Galaxy Quest came out in December 1999 and MTV is celebrating the fifteenth anniversary with an “oral history” quoting everyone involved — really funny stuff about how the cast was chosen and the nonstop joking between the actors.
Tim Allen as the obnoxious Captain; Alan Rickman as the humiliated thespian relegated to rubber makeup; Sigourney Weaver, an actress given nothing to do but show her cleavage; Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, the former child star. Tony Shalhoub, playing a stoner who is supposed to be the sharp chief engineer; Sam Rockwell as some guy named Guy; and many, many more. What we came away with is, in the cast and crew’s own words, the story of how the crew of the Protector came together – and how things changed as the movie grew to be the phenomenon it is today.
Justin Long, who played the nerd who knew all the inside trivia, remembers his climactic scene:
Long: It was my first film. I really didn’t know how movies were made. The shot where the ship crashes was this big crane shot. The camera was following me running through this crowd of background actors. It’s a pretty involved shot, there was smoke and all of these guys are stumbling out of the ship, and I remember Dean told me exactly where to go. We rehearsed it and then after rehearsal some of the extras could smell that I was really green. So one of them said to me, “Hey, maybe we’re buddies and when you pass by me you can give me a high five.” I had just done plays where the actors collaborate and figure things out, and I was like, “OK, yeah, high five.” So then they all saw me and descended upon on me, and we created this whole elaborate collection of handshakes and stuff. Dean calls action and the crane is going up, and I start running through and I’m high fiving, doing my business with everybody and I get up to the stage, completely missing my mark, ruining the shot. Dean, who has a very good temperament, didn’t yell, but he was like, “What the heck was that all about?” I turn around and all the extras are gone.
I was taken by friends to see the movie a week or two after it had been out. I was an immediate convert to the cause.
(Galaxy Quest managed to stay in theaters for weeks on the strength of word-of-mouth marketing. Jeffrey Katzenberg later apologized to director Dean Parisot for not advertising it properly.)
When the movie made the Hugo ballot it still wasn’t getting the respect I thought it deserved, partly because it was a good year for genre movies, but mainly because it was competing with The Matrix, the 500-lb. gorilla of sf movies. I wrote at the time —
Why are we even bothering to have an election for the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo this year? Don’t you think everyone already voted for The Matrix?
Everyone but me and you. And Brett Achorn voted for Iron Giant – after all, he worked on it. And Chris Barkley said his wife voted for Being John Malkovitch. But that’s only four of us. The Matrix already destroyed the competition at one polling place: the box office. So I’m sure the rest of the Hugo voters picked The Matrix. All the cool people, anyway. Besides, my voting for Galaxy Quest undoubtedly guaranteed another nominee will win.
Does this sort of “anticipatory rejection” sound familiar to your fannish ears? As if I thought the universe was built around me, except I’m stuck at the point farthest from the center?
However, on the night the Hugos were presented at Chicon 2000, I got the first hint things might be going my way.
[At the Hugo nominees reception] I sat down with Glen Boettcher and Nancy Mildebrandt. Glen was buoyant because Jeff Walker had designated him to accept the Hugo if The Matrix, Iron Giant or Sixth Sense won. Ten seconds after he explained that to me word passed through the room that the script writer and producer of Galaxy Quest had arrived in person, and Glen started to worry that pair would beat his three aces.
And that’s what happened. Galaxy Quest defeated the box office champions to win the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo. Writer Robert Gordon and director Dean Parisot accepted the award. Gordon spoke for what felt like five minutes – saying all the right things – before leaving the floor to Parisot who simply remarked, “This is the oddest but most entertaining event I’ve ever been to,” then walked offstage leaving the Hugo on the podium. I’m convinced that was a deliberate bit of humorous improvisation on his part. Either way, after allowing the audience to roar for a moment he came back and reclaimed his hardware.