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Overall Rating
1.95

Awesome: 2.6%
Worth A Look: 12.99%
Just Average: 3.9%
Pretty Crappy: 37.66%
Sucks42.86%

7 reviews, 35 user ratings


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Supernova (2000)
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Colorful, Exciting Sci-Fi Thriller!"
4 stars

While the completed film isn't exactly the one envisioned by its talented director, Walter Hill (who had his name taken off the credits when the studio re-cut it), it's still an exciting and affecting motion picture experience.

Without so much as a shadow of a doubt, Supernova stands as one of the most impressive, underrated sci-fi treasures in cinematic history: a masterpiece in its original, director's-cut version yet a flawed-though-entertaining one in its theatrical one. You've really got to question the sanity of the studio heads at MGM/UA, who, just last year, took final-cut privileges away from renowned Die Hard director John McTiernan in his (admittedly unwise) remake of Rollerball, rendering it an incoherent, abysmal piece of garbage. I'd like to wholeheartedly aver that McTiernan's original cut would have been equally incoherent and abysmal nevertheless, yet considering the voluptuous excellence to be found in director Walter Hill's Supernova, such an assumption would be both foolish and presumptuous. Both films were subject to re-editing due to the studio's wish to have the original R-rated versions trimmed of violent and sexual material to hover them down to PG-13-rated ones -- which would make them accessible to a wider box-office age range, and, presumably, a more wide-range profitable one. Yet both films severely flopped. To be fair, neither had much of a chance of being a hit -- a prevailing air of unpleasantness permeated both their proceedings. And while Rollerball remains an irredeemable mess even in its R-rated restored version available on DVD (and, yes, that's taking into account the voluptuous Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' brief nude shots), Supernova not only superbly entertains in its theatrical one but, through a series of deleted scenes available on the DVD, convinces of the near-genius in Hill's original one.

It's tragic, really, to think of the critical and audience reception Supernova could very well have received if it'd been viewed in its original form, because the screenplay is one of the most original in years, and that Hill interpreted David Campbell Wilson's screenplay brilliantly. In essence, Supernova is structurally no different story-wise than 1979's unsurpassed Alien, what with both films dealing with the tragic ramifications when innate greed supercedes common sense with the bringing-on of an alien species onboard an Earth-bound vessel. (To the uninitiated, Hill was one of the producers of Alien, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he were somehow responsible for the screenplay here.) Where Alien was single-minded in its functioning as a haunted-house horror extravaganza set in outer space, Supernova is considerably different in emotional tone and boasts psychological complexity: instead of just combating an intergalactic monster, the heroes are first forced to contemplate the nature of evil in their dastardly foe -- a despicable, amoral man-beast given the opportunity of immortality, regardless of the consequences to others (and that includes the fate of the rest of mankind -- which, if one cares to contemplate, isn't too unidentifiable compared with the Bush administration's desire to invade Iraq for oil, superpower-aspirations, and the blatant underlying desire to distract Americans from his unctuous handling of the dismal economy thus far by sacrificing both the blood of U.S. soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians). In a way, Hill is making the same kind of scathing social commentary filmmaker Demian Lichtenstein made in the underrated 3000 Miles to Graceland in his usage of B-movie conventions to support and further loftier artistic aspirations on the topics of selfishness and greed. When treated in more critic-friendly, art-house forms, the ticket-buying masses usually steer clear -- unless, of course, it comes in the dubious form of pandering-down-to dreck like 1996's Fargo -- so it's understandable when ambitious people like Lichtenstein and Hill partake in a conventional storytelling format to support and lend credence to their visions.

The setting is deep space in a very far-away future, where the medical-rescue vessel Nightingale lies in wait for its next distress call. Onboard are: its captain (Robert Forster); his second-in-command (James Spader); a doctor (Angela Bassett); an emergency paramedic (Lou Diamond Phillips); his lover and the doctor's assistant (Robin Tunney); and the programming specialist (Wilson Cruz). They make for an interesting bunch, to say the least. Phillips and Tunney take to making love in a zero-gravity chamber to kill time; Cruz is busy developing the ship's computer (nicknamed "Sweetie") to take on something resembling a human personality; Forster is an avid cartoon-watcher working on his PhD in 20th Century archeology; Spader's a newly reformed drug addict looking for a fresh start; and Bassett has an initially seething impression of Spader in light of his past. Supernova doesn't waste much time with needless introductory exposition -- it smartly gets on its way, as if what we're witnessing are merely continuances of organic happenstances existing beyond the film's feature-length running time. When a distress call is intercepted from a point of origin thousands of light years away, the Nightingale makes a risky hyper-space dimension jump; consequently, the captain is killed in-route, and Spader is forced to take command, where he and his crew must face up against a most formidable opponent -- a scrap-mining scavenger (Peter Facinelli) who brings onboard a strange alien artifact found buried on an ice moon, which can regenerate human growth tissue and, in the process, overtake and make extinct the predominating species it comes in contact with.

What I've detailed thus far may not read as particularly original stuff, but what we're not prepared for is how well the filmmakers develop their material. This is a tale of, essentially, a fight over the survival of mankind; and Supernova smartly roots its story in believable, identifiable dramatics in giving the audience a stake in it. If we don't care about the characters, then it's unlikely we're going to care about their plights. Hill has never been a slouch in directing actors (even in such failed ventures as Johnny Handsome and Trespass), and he allows his talented actors here to etch such vivid, lived-in characterizations that even when the story seems rushed and the dramatic continuances leap rather than lucidly progress we're still held spellbound because there's an ungodly, delicious immediacy to the hard-driving narrative. Supernova is breathlessly paced, with each and every individual sequence beautifully realized and executed; if the cumulative effect comes off as more than a bit stunted, then that's more than likely due to the post-production editing done without director Hill's supervision. (It's rumored that The Godfather's Francis Ford Coppola had a whack at it.) The film never comes off as being totally complete -- it plays out like the best gosh-darn trailer you've ever laid eyes on -- yet it's simply breathtaking on a moment-by-moment basis achieved by very few films. Watching Supernova can be frustrating, yes, because you're made all too aware of how much more sense it could be making given the undeniable intelligence of the people who made it.

Action sequences have always been Hill's forte, and he frames and executes the ones on display here stunningly (I dare anyone to find so much as an ounce of flab or lag-timing to any of them), but they're incisively aligned with the characters so that they don't really play out strictly as "action sequences" -- they're as integral to the good of the film as the story supporting them. It takes years of skilled filmmaking to convince an audience of the kinetic goings-on as being vital to the outcome of the story, when so often we're left with the impression that they're simply being paraded in front of us to fulfill an IQ-depleted filmgoer's perceived status quo of acceptable entertainment. When the Nightingale time-jumps into a new galaxy and runs smack-dab into the midst of a meteor shower, with the ship taking vulnerable hits to its infrastructure and the crew hurriedly ready themselves to remedy their dire situation, we're plunged right into the hell of it all, without so much as a nanosecond to comprehend anything more comprehensible than they; it's as if the camera were implanted right inside the director's fertile mind, hurtling us through all the cramped corridors and compartments with the ferocity and diligent precision of a rollercoaster. Yet none of this is carried off in the mechanical, impersonal filmmaking manner to found in, say, a Michael Bay or Tony Scott film. Hill actually cares about his characters -- you can sense he doesn't look down on them as mere pawns of the plot -- so the action sequences have some sense of consequence to them. Yes, the ultimate obstacles to be overcome are familiar -- the ultimate defeat of a dastardly foe; the last-second departure from a space quadrant which is about to be wiped out by a massive explosion -- but everything's been so expertly compressed that the outcome of the remaining heroic characters has an immediacy to it which effortlessly enraptures us.

Oh, there are small quibbles to be noted. The shaping of Forster's captain character has been severely compromised in the editing so you can't help but question the validity of his onscreen function. (Maybe it's better if you're not wise to the actor's newfound prestige thanks to his landmark, Oscar-nominated performance in the Quentin Tarantino's finest film, Jackie Brown.) The dialogue occasionally strays into the overstated and just plain-ludicrous (Tunney's aside that the phallic-shaped alien artifact resembles a penis is purely of the bottom-basement variety). And the tired contrivance of the hero not killing off the villain when the opportunity more than presents itself just so the final confrontation can be prolonged is banal. Still, there's a muscular confidence to the material, as if as much potential seriousness has been filtered out through keen instinct so as to make the final presentation as good as could ever be managed. You find yourself not looking upon the actors in Supernova as characters, merely as people, and it's this -- this ability to wholeheartedly identify with them -- that makes the ninety-one-minute journey worth taking. While the rest of the actors are competent (with Bassett exhibiting ten times the acting technique and pizzazz than the criminally overpraised Halle Berry), Spader exudes a sexy, powerful magnetism that holds the audience spellbound. He speaks his lines assuredly and stunningly, and you find yourself never doubting his dramatic convictions; what he says and what he does ring completely true, so when he affectionately or menacingly stares down a love interest or foe (without so much as a single solitary blink, mind you) the effect is rather startling because there seems to be little aesthetic distance between you and he.

Supernova is a film more concerned with subtext than context, and upon seeing the deleted scenes it's easy to see what Hill had in mind. But the studio got nervous over the complexity of it all, panicked, and jettisoned what it viewed was needless, when in fact they were the core of the material -- seeing a deformed newborn entity of what your own human kind has sacrificed you for couldn't have been easy for studio execs to readily accept. As a result, Supernova comes off as purposeless and just plain frugal to the tainted eye of pandered-down-to audiences; however, those willing to look beyond its sci-fi facade can more than see it for what it really is -- a scathing, telling meditation on the tragic condition of innate human weakness. Lloyd Adhern III's stupendous 'Scope cinematography is certainly worth the attention, and the special effects are impressive yet properly serve the material, with the bravura action also serving as a definitive plus as well, but it's the on-track human base that keeps things properly aligned. I never for a second doubted the validity of the weakened, tormented human conditions presented here. Even in a futuristic setting, Hill still manages to remind us that the rootedness of viable emotions wins out any 'ol day over a barrage of disposable CGI-generated widgets. (George Lucas, please take note.)

Don't let all the negative press dissuade you from taking a chance on this underrated gem.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=797&reviewer=327
originally posted: 01/19/03 15:39:19
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User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell good visuals crap movie 1 stars
7/28/16 william netgen a very bad movie. poor sci fi at best...school kids did it 1 stars
9/30/10 PAUL SHORTT DREARY, CONFUSING SCI-FI 1 stars
6/24/05 ELI dubmdubmudmbudmbudbmdubmdudubmdmbudmbuudmbuudmbmbmdddmbudmubmdumbDUMB 1 stars
6/07/05 Jimmy Creeeeeap 1 stars
3/19/05 Tay Would have been a really good movie if they hadnt ended in such a rushed and ridiculous way 3 stars
3/11/05 Jack Smithe more body parts should have been swapped whenever two or more people enter one of the pods 2 stars
7/28/04 DM darkofnight is by far this site's worst critic - his time would be better spent blowing me 1 stars
4/17/04 This Movie Blows Sommersby: "A gem." Me: "A smelly, brown gem from my ass!" 1 stars
2/29/04 Star-Crosser Jack Sommersby and darkofnight should be buried in a vault, along with this movie. 1 stars
2/25/04 john bad science - worse fiction - good visuals and cast can't save this turkey 2 stars
2/19/04 Dr. lecter darkofnight is a stupider cocksucker than this movie! Get rid of the asshole! 1 stars
1/21/04 Abe Giesbrecht A fun sci-fi 4 stars
1/21/04 American Slasher Goddess Sucks big time. 1 stars
3/30/03 jets ............ 5 stars
3/02/03 Jack Sommersby Thanks for the literate feedback. 4 stars
2/05/03 Jin Sommersby needs a longer review. Dumbass! 1 stars
12/25/02 Rose I liked it too - not great but not bad 3 stars
12/13/02 Zefram Mann I rented the DVD (with added tit shots) for FREE and I still felt like I got ripped off. 1 stars
12/07/02 Jiz ............................................................................. fuck me. 1 stars
10/23/02 Charles Tatum I liked it... 5 stars
3/11/02 Monday Morning Nice tits can make or break a film. 3 stars
2/27/02 Alan Smithee Robin Tunney's very nice tits are the only thing this movie has going for it. 1 stars
10/24/01 Bill Gains This is the worst movie ever, ever, ever. EVER! Even the 9th dimensional sex toy sucked! 1 stars
8/31/01 Butterbean Hot lookin men in a shitty picture 2 stars
8/05/01 badfish I'm another one who must've seen another Supernova.I liked it! 4 stars
6/02/01 Thrillhouse even worse than Red Planet 1 stars
3/20/00 Laura MacLachlan and $6.50 well wasted 1 stars
3/09/00 Kyle Broflovski I hated it and it hated me. 1 stars
3/05/00 Captain Highcrime Yet another reason why MST3K should continue. 1 stars
2/06/00 Lame-Oh almost made Star Trek seem unwatchable 2 stars
1/23/00 Sweety I must've seen another Supernova, the one w/good acting, dialogue, & a comprehensive story 4 stars
1/21/00 JDC Avoid. Some interesting effects but that's about it. 1 stars
1/20/00 martin retarded 1 stars
1/18/00 Deb Mc Unless you REALLY like SciFi, wait til someone rents the video....bad editing, predictable. 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  14-Jan-2000 (PG-13)

UK
  20-Mar-2000

Australia
  21-Sep-2000 (M)




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