Had the fates been a little less cruel, we might now be readying ourselves for the latest season of Amazon’s Galaxy Quest series, a spin-off from the sci-comedy film that has become a beloved cult favourite since its release just over 20 years ago.
Plans for the follow-up were looking bright in 2015. Nearly all of the film’s cast, including main stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Sam Rockwell, were eager to sign on the dotted line. The producers, writer and director of the original were also on board.
Then, on January 16, 2016, another of Galaxy Quest’s stars, Alan Rickman, died of pancreatic cancer – news that was as much of a shock to the wider world as the death of David Bowie six days before.
Rickman, who had also been keen on making the series, suffered a minor stroke in August 2015, and received the cancer diagnosis at that time. He kept his terminal illness a secret from all but his closest confidants.
The impact of Rickman’s death on his fellow cast members, including Patrick Breen, who had dinner with him in New York six weeks before his death, makes for a moving conclusion to Saturday’s fabulous Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary.
It kicks off with a quote from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet, who named Galaxy Quest as one of his four “perfect films”, alongside The Godfather, A Place in the Sun and Dodsworth.
It’s a bold claim, but if you’ve seen Galaxy Quest, you won’t need much persuading. It’s sublime.
The washed-up stars of a defunct but still adored sci-fi series, who scrape a living attending fan conventions, are mistaken by aliens for real space explorers and whisked away into an intergalactic battle with a warlord.
The film is simultaneously a gloriously funny send-up of Star Trek and a deeply affectionate tribute to it that celebrates, rather than mocks, nerd culture. In Galaxy Quest the film, it’s the geeky teenage fans with their obsessive knowledge of Galaxy Quest the fictional TV series who ultimately save the day.
Clearly, the makers of Never Surrender (a catchphrase from the film) are fans too. As “making of” documentaries go, it’s as good as any I’ve ever seen and better than many of them.
There are wonderful interviews with the key cast members including Allen, Weaver, Rockwell, Tony Shaloub, Daryl ‘Chill’ Mitchell and Enrico Colantoni (all of whom seem to have had a whale of a time making it), director Dean Parisot, writer Robert Gordon and producer Mark Johnson.
Celebrity fans including super-producers Greg Berlanti and Damon Lindelof and Star Trek stars Brent Spiner and Wil Wheaton share their love for it.
The documentary, which makes room to warmly celebrate the fans, is a reminder that classic films are often the result of a series of happy accidents.
The director was supposed to be the late Harold Ramis, who would have made a cheesier, spoofier film, probably along the lines of Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs.
Ramis left over casting differences; he wanted Kevin Kline or Robin Williams for the lead. Meanwhile, DreamWorks, the studio behind it, wanted Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis. Neither bears imagining. Allen proved to be the perfect choice.
Galaxy Quest received rave reviews, and while it was far from a financial flop, it wasn’t the huge box-office hit it deserved to be. As so often, marketing was to blame.
DreamWorks, Parisot recalled, wanted a Christmas film aimed at eight-year-olds (and accordingly toned down the language), whereas he believed “we were making a film for everybody”. That Galaxy Quest turned out as well as it did is something of a miracle.
It no doubt helped that DreamWorks was preoccupied with overseeing big-budget Oscar bait Gladiator at the same time. I know which of the two I’d rather sit down and watch tonight, or any night.