Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary

The producers of this film included a quote from Pulitzer Prize winning Playwright and Screenwriter David Mamet. The comment basically says there are only 4 perfect movies: The Godfather, A Place in the Sun, Dodsworth and Galaxy Quest. On that last one, I am certainly inclined to agree. This throw away movie that was sold as a kids film for the Christmas holidays is so much better than it has any right to be. For the twenty years since it was initially released, “Galaxy Quest” has grown in stature and seems to be beloved by millions who may have missed it on it’s first release.

This documentary traces the development of the movie and the twists and turns it took to become a cultural touchstone. This comes from a fan driven group and that makes perfect sense because “Galaxy Quest” is a love letter to fandom and it may well have cleared the path to widespread acceptance of geek culture in the broader population. “The Big Bang Theory” and the “MCU” would not have nearly the resonance they do if Galaxy Quest had not blazed the trail for them.

Like many documentaries, the movie is loaded with talking heads who recall the events and personalities that are part of the story. Every major surviving cast member is included in the conversations. Sigourney Weaver is effusive in he love for the project and how it allowed her to play a comedic role that she sees as a lot closer to her true persona than the iconic character of Ripley really is. Sam Rockwell was almost unknown when he took the part, after having turned it down several times. He reasoned that it might be a good piece of counter-programming to show his range as “The Green Mile” was coming out around the same time. Tim Allen  probably had his finest role as an actor playing the William Shatner inspired lead character.

The Producer, screenwriter, director, casting director, production designer, editor and composer all have stories to share about the film and many of them are hysterical. The movie is generously supplied with clips from Galaxy Quest itself, along with Star Trek moments and a variety of other material. There is also an elaborate thread about the fans of Galaxy Quest, and the documentary trails a couple of fans who cosplay their way across the universe in salute to this pitch perfect film. We get a chance to see how fans become part of the story and how they were the original inspiration for the film in the first place.

The climax of the film brings the fans and the makers of the movie together at a celebratory screening of the film. It just so happens that I was at that screening along with my wife, daughter and my Southern California blogging colleague Michael, who brought his daughter the the screening as well. I covered the showing two years ago with some more details. Last night when we saw the documentary, we were delighted to note that we make a guest star appearance in the film. Amanda’s Jaws shirt and my Hawaiian style blue shirt are clearly visible in the crowd scenes as the Thermains arrived for the screening of the film. I have been a long time fan of Galaxy Quest, I took the whole family as our Christmas day movie in 1999. One of the things I remember speaking to them all about was that the aspect ration of the film changed three times in the movie. It was nice to hear that confirmed by the director, since the DVD presentation does not always allow you to notice that change.

I’m not one to disagree with David Mamet. I think he is certainly right when he includes this movie on a list of perfect films. In fact I did the same thing six years ago on a post I entitled “Three Perfect Movies“. If you check it out you will see I was with Mamet on this one early on. The documentary was accompanied by a long introduction from the Fandom group that put it together. If it is ever available to people on line or in physical form, I hope they will include the interactions of the writers for the site and the “Honest Trailer” they put together for the film. They were quite entertaining as well.

Galaxy Quest Special Presentation

Having made the trip to downtown L.A. last night for a fantastic screening of “Jaws”, we returned to the area today for another screening that was equally marvelous, “Galaxy Quest” at the Regent Theater. This is a much smaller venue, and it lacks the historical value of the movie palace we visited last night. The venue is more of a club now a days but they do show films occasionally so they have a big stack of folding chairs that they can dig out and put in rows with zip ties. I can’t really complain because the folks there treated us well and made sure that we got an accessible seating spot, so the staff is great.

The one time I have written about this movie before was in a post I titled “Three Perfect Movies“. It is the second film on that list and as I said at the time, there is nothing that I think could be changed about it to improve it at all. The screening today was sponsored in part by “Screen Junkies“, a website I am sure most of the readers of this blog have visited. They are putting together a documentary about the legacy of “Galaxy Quest” and there were cameras in line and during the Q and A, to insure there will be contemporary original material to go with their interviews.

They are working in conjunction with Alamo Drafthouse, who will be opening a theater complex in Downtown L.A. next year, and they provided a rough version of a trailer for the film at the start of today’s presentation. Hopefully that preview will be available soon so that everyone can anticipate the film. The screening today included several guests, but there was also cosplay going on in the line and in the theater.  A young woman right behind us in line had her own Lt. Tawney Madison uniform and she was interviewed by the film crew. Later, a band of Thermians showed up in character and charmed everyone and willingly posed for pictures. That group ended up in the front row and will certainly be a part of the documentary feature as well.

The film, for anyone who has missed it, is a humorous tribute to the cheesiness of the Original Star Trek series and their fans, who would form the basis of the current geek culture. The movie does not treat the characters disrespectfully and it clearly has a warm spot in it’s heart for the actors that are being thinly lampooned.

The screening today looked to be a DCP presentation, and it lacked to switch from one aspect ratio to another that I so distinctly remembered from my original viewing of the film way back in 1999. The sound was great for the audience, but the setting were such that the cast and crew who spoke after the film, had a hard time hearing each other in spite of using microphones.

It is the guest list that makes the presentation today so special. Mark Johnson, the Academy Award winning producer of “Rain Man”, was also the producer for this film and his appearance here suggests how deeply he really cared about the project. Also speaking of a film he seems to truly love was director Dean Parisot. Screenwriter Robert Gordon was included in the proceedings as well and his contributions to the discussion and to the screenplay were great. Two of the actors who starred in the film also were surprise guests, they were Enrico Colantoni who played the Thermian leader Mathesar and Missy Pyle who was the other female star of the film.

Johnson told a story about how the film came together and mentioned that he hired Parisot after having worked with him on a previous film, when the original director (Harold Ramis) left the Galaxy Quest project. Parisot was also described as famously handling notes from the studio by nodding his head and then ultimately not doing anything of the sort. The best example of that was the line that Sigourney Weaver was supposed to deliver upon seeing the crushers she and Jason (Allen’s character) are expected to traverse. She said the original “F*@k” and Parisot did not shoot any coverage or alternate takes of that scene so when it is dubbed, it is clear what she originally said. Gordon spent some time revealing an odd note that came from Dreamworks Exec Steven Spielberg, that he’d had a dream about the villain of the film “Sarris” and a large ball. Everyone was a little unsure how to tell the genius that his idea was wack, and Gordon said he thought it might have been a test, to see if the screenwriter really believed in his own work and would stand up for it. Enrico Colantoni shared a little bit about his time with the film, and he appears to have created the dynamics that represent the Thermians behaviors during the movie. Casting Director Debra Zane was in the audience, and the director asked to to explain how she used Colantoni’s audition tape to prompt the other actors for their roles. Missi Pyle told a couple of stories about everyone who played a Thermian attending “Thermian Academy”, basically a camp project where the actors honed their off kilter vocal delivery and practiced the odd walk and arm movements of the aliens. The best piece of information revealed was that the rock monster, when finally ejected into space, was supposed to have a thought line that read “Tranquility at last”, but someone decided we don’t really need to know the motivation of a rock monster.

 

Everyone was heartsick about the loss of Alan Rickman last year, and that seems to have put the “Galaxy Quest” limited TV series on hold for the moment. Both Johnson and Parisot seem to hold out hope that it will still happen, and the crowd was very enthusiastic. We also met up with my friend Michael who writes the site “It Rains…You Get Wet”. We last saw each other at the TCM Film Festival, and today he was joined by his daughter who is about to embark on her senior year. So it was a successful afternoon and a joy to see a great movie with fans who love it as well.