Supernova Blu-ray Review
Directed by “Thomas Lee”
Written by David C. Wilson
2000, Region A, 91 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on January 13th, 2015
James Spader as Nick Vanzant
Angela Bassett as Dr. Kaela Evers
Lou Diamond Phillips as Yerzy
Robert Forster as A.J. Marley
Peter Facinelli as Karl Larson
Robin Tunney as Danika
Wilson Cruz as Benjamin
The deep-space medical rescue vessel Nightingale-229 receives a distress signal from a reportedly abandoned mining operation and the staff must decide if the risks are worth answering the call. They make the hyperspace dimension jump with near fatal consequences, as the source of the plea is dangerously close to a black hole. When most of their fuel is spent trying to escape the gravitational pull of the dying star, the crew must find a way to escape before their ship is torn apart. Further complicating matters, the person that sent the distress call is in possession of an alien object that may be more dangerous than anything else our heroes are currently dealing with, and this raises the question of whether it is safe to return to Earth at all.
When my friend and I saw this in the theater, he turned to me within the first ten minutes and said he was happy we were here in time to see the MGM logo on the front of the film or he would have no idea how long the movie had been playing. Indeed, audiences are thrown into the first action sequence before all of the characters have been introduced, and without a proper title sequence it feels like we came in late and missed something in this jumbled mess. Why all the confusion? Supernova notoriously went through a two-year slog of production hell that ended with three directors removing their names from the credits, massive editorial shifts and several re-shoots that made the original script unrecognizable. A good director can sometimes make a weak script work, but when three very different talents are making widely divergent versions of the same film, the results are less than good.
“Thomas Lee” is neither a member of the Director's Guild nor my Freshman English teacher, but in reality is a pseudonym used when the director wants his name taken off a movie, a credit usually reserved for the traditional alias “Alan Smithee”. Walter Hill (The Warriors) did the majority of the work on Supernova, but after countless re-writes and studio interference he was replaced by editor Jack Sholder (The Hidden), who in turn was dumped in favor of the legendary Francis Ford Coppola (Rumble Fish), who was on the studio board at the time. What started as a low-budget slow-boil thriller was manipulated into a fast-paced ride that never has a chance to play out properly and is ultimately an extremely expensive and confusing mess of a movie that bombed with both critics and audiences alike.
The cast does the best they can given the circumstance of the daily re-writes. James Spader (The New Kids) is reliably intense as pilot Nick Vanzant, a man out of his element trying to survive increasingly terrible odds. Angela Bassett (Critters 4) shares zero chemistry with Spader as Dr. Kaela Evers, a strong woman who glares at everybody with simmering rage that somehow briefly melts away in time for her tender love scene. Lou Diamond Phillips (Bats) has the most interesting role as Yerzy, an aging medical team member trying to have a baby with the foxy Danika (Robin Tunney, The Craft). Peter Facinelli (the Twilight franchise) is Karl Larson, the mysterious stranger in the group. Robert Forster (Alligator) once again slides into the role of weathered leader, this time as Captain A.J. Marley. Since most of his work was deleted in post, he is relatively worthless here, but he is a strong enough actor to eclipse lesser talents, including the epicene Wilson Cruz (Party of Five) as Benjamin the techie.
Almost a full half hour was cut for pacing, removing much of the setup and character motivations. Exposition gaps are patched with the use of voice-over narration, usually via a computer named “Sweetie”, but this conceit quickly grows tiresome. Any elements of excessive graphic violence were trimmed to secure an R rating, and when it was decided the picture needed a PG-13 release, all of the nudity was eliminated. Further tinkering included the jaw-dropping decision during post production to include a love scene between James Spader and Angela Bassett's characters, despite the fact that no scene had been shot and the talent were unavailable. The solution was to digitally alter a shot featuring actors Peter Facinelli and Robin Tunney to make it appear the other actors were in the scene. This plot point adds little to the finished film, particularly as most of the characters do not even appear to like each other.
Supernova could have been a good movie, or at least a relatively entertaining one, had the industry suits left the filmmakers alone. Screenwriter David C. Wilson (The Perfect Weapon) is credited with adapting the story by William Malone (Creature) and Daniel Chuba, who also produced, but it is unclear how much, if any, of their work remains intact. Since so much of this picture is derivative of better movies, it's weird that the cookie-cutter blueprint wasn't simply followed through to completion. Nobody is putting this film at the top of their resumes, but it is worth checking out as a cinematic oddity; to see what damage too many cooks really are capable of doing to a film so that by the end nobody wants to claim ownership.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Supernova looks as good as a film less than twenty years old should. No complaints here about print damage, grain or snooty critic chatter of edge enhancements. The movie has a lot of problems but picture quality isn't one of them.
There are two audio options provided here, the default DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a DTS-HD 2.0 track. Both work, but the expanded 5.1 track really brings the action to life.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need, but there are no issues with distortion.
The main supplement here is a making-of retrospective piece running just under half an hour that features new interviews with cast members Robert Forster and Lou Diamond Phillips joined by Producer Daniel Chuba and Editor Jack Sholder. The stories remain unvarnished, as the absurdity of the production is recounted by these weary veterans. It is surprising that the finished film is watchable at all after being pulled in so many directions during production. Phillips has some of the best stories - sadly plagued with the worst audio - but Sholder has few nice memories of the project.
A collection of deleted scenes (15 minutes) offers quite a bit of insight into what could have been. The material includes exposition, uncensored gore, an alternate opening sequence and lots of character development beats that would have benefited the finished film had they been left intact.
An alternate ending (5 minutes) is a much bleaker finale than the one provided in the release version and while not necessarily better, remains more in line with the tone of the material that preceded it.
The original trailer rounds out the special features on this disc.