By Gordon Jackson
Galaxy Quest could have been a forgettable Star Trek spoof — but instead, it has become a beloved science fiction comedy, which has been voted one of the best Star Trek movies of all time. How did this miracle happen? Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about the making of Galaxy Quest.
For this article, we drew on a number of sources, including DVD featurettes and old magazines from the time of the movie’s release — but one source in particular was absolutely indispensable. MTV’s Jordan Hoffman put together the Oral History of Galaxy Quest a couple years ago, and it’s essential reading.
1. Harold Ramis was originally asked to direct the film under the title “Captain Sunshine”.
2. Sigourney Weaver wasn’t by any means the first choice to play Tawny/Gwen—because she had already done too much science fiction.
As she told Starburst Magazine in 2000:
“I’d heard about this and I had asked my agent about it,” she recalls. “He’d told me that they didn’t want anyone from Science Fiction in the movie – only Science Fiction virgins as it were. “I said, ‘That’s silly because if anyone can spoof Science Fiction, surely it’s me!’ Then to my surprise I was offered the part. I had always wanted to work with Tim Allen, I was a big fan, and Alan Rickman was somebody I really admired and I fell in love with the script.
“It was really about something more than just the people in it. It was that great sort of Wizard of Oz story of these people feeling so incomplete in the beginning, and then during the course of this adventure they come out almost like the heroes they pretended to be in the first place. “
3. Tim Allen believed Galaxy Quest would launch his second career as a science fiction actor.
He told Starlog Magazine in 2000:
“I love it. It’s my favorite thing. Galaxy Quest was a baby step for me. I like other scripts that are a bit more serious, but I’m doing this first. It’s really funny right up front, then gets more serious. There’s enough SF that they allowed me to do it. While it’s not quite you expect from me. Technically, it isn’t what I would want, which would be a Larry Niven sort of thing. It isn’t right on, but it’s a Saturday afternoon, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine kind of dramatic science fiction”
4. The alien Laliari was cast late in the process
According to casting director Debra Zane in an interview with Backstage:
“The filmmakers had a difficult time finding a woman who could ‘be Thermian in the same way as actors Enrico Colantoni, Rainn Wilson, and Jed Rees. Missi Pyle remembers that Zane showed her the first minute of Rees’ audition, to give her a sense of the tone the filmmakers were looking for. “Missi saw it and got it immediately,” says Zane. “And then we came into the audition room, and we taped her, and she was so great that when I sent the audition tape to Dean Parisot, the director, on her picture and résumé, I put a little Post-it…. I actually made a Xeroxed copy of my Casting Society of America membership card, and I said, ‘If this is not Laliari, I will resign from the CSA.’”
Stephen Spielberg liked Laliari so much he asked that her role be expanded to include a romantic subplot with Tony Shaloub.
5. Tony Shaloub auditioned for Guy Fleegman, but was offered Fred Kwan.
According to MTV, he told them:
“I’m not going to play an Asian guy, but I’ll play a guy that plays an Asian. How about that?”
Director Dean Parisot expounds on this:
“Tony brought up David Carradine in “Kung Fu” [another example of a non-Asian actor playing an Asian character] and the story goes — I don’t know if it’s true — that David Carradine was completely stoned all of the time on that show. Dialogue would just come out of his head and people would just stare at each other and think, “Where did that come from?” We knew we couldn’t do a stoner because we needed to hit a PG-13, but we basically suggested that.”
6. Sam Rockwell nearly dropped out of the project but was convinced by Kevin Spacey to stay onboard.
In a twist of fate, Tim Allen opted to make Galaxy Quest over Bicentennial Man.
7. The “Pig Lizard” was a full body puppet.
See above! Eyeholes for the actor inside were located inside the creature’s mouth, on its soft palette.
8. Sigourney’s “F” bomb during the “chompers” scene in the hallway had to be dubbed over in order to secure a PG-13 rating.
She still clearly mouths, “Fuck that!”, if you look closely.
9. Alan Rickman provided input into the prosthetic that Dr. Lazarus wears.
It was designed by artists at the Stan Winston studio. As he told Starburst Magazine in 2000: “I thought it was important for it to be good enough to convince the aliens who believe we’re the real thing, but also cheesy enough to imagine that it was something he applied himself.”
10. Rickman also felt it would ring hollow if his character had been knighted, and asked for a few script revisions.
In the credits, Dr. Lazarus is still credited as “Sir Alex Dane.”
11. On set, Alan Rickman found Tim Allen incredibly off-putting:
“Tim Allen used to kick the door open to the make-up trailer. We would be all lined up and he would say. ‘Number one is here!’”
12. Tim Allen hectored Sigourney Weaver the entire production to sign his highly coveted piece of the Nostromo from Alien.
She finally did, writing: “Stolen by Tim Allen; Love, Sigourney Weaver”. According to Weaver:
“He was so upset. “Why would you write that?! I was going to put it in my screening room!” Which was such a Hollywood thing to say.”
While filming, the entire cast attended a 20th Anniversary screening of Alien.
“At the risk of sounding pretentious, there are a whole lot of themes playing in there. The movie needed to begin as a mockery and end as a celebration. That’s a hard thing to do. Part of the mission for me was to make a great “Star Trek” episode.”
14. According to Tim Allen, his performance was based on Yul Brynner:
“When I was in that Captain’s chair I was not mimicking William Shatner, with whom I’m now friends [with] because of this movie. I liked the way Yul Brynner sat in his throne in “The Ten Commandments.” I worked off of that. I studied that. Well, I rented the tape.”
15. Screenwriter Robert Gordon didn’t intend to write a family film:
“There’s talk about the so-called R-rated version of the film. When I originally wrote it, I wasn’t thinking about a family film, just what I wanted to see. So when the ship lands in the convention hall in the original draft it decapitates a bunch of people. There was also stuff we shot whereSigourney tries to seduce some of the aliens. It was cut – and that’s why her shirt is ripped at the end.”
Also, Alan Rickman’s famous catch-phrase “By Grabthar’s Hammer” was a temp line. But it was ultimately kept in when Robert Gordon couldn’t think of anything better, Gordon told MTV.
16. Production designer Linda DeScenna was delighted to work on a film so different from the sci-fi aesthetics of the late 1990s.
One of the reasons I wanted to do Galaxy Quest was because it didn’t have to be real, hi-tech and vacuformed: it could be, you know, kind of tacky. We were going to use blue and violet, but we ended up with the same color of grey, just three different values. When I start a movie, aside from the things you would normally focus on, like how to lay out a set to accommodate the action, etc., etc., is color. If you look at Mouse Hunt, which I designed, every single prop, every single piece of wardrobe, everything is keyed to three colors. In this movie, we have Sarris’ world, where everything is green. So when Sarris’ men are aboard the ship, they stand out, because everybody else is in grey and they’re green. So when we go into the real world on this movie, everything stays with the steel blues and the greens. My thing is color: That’s what I get most excited about.
17. The film’s aspect ratio switches from 1.85:1 to 2.35:1 when the ship lands on Thermia.
18. The “chompers” scene was not inspired by an old science-fiction series
Instead, it came from the whirring blades of 1997’s Event Horizon.
19. The alien warlord Sarris was reportedly named after film critic Andrew Sarris.
Mr. Sarris had vocally disliked producer Mark Johnson’s previous film, The Natural. Hearing of this, Sarris responded that the movie “probably won’t make enough money for me to sue for $10 million”.
20. Sarris’s eye patch is a nod to General Chang from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
21. Guy Fleegman was named after Guy Vardaman.
Vardaman had played several no-name characters in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He also served as the occasional stand-in for Brent Spiner and Wil Wheaton. After seeing the finished film, Guy Vardaman “just about fell out of the chair”.
22. Roger Dean’s album cover for Yessongs influenced the design of the Thermian station:
23. The Robot on stage with Guy at the beginning of the movie was recycled from 1992’s Toys:
24. The sound for the Protector’s automatic doors was taken from the video game Ultimate Doom.
This is according to IMDB, anyway.
25. It’s a myth that the Rock Monster is thought to be an homage to the“twenty rock men” that William Shatner wanted for the finale of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier , but were cut due to budgetary reasons.
Screenwriter Robert Gordon denies this commonly cited myth:
“The rock monster is not really a reference to [the cut scenes of the rock monsters in the William Shatner-directed “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.”] I’ve read about it since. But, yeah, I would say the Gorn [the famous lizard creature Shatner fights on a desert planet while the crew watches from the ship] was very much on my mind. Plus the transporter malfunction and taking the ship out of dock, winking at “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” In fact, the early drafts were called “Galaxy Quest: The Motion Picture.” There are some other direct sci fi things in there. “Westworld,” with Yul Brenner, is one of my favorites. When Quellek [Patrick Breen] says, “I’m shot,” that’s a direct reference to James Brolin in “Westworld.” The little blue babies are a nod “Barbarella,” cute and then mean. When Jason triggers the Omega 13, I was inspired by the end of “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” And the few clips you see of the original show, what Dean did was so great, he really made the camera moves and the recycled sets look like old, cheap “Star Trek.” I wish you could see more of it in the film.”
26. Creature designer Jordu Schell shared his concept art for the “cute-but-deadly” aliens on his now-defunct website.
They are very different from the final form of the creatures, and can be seen here.
27. Liliari is mentioned by name in John Updike’s novel, Rabbit Remembered.
Because Updike was apparently a fan of the movie.
28. To promote the film, E! aired a mockumentary on the cultural impact of the Galaxy Quest TV series
The whole thing is here:
29. An intentionally crappy-looking fansite was used to promote the film.
And to maintain the pretence that there had been a Galaxy Quest TV series. The site contained reviews of the Five Best Episodes of Galaxy Quest, as decided by its Webmaster, the fictitious “Travis Latke”:
30. In a 2000 issue of Starlog, Sigourney Weaver compared Sarris and the Thermians to the Kosovo War:
‘This guy Sarris is so bad,” Weaver exclaims.”He really is a sadist; [he’s committing] genocide against these creatures. What he’s doing to these people is just what we read in the news, with the invasion of Kosovo. Get rid of them, wipe them out, for no other reason than they’re there and he feels like it.”
31. Costume Designer Albert Wolsky posted artwork for another alien character apparently cut from the film
“This alien has claw-like hands and a face with some human features.” Concept art can be seen at the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences website.
32. The Rock Monster scenes were filmed at Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park.
The area’s eroded sandstone dunes, called “stone babies” provided the inspiration for the planet’s cute-but-killer native aliens. It’s a popular camping area and visitors are known to play laser tag among the rocks on full moons.
33. Star Trek may have returned the favour by borrowing from Galaxy Quest.
At least, some fans feel Star Trek: Enterprise plagiarised the look of film’s Fatu-Krey when they introduced a new alien race, the Xindi-Reptilians. The Xindi-Reptilians are green, and retain the spider-like appendages radiating from theirheads.