Galaxy Quest Documentary

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime

The Pitch: Galaxy Quest cast members Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Justin Long, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, Missi Pyle, Rainn Wilson and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, along with director Dean Parisot and writer Robert Gordon, share their memories of making the movie in a fantastic ensemble of new interviews. Meanwhile, pop culture favorites such as Wil Wheaton, Brent Spiner, Greg Berlanti, Damon Lindelof and more than a dozen other notable filmmakers, craftspeople and entertainment-industry observers offer keen insight into how the movie, despite not being a box office sensation, has had a lasting impact and a growing fan base that extends around the world.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Back in 1999, just over 20 years ago around Christmas, the freshly formed DreamWorks studio founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen was in need of a hit. With the sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, they hoped they had found it. Unfortunately, the movie that cost an estimated $45 million only raked in $71.5 million at the domestic box office and a less than stellar $19.1 million internationally. It wasn’t a flop, but it was far from the big success they hoped it would be. But as time has proven over and over again, that doesn’t always mean a movie will be forgotten. In fact, since being released in theaters, Galaxy Quest has only grown in popularity, obtaining a different kind of success. And the new documentary Never Surrender charts the film’s path to production and ultimate rise to the status of cult classic.

Director Jack Bennett has assembled all the key cast members and filmmakers involved with the making of Galaxy Quest to provide an oral history of the road the movie took from pre-production right through the film’s release and onto the film’s enduring legacy in the years since. There’s not an ample amount of behind the scenes footage from the making of the movie, so production photos, concept art, and talking heads have to suffice, but they all provide a detailed, fascinating and entertaining look at how the film came to be. And the production quality is impressive too.

The early days of the film’s development are chronicled, including the development period when Ghostbusters director Harold Ramis was still attached, and the various alternate casting choices for the lead role of Jason Nesmith, which eventually went to Tim Allen (who is surprisingly a big sci-fi nerd). I won’t give the other contenders away here since it’s fun to learn by watching the movie, but suffice it to say that some of the names are baffling, while others are rather intriguing. The film also doesn’t shy away from some of the creative clashing that happened throughout production, from Alan Rickman having rather clear disdain for Tim Allen’s on-set antics to the studio forcing the movie to veer away from its PG-13 roots all so it can be more easily geared towards younger kids and families.

Adding another layer to the documentary is a series of interviews with fans, both from filmmakers and pop culture figures from Hollywood and from conventions of cosplayers and hardcore fans, all interspersed throughout the movie. Each of them offer reverence and love for a movie that allowed fans to step up and be heroes, long before geek and nerd culture became mainstream. Galaxy Quest arrived before it was cool to love comic books, Star Trek, fantasy role-playing, etc. It gave fans a presence on the big screen that wasn’t merely a punchline, and the movie really paved the way for not just a growing passion for all things geeky, but a future where this kind of fandom took the box office charts by storm. The film also hones in on the all-important influence of decades of Star Trek, and the embrace Trekkies have given Galaxy Quest as an honorary Star Trek movie.

Never Surrender acts as a love letter to Galaxy Quest. Fans, both on the ground level and in the annals of modern Hollywood, have an appreciation for this movie that goes beyond just entertainment. It serves as a record of how a movie can go from a simple idea to box office disappointment and somehow still become a mainstay of pop culture. For some it inspired a new wave of nerdy programming in movie theaters and on television screens that has dominated the pop culture conversation for years now. But for others, it provided hope and comfort, and it gave them new communities to proudly celebrate their passions. We’re just glad that movies like Galaxy Quest end up getting their due diligence, even if it takes people years to come around.

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