it, but Harold didn't want to do it with Tim. At least, I believe that's the story," Parisot told MTV. According to Johnson, however, the truth is a little more complicated:

"Harold didn't do the movie because we couldn't cast it. The people we went to all turned it down, and by the time we got to Tim Allen, Harold couldn't see it. To Harold's benefit and credit, when he eventually saw the movie, all he kept saying was how wrong he'd been."

Among the other actors approached to play Jason Nesmith was Alec Baldwin, who told Justin Long (who made his film debut as nerdy "Galaxy Quest" fan Brandon and was Baldwin's neighbor at the time of MTV's article) he "was offered and then un-offered" the role. Johnson said Kevin Kline was also offered the part, but passed for "personal life reasons. I think he didn't want to leave New York."

Galaxy Quest was always Parisot's film to direct

While not without his share of misses as a director (his attempt to make a Monty Python-style burlesque with 2009's "Year One" was, well, pretty rough), it stands to reason "Galaxy Quest" would have still turned out okay under Ramis, had he felt more confident about the movie's cast. "Harold Ramis... how could you possibly do better?" mused co-writer Robert Gordon. At the same time, Gordon agreed that looking back, he now recognizes the film was really Parisot's to direct all along:

"[Ramis'] films are my favorite films, he was such a sweet guy, just really smart. But I got lucky twice. Dean and I saw eye to eye. He played it straight, but he got an amazing performance out of Tim Allen."

"Galaxy Quest" didn't cement its legacy overnight, either. The film got a warm reception from critics but was barely a financial hit with a box office gross of $90.7 million against a $45 million budget. Much of that can be (and has been) fairly blamed on the marketing, which positioned the movie as a broad, family-targeted slapstick comedy, as opposed to what it actually is: An earnest, playful love letter to "Star Trek" that doubles as an astute depiction of fandom. Thankfully, time did its thing, and "Galaxy Quest" is now rightly seen as the classic that it is.

In the immortal words of Commander Taggart: "Never give up, never surrender!"