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Galaxy Quest cast warmly recalls the sci-fi classic in new documentary

Review: Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary celebrates how the movie became a fan favorite.

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The original Galaxy Quest cast included (from left) Sam Rockwell, Alan Rickman, Tim Allen, Daryl Mitchell (in back), Sigourney Weaver and Tony Shalhoub.

Dreamworks

Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie ever made. Granted, it wasn't actually a Star Trek movie, but the 1999 sci-fi comedy is all about the power of fandom, especially geeky movie fandom. 

A new documentary -- Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary -- celebrates how the meta movie became an enduring fan favorite, and influenced everything from the Star Trek movie reboots to quirky Marvel superhero movies like Guardians of the Galaxy

Presented by Screen Junkies and Fandom, the documentary plays Tuesday night in limited theaters. It features interviews with the cast and creators of Galaxy Quest, as well as directors, actors and TV show creators who reflect on why the movie is so beloved. 

I loved Galaxy Quest when I first saw it in theaters in December 1999 because I was one of those sci-fi loving geeks who couldn't wait to go to San Diego Comic-Con every year. I lived and breathed all things Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien, Doctor Who -- you name it. If a movie or TV show took place in space, I was all over it. 

The movie itself tells the story of a troupe of actors who star in a fictional sci-fi TV show called Galaxy Quest -- until it's canceled. Scraping out the last fragments of their fame on the convention circuit, they're kidnapped by actual aliens. Believing the show's adventures were real, the friendly Thermians seek help from the noble crew -- pitching the hapless actors into battle with genocidal cosmic warlord General Sarris and his alien army.

In the end, however, the Thermians and the actors need help from Galaxy Quest's loyal fans. The idea that a popular sci-fi TV show could end up being real and then call on fans to help the actors out of a bind hit home for me as a geek. 

Galaxy Quest included stellar performances from actors Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen, Sam Rockwell, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni, Missi Pyle, Patrick Breen, and -- making their movie debuts --  Rainn Wilson and Justin Long

Apart from Rickman, who died in 2016, they all beam into the documentary to talk about their favorite and frustrating moments filming the movie. 

The documentary gets into one of the things I loved about the movie -- the "can-do" spirit of the film's crew who refuse to give up despite numerous challenges. 

Original director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) quit early on. A fire devastated the set. And the movie studio Dreamworks didn't understand how great the movie was.

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Actor Tim Allen reminisces about his role as Jason Nesmith in Galaxy Quest.

Screen Junkies/Fandom

The documentary touches on how Dreamworks wanted to keep the movie family-friendly because other kid movies around that time, like Rugrats, were G-rated and made a lot at the box office. 

The studio pressured the filmmakers to strip all the swear words out of the first pass of Galaxy Quest so it could be seen by more people. Apparently there were plenty of f-bombs that were cut or swapped out for less shocking words. 

Even the casting wasn't originally set in stone. Allen had to fight to play the lead role of Jason Nesmith when the studio wanted bigger name actors like Kevin Kline, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray or Mel Gibson. Rockwell rejected it numerous times. And Weaver had to convince everyone to hire her because the studio didn't want someone already connected to a popular sci-fi franchise -- cough, Alien

But once the cast was selected and new director Dean Parisot got the green light, the movie started to gel. 

The documentary shows how much the cast loved working together even though their acting backgrounds were so diverse -- think method actors vs. physical comedy actors vs. theatrically trained actors. Just like the characters they played in the film, the cast found a way to work together to make something great happen on screen. 

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Missi Pyle (second from left), Enrico Colantoni (center) and Patrick Breen (right) play the main Thermian aliens in Galaxy Quest.

Dreamworks

Weaver loved the blond wig she wore as the character Gwen DeMarco so much that she often refused to take it off at the end of the day and wore it home instead to see if "blondes have more fun after all." Allen loved cracking his fellow actors up on the set so much that his constant fart jokes annoyed the more reserved British actor Rickman -- though Rickman grew to love Allen in the end. 

I learned that Shalhoub, Breen, Pyle and the other actors who portrayed the quirky alien race of Thermians often ad-libbed their speech patterns and behavior. And I learned that their weird walk was actually modeled after the super-marionettes from the Gerry Anderson's 1962 sci-fi TV series Fireball XL5.

Also on hand to give perspective on Galaxy Quest's influence on pop culture and fandom are luminaries like Star Trek: The Next Generation actors Wil Wheaton and Brent Spiner, and comedian Paul Scheer.

"Galaxy Quest was way ahead of its time," Wheaton says. "Galaxy Quest is without a doubt the best Star Trek movie because it's about what makes Star Trek special. It's about the fans."

Indeed, Galaxy Quest was a giant hug for sci-fi fans. Long before fans could heavily influence the direction of movie (such as Sonic the Hedgehog), Galaxy Quest first hit theaters when sci-fi fans were still mocked by the mainstream. In 1999, there was no social media and there were no YouTube vloggers or powerful fan blogs. Galaxy Quest really was the first movie to highlight the importance of fandom. 

"What I love most about Galaxy Quest is that it didn't make fun of the fans," says Greg Berlanti, creator of The Flash TV show.

Galaxy Quest also gives insight into how fans can truly love and believe in the characters portrayed in a movie or TV series. 

"We really want to believe that this stuff is real," says Damon Lindelof, the man behind LostWatchmen and the recent Star Trek movies. "We don't want to believe that these are sets and Styrofoam and people pretending."

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Here's hoping the original Galaxy Quest cast returns for a reboot.

Dreamworks

He's right. These sci-fi properties like Star Trek and Star Wars mean the world to many fans. I didn't just grow up with these stories. My first imaginary friend was named Han Solo. I posed for school yearbook photos with my hair in the Princess Leia double-buns style. I would squint into the star-filled night sky, thinking of the Millennium Falcon or the Tardis

Being a sci-fi fan had a positive influence on me. I spent my adult life trying to follow Yoda's advice of "Do or do not, there is no try." I would practice tolerance for those who are different from me, based on lessons I learned from Star Trek and Doctor Who. 

I even ended up marrying R2-D2 as a PR stunt when I worked at Lucasfilm, illustrating another Galaxy Quest lesson of not taking myself too seriously. 

I can especially relate to the hard-core Galaxy Quest fans: a cosplay couple named Harold and Roxanne Weir, who are featured throughout the documentary. They dress up as Thermians at comic book conventions just because they love Galaxy Quest. 

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Harold and Roxanne Weir dress up as Thermians to show their love for Galaxy Quest.

Harold and Roxanne Weir/Facebook

The Weirs make their own costumes and mimic the characters perfectly. Their love for the movie is infectious. 

A fan's love for something truly special is an important reminder for modern fans.

"Being a nerd isn't about the thing you love, it's about the way that you love it," Wheaton said. "A lot of people who grow up as outsiders find a home in science fiction because it tells us that the thing that makes you weird in the world that you live in, it actually makes you incredibly valuable and really special in our world too."

Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary will be shown on Tuesday night in limited theaters via Fathom Events

Originally published Nov. 25.