If you’re like me, your big question going into the documentary “Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary” is “OK, why ’Galaxy Quest?’”
This isn’t to say that “Galaxy Quest” isn’t fun and that I didn’t stop to watch it multiple times when I still had basic cable. But, in terms of enduring ‘90s comedy films, “Galaxy Quest” just doesn’t have the same sort of cultural clout as a “Groundhog Day” or a “Big Lebowski” or even a “Home Alone.”
But I’ll be damned if “Never Surrender” actually makes a pretty good case for the 1999 Tim Allen sci-fi comedy. And it also has a pretty interesting thesis statement: “Galaxy Quest,” in its embrace of fan culture, may have helped that culture move from being an underground niche to the culturally dominant force it is two decades later.
“It’s about what makes ‘Star Trek” special – it’s about the fans,” former “Star Trek: The Next Generation” star Wil Wheaton says of “Galaxy Quest.” “It tells them that the thing that makes you weird in the world you live in makes you valuable in the world we live in.”
“Never Surrender” is, as you may imagine, a talking heads movie, but it benefits from having better talking heads than most. Probably the biggest coup for director Jack Bennett is getting the entire “Galaxy Quest” cast back on screen, sans the late great Alan Rickman who died in 2016.
The cast’s past two decades have been full of professional highs and lows- Sam Rockwell has had a better time of it than Allen, for example- but they all come into the interviews with a sort of genuine enthusiasm about “Galaxy Quest” that is infectious even after all this time. Every single talking head wants to be a part of this doc, and it shows.
These interviews also include a lot of the kind of juicy behind-the-scenes trivia that film nerds love. Did you know, for example, that Harold Ramis was set to direct? Or that Kevin Kline was originally in talks for the Allen role? Or that Allen fell in love with and later married his personal trainer on the project?
The doc also gets into the struggles that occurred in the editing bay as DreamWorks, eager for a family friendly holiday hit, quickly edited the film from a PG-13 to a PG. (If you lip-readers out there think that Sigourney Weaver is actually saying the F-bomb in one poorly edited scene, you are absolutely right.)
The DreamWorks team also marketed the film as a kids flick rather than the all-ages adventure that the cast and crew had intended to make. But despite the mis-marketing, fans found it anyways.
“It dug itself out of being a flop by the virtue of being good,” executive producer Elizabeth Cantillon says.
As engrossing as the behind-the-scenes stuff is, the real heart of the film belongs to the fans, who have embraced the comedy’s message of acceptance. Bennett particularly spotlights Roxanne and Harold Weir, a married couple who cosplay as the film’s Thermians, but he also talks to various convention-goers at Comic Con about the film and what it means to them.
The doc, at its best, spotlights the symbiotic relationship that can exist between fans and filmmakers – a filmmaker can speak life into the viewers by affirming a part of who they are, and the fans in turn can keep a film alive years later through their passion and dedication.
The film ends, appropriately enough, at an Alamo Drafthouse screening of “Galaxy Quest” with both fans and cast and crew in attendance. After the film, the cast is asked what the legacy of “Galaxy Quest” is nearly 20 years later. They simply lift up their hands and gesture to the audience.
“Never Surrender” (not rated, but with PG-13 language) is an often geeky celebration of films and filmmakers, but it also doesn’t forget that the heart of every good movie is the people who love it. And say what you will about “Galaxy Quest,” but a lot of people – cast, crew and fans- genuinely love it. That alone makes it worth celebrating, and “Never Surrender” is a surprisingly great celebration.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.