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MGM Studios DVD presents
Supernova (2000)

"I got a captain who watches cartoons, a computer tech that calls his mainframe'sweetie,' and two medical techs who are practicing anatomy in any dark corner theycan find."
- Nick VanZant (James Spader)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: August 17, 2000

Stars: James Spader, Angela Bassett
Other Stars: Lou Diamond Phillips, Robert Forester, Robin Tunny, Wilson Cruz
Director: Walter Hill (Thomas Lee)

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, sexual situations, nudity, language)
Run Time: 01h:31m:00s
Release Date: August 22, 2000
UPC: 027616851383
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- C-A+A+ B-

DVD Review

The tagline for Supernova reads: "In the farthest reaches of space, something has gone terribly wrong." How appropriate. Supernova is one of those truly painful movies. It's one thing when a film is not very impressive to begin with, then takes a turn for the worse, but Supernova is mere steps from being a fantastic, superbly intense thriller. In these frustrating cases, what could have been was missed by a few metaphorical inches. The making of this film was a rocky one; though the directorial credit goes to "Thomas Lee," this is in fact a pseudonym for the legendary Walter Hill (48 Hours, The Driver, The Warriors.) Almost 4 years ago, Hill turned in his final cut of the film to MGM who were, apparently, none too impressed. When MGM pulled the ol' "we need to recut this to make it more palatable" routine, Hill demanded his name be removed from the film. So, none other than Francis Ford Coppola was brought in - Coppola re-edited the movie, re-filmed certain sequences, and guaranteed a borderline PG-13 cut, though he remains totally uncredited. As usual, studio interference screwed this movie up in more ways than anyone can possibly imagine, and I truly feel sorry for Walter Hill.

The film is set in the distant future, on board a medical spacecraft called the Nightingale. The crew is an odd assortment of individuals, including Captain Marley (Robert Forester, totally wasted in this role), head medical officer Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett), and pilot Nick VanZant (James Spader). They receive a distress call from an abandoned mining moon and decide to warp there using their dimensional jump system. They discover the moon is perched near a blue giant whose gravitational force causes severe damage to the ship. As a result, the ship loses most of its fuel and the only way out of danger is to wait for the dimensional jump to recharge. While waiting, they rescue one survivor, Troy Larson (Peter Facinelli.) Apparently related to someone Dr. Kaela once knew, Troy behaves aggressively and seems to be hiding something. The Nightingale crew then discovers a weird alien artifact amongst Troy's belongings, which only deepens the mystery of what exactly happened on the mining colony. Soon the crew finds themselves dealing with Troy, who wants to take over the mission so he can profit from the discovery of the artifact; the plot thickens as the truth comes out.

On many levels, Supernova is rather impressive. It has fantastic cinematography and digital effects. There is an epic visual quality to the film thanks to CGI and creative sets. The cast isn't too bad, either, nicely balanced with James Spader and Angela Bassett earning the most respect. The writing, however, is awful. Overall, the film is a superior sci-fi story that's extremely well-directed, but the writing keeps taking strange side-trips into typical, predictable monster movie territory. All of the intellect and tact of the basic premise is sucked out by terrible dialogue and a ridiculously exaggerated villain (Troy). There are moments where the film shows creative intelligence but goes too far. Take, for example, the ship's computer. The female-voiced computer is given a flawed personality, which is cute at first, but when the computer has something to say in almost every scene, it gets extremely old. There's also too much sex. Of course, in a movie set under these circumstances, even a little sex is too much, but when a (paraphrased) line like "If you sleep with me and don't like it, then you'll know you were meant for your boyfriend" actually WORKS, you're in trouble.

Of course, it's anyone's guess as to what Walter Hill's original version was like. This DVD release provides 20 minutes of deleted footage that was obviously part of the Hill cut. When watching this material, it becomes plain that a lot of things were changed. In fact, if this footage was put back in, the movie would seem a lot meatier. An example is a scene near the beginning of the film, in which James Spader is relaxing in zero-gravity when suddenly and for reasons unknown the computer reels off his character's background completely out of the blue. In the deleted footage, this scene is far more carefully crafted, with Spader making an entry in his diary in which he's required to talk about his history of drug abuse. Now, isn't that a better idea for introducing his past? In the film's trailer, you also glimpse moments of scenes and footage not seen in the film nor in the deleted material.

The movie also suffers from "happy ending" syndrome. The studio apparently thought that condescending to the audience with a cheesy, warm-hearted ending would go over better. It didn't. In fact, in the negative things I've read about Supernova, the ending is the most frequently mentioned problem. Of course, the deleted footage has the original ending and, as you might have guessed, it's much better. Now, all of the changes and cuts to the original version aren't the only problems with this film, but I feel they make up the bulk of its weaknesses. Another strange issue is MGM's claim that this is the "never before seen R rated version." I never saw the "PG-13" theatrical release of Supernova, but from what I heard the film was almost "R" to begin with. Even so, the deleted footage contains a few moments of graphic violence that were heavily tamed for the final cut. Is the DVD really somehow different, or is it just re-rated?

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 2.35:1 image is outstanding in every way. There were no signs of compression problems or mastering errors, and the print is excellent. The film has a purposefully washed-out look with lots of harsh white and blue lighting. The movie's futuristic style is represented well with good black level and excellent colors. Aliasing distortion is minimal, surprisingly so. The digital effects really come to life thanks to this superior image. A full-frame version is also supplied on the second side of the disc. Though it conforms to the same high quality as the 2:35:1 version, the loss in picture composition is unacceptable, and I cannot recommend it.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is extremely dynamic and powerful, with heavy directional effects and surround usage. For the most part dialogue is clear and well balanced with the louder action, but a few moments early in the film felt a bit muddy. There's some good LFE channel work as well. This is a superior, fun sound mix that will blow you away.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
13 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: As previously discussed, the disc contains 13 deleted scenes from the film. The most substantial scenes are the original opening sequence and ending. The other scenes display a better grasp of the source material than the current cut does. Unfortunately, these scenes are of poor quality and use only 2-channel sound. Also featured is the original theatrical trailer.

The keepcase insert is a small booklet detailing a few elements of the film's production.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Supernova still retains the feeling of a Walter Hill film. Despite the interference that, basically, ruined the film, his directorial style and general handling of action are still top-notch. This doesn't excuse the mess that MGM made of the movie, and Hill was right to take his name off the final product. This movie reminded me of Event Horizon, which suffered similar problems with studio interference; rumor has it that 40 minutes were cut from that film and remain unaccounted for. The best analogy that comes to mind for Supernova's wasted potential is to imagine 2001 with an ending in which HAL turns into a killer mutant thingy that must be blown out of the airlock. The film assumes that a cerebral sci-fi film will not please an audience, so it awkwardly inserts evils around every corner. Still, there is some entertainment to be had in this sci-fi tale, and I recommend Supernova as a rental.


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