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Director: Thomas Lee
review by Tony Lee
The new captain of a space-going ambulance is stranded on a doomed planetoid, when a patient that he's just rescued takes over his starship and plots to destroy everyone with a strange alien device.
Judging from the thrashing this SF mystery thriller received from many film critics, I was expecting the sort of atrociously bad space opera not seen since 1992's Solar Crisis. In fact, this film is more like Event Horizon, but without the blood work. Director Thomas Lee, alias Walter Hill, reportedly abandoned this project to the studio for final cut (supervised by Francis Ford Coppola, according to one source) and this fact goes some way to explain the ragged storyline, its wholly indistinct characters and gauche narrative tone.
These faults aside, Supernova remains a tolerable space adventure - and not the utter tosh some commentators would have us believe. James Spader, Angela Bassett and Lou Diamond Phillips may well be coasting on star quality alone but, considering the repressive future regime hinted at by various backstory elements, the relative blandness of their performances could be attributed to the ways their respective characters deal with the authoritarian world they live in - Spader's ex-junkie hero seems boring because he's written that way (much like astronauts, Bowman and Poole, in Kubrick's widely respected 2001: A Space Odyssey).
No, I'm not suggesting this bears any of the other qualities of Kubrick's classic, just that limitations placed on individuality and lifestyles in such starkly imagined futures as this one (procreation is regulated, narcotics are illegal, violent cartoons are banned) possibly explains why Bassett's troubled doctor, or the ship's original captain - Robert Forster in a telling cameo - are so isolated or withdrawn.
Although its genre ideas are mostly derivative, Supernova does succeed with impressive visual effects. Freezing the crew for the brief duration of a hyperspace jump isn't something SF movies bother with much (see: This Island Earth) since Star Trek invented warp drive, but I've always thought it's a more credible super-science (I prefer Dark Star to Star Wars). The production design lacks freshness yet there are extraordinary and, I'll predict, memorable images: an awesomely menacing blue giant star, gritty moon-mining base, and violent ejections of ship's crew into hard vacuum. Despite the sense of alien malevolence and opportunities for anthropocentric determinism, Supernova runs contrary to many Hollywood SF blockbusters and opts for a new beginning, instead of the usual happy ending.
previously published online, VideoVista #23 - February 2001
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