Supernova (2000 film)
Theatrical release poster
Ash R. Shaw|
|Screenplay by||David C. Wilson|
|Music by||David C. Williams|
|Cinematography||Lloyd Ahern II|
Francis Ford Coppola
Freeman A. Davies
|Distributed by||MGM Distribution Co.|
|Box office||$14.8 million|
Supernova is a 2000 Swiss-American science fiction horror film written by David C. Wilson, William Malone and Daniel Chuba and directed by Walter Hill, credited as "Thomas Lee." "Thomas Lee" was chosen as a directorial pseudonym for release, as the name Alan Smithee had become too well known as a badge of a film being disowned by its makers. It was originally developed in 1988 by director William Malone as "Dead Star," with paintings by H. R. Giger and a plot that had been called "Hellraiser in outer space." Jack Sholder was hired for substantial uncredited reshoots, and Francis Ford Coppola was brought in for editing purposes. Various sources suggest that little of Hill's work remains in the theatrical cut of the film. The film shares several plot similarities with the film Event Horizon, released in 1997, and Alien Cargo, released in 1999. The cast features James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips, Peter Facinelli, Robin Tunney, and Wilson Cruz. The film was shot by cinematographer Lloyd Ahern and scored by composers David C. Williams and Burkhard Dallwitz.
Supernova chronicles the search-and-rescue patrol of a medical ship in deep space in the early 22nd century and its six-member crew, which includes captain and pilot A.J. Marley (Robert Forster), co-pilot Nick Vanzant (James Spader), medical officer Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett), medical technician Yerzy Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips), search and rescue paramedic Danika Lund (Robin Tunney) and computer technician Benjamin Sotomejor (Wilson Cruz). Aboard their vessel, the Nightingale 229, they receive an emergency distress signal coming from an ice mining operation on the moon Titan 37, more than 3,000 light-years away.
The crew answers the call and dimension-jumps — during which Captain Marley suffers fatal injuries due to a malfunction of the ship's equipment — arriving in the path of Titan 37's debris cloud, some of which damages the ship and causes the loss of 82 percent of its maneuvering fuel. Worse still, Titan 37 orbits a blue giant, and its high gravity field will pull the ship to the point where it will be incinerated in 17 hours, 12 minutes — which happens to be almost the same amount of time that the Nightingale 229 will need to recharge its jump drive, their only possible hope for escape. With only an 11-minute window for escape, the surviving crew soon find themselves in danger from the disturbing young man (Peter Facinelli) they rescue, and the mysterious alien artifact he has smuggled aboard. This artifact is analyzed by the ship's computer and is said to contain nine-dimensional matter.
It is ultimately discovered that the young man who called for rescue is actually Karl Larson, an old former lover of Kaela (it is implied they had an abusive relationship). Karl came into contact with the nine-dimensional matter after recovering the artifact. It somehow enabled him to acquire super-strength and supernatural healing abilities, and made him younger (such that Kaela did not recognize him). Karl murders most of the crew except Kaela and strands Nick on the mining platform. Karl unsuccessfully attempts to romantically reconcile with Kaela. Nick finds his way back to the medical ship through a rescue pod left on the mining platform, and a battle ensues between Nick and Karl. Karl is ultimately killed by Kaela using explosives placed near the alien artifact which Karl was obsessed with retrieving. The explosion ejects the artifact into space, hurtling it towards the blue giant.
With moments left before the dimension jump activates, Kaela and Nick place themselves into the only remaining dimensional stabilization chamber (Karl had destroyed all but one), which is the only thing that enables human beings to survive the ship's dimensional jump drive. The pods are meant to hold only one person; however, two subjects might be genetically mixed during the dimensional jump. Before Nick and Kaela enter the only remaining pod, the computer warns them that the nine-dimensional matter is reacting with the gravity of the blue giant sun and will cause a nine-dimensional reaction that will spread in all directions, such that the reaction's resulting supernova will reach Earth within 51 years. The computer hypothesizes that the reaction will either destroy life on Earth or "enable humankind to achieve a new level of existence". Just before the blue giant supernovas, the ship engages in a dimensional jump which brings Nick and Kaela back to Earth. As a result of their being in the same pod, the two of them each have one eye of the other person's original eye color. The ship's computer also reveals that Kaela is pregnant, which may be the result of them being in the pod together during the jump, or the result of their copulation hours earlier.
- James Spader as Nick Vanzant
- Angela Bassett as Dr. Kaela Evers
- Robert Forster as A.J. Marley
- Lou Diamond Phillips as Yerzy Penalosa
- Peter Facinelli as Karl Larson
- Robin Tunney as Danika Lund
- Wilson Cruz as Benjamin Sotomejor
- Eddy Rice Jr. as Flyboy
- Knox Grantham White (Kerrigan Mahan, voice) as Troy Larson
- Vanessa Marshall (voice) as Sweetie
- Kevin Sizemore (uncredited) as Rescue leader
The original script was about a space expedition that discovers artifacts from an alien civilization and brings them back to Earth; one of the artifacts unleashes an evil force. Malone and producer Ash R Shah asked H. R. Giger to produce some conceptual sketches to help promote the script.
MGM bought the project and a series of writers were put on the script, including David Campbell Wilson, Daniel Chuba, Cathy Rabin and Thomas Wheeler. By 1997 the story had changed to be about a deep space medical ship called the Nova which answers a distress signal and finds an aging cargo vessel about to be sucked into a black hole. The sole survivor of the sinking ship comes on board the Nova.
Australian Geoffrey Wright was originally attached to direct but left the project two months before principal photography was to begin due to "creative differences." Apparently, he had an idea about shooting the entire film in zero gravity, but MGM disagreed. Vincent D'Onofrio was originally cast as the computer tech but when Wright was fired, D'Onofrio also walked out. James Spader was cast in the lead.
Wright was replaced by Jack Sholder. However, MGM head Frank Mancuso was reluctant to use him. James Spader campaigned for Walter Hill, who had written and produced the three Alien films. Hill says he "was interested in doing a science fiction thing"; he thought the script "had fixable problems" and he wanted to work with James Spader.
MGM were worried that the Screen Actors Guild would strike that summer. They did not delay the April 1998, start date, which left Hill only weeks to organize the production. He spent much of that time reworking the script, not knowing that the president of United Artists (Lindsay Doran) was very attached to the script.
"Walter's vision of the film was different from the studio's. It's a shame that couldn't be resolved during production," screenwriter David Wilson said.
Shooting began in April 1998. Hill says the budget of the film was cut halfway through production.
Special-effects house Digital Domain was once considering a production partnership with MGM. Under such a deal, the special effects would be delivered below market rates, since Digital, as a part owner of some MGM films, would have an incentive to keep costs down. However, this partnership fell through and the production had to pay for "the full spa treatment," according to producer Daniel Chubas. MGM had to scrap about half of the planned effects shots. A weightless sex scene between Robin Tunney and Peter Facinelli was shot in seats mounted on a rotating pole that was digitally removed in postproduction. The script also involved a cutting-edge robot—remotely operated by someone's manipulating gloves—that performs long-distance medical examinations. This became an actor dressed as an android. Finally, a sequence where Spader rescued someone inside a bubble of zero-gravity water was never filmed.
After principal photography was finished in July 1998, Walter Hill spend a total of 24 weeks editing his director's cut of the film which still didn't have all the special effects scenes added into it. MGM decided to screen the film to a test audience. Hill told them that the screening would be a complete disaster because the film was still not finished, and because he wanted to shoot some more footage. MGM refused, saying the additional footage would cost another $1.5 million. Hill would not return to work until Mancuso met with him, and Mancuso would not meet with Hill until the director returned to work.
MGM screened the film and, just like Hill said, the test screening audience hated it. Hill would later remark:
We limped in, in post we had a tremendous amount of effect stuff to do. They decided they wanted to preview the movie without the effects. I said this was insane, it's a science fiction movie. The effects had to be added. They wanted to see how it played. I told them it would be like shit, terrible, very bad preview, you will give up on the movie. These previews under these conditions are political. "Are you saying you won't preview the movie?" I said "You own the God damn thing. If you want to preview it, I can't prevent you, but I won't go." They saw this as defiance.
Taking this into consideration and after more arguments with MGM, Hill quit the project.
New director, Jack Sholder
After test screenings went badly MGM hired another director, Jack Sholder, to re-edit Hill's footage and do some re-shoots to try and save the film. Sholder deleted a lot of the scenes from Hill's version, including many scenes of character development, added the scene where James Spader's character is piloting the ship to safety after they jump into the supernova high-gravity field (originally auto-pilot saved the ship from crash but Sholder wanted to give Spader's character something more to do), added some scenes with more focus on humor, changed the original voice of the ship's computer Sweetie and added a new one which had "more emotion", removed entire dialogue from another computer called George who was on Titan and who gave Nick some information about the mining colony, removed the original rock/electronic-like score by Burkhard Dallwitz, and added a new one by David C. Williams.
After Sholder's cut was test screened and got a better reaction from a test audience, new executives took over MGM/UA: Alex Yemenidjian, and Chris McGurk. They were unhappy with the reaction that Supernova got from the test screening of Sholder's cut. The studio went back to Hill, who proposed $5 million of reshoots and wanted more time for filming. When he was refused, Hill quit the project for good and MGM then shelved the film.
Francis Ford Coppola
In August 1999, MGM board member Francis Ford Coppola was brought in by MGM to supervise another re-editing of the film costing $1 million at his American Zoetrope facility in Northern California. This work included digitally placing Bassett's and Spader's faces on the bodies of (a computer-tinted) Tunney and Facinelli so that their characters could enjoy a love scene.
But even Coppola's re-edited version had negative test screening and didn't get the PG-13 rating by MPAA that the studio wanted. Creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos, whose special effects were mostly cut out from the film, said that Walter Hill wanted the film to be much more grotesque, strange and disturbing while MGM wanted to make it more of a hip, sexy film in space and they didn't want a full-blown makeup effects film.
"I hope that my experience in the film industry has helped improve the picture and rectified some of the problems that losing a director caused," said Coppola.
By October 1999, MGM decided to sell the film.
The film was eventually released on January 17, 2000, almost two years later than planned.
Original cut and deleted scenes
The infamous theatrical trailer of the film, featuring songs "Fly" by Sugar Ray and "Momma Told Me Not To Come" by Three Dog Night, shows many alternate takes of some scenes, extended versions of some others, parts of a few deleted scenes, including the one where Nick finds the real Troy on the Titan moon turned into a fetus and Troy begging Nick to help him, and a couple of shots of the original ending where Karl is killed by a dimensional jump.
Four different endings were filmed.
Dialogue by the ship's computer, Sweetie, in a theatrical ending where it tells Nick and Kaela that the Supernova will either destroy Earth or make it and humankind better, and that Kaela is pregnant, was added later in post-production during one of the re-edits of the film, most probably during the one supervised by Francis Ford Coppola. Original dialogue said only that the supernova will destroy Earth in 257 years and that it's unstoppable.
When he took over the editing of the film, Francis Ford Coppola put together the zero gravity sex scene between Angela Bassett and James Spader using out-takes of the zero gravity sex scene between Robin Tunney and Peter Facinelli that happens later in the film, with Tunney's skin color being digitally darkened. He did this to add more to the relationship between Bassett's and Spader's characters.
Originally, main villain Karl transformed into a demon-like monster during the final part of the film. Although much time and effort was spent on special make-up effects for these scenes, MGM decided that they didn't like it because they "couldn't see the actor", so all the creature footage was cut and re-shot with Karl being only partially transformed in the final cut.
Many promotional stills show a lot of deleted scenes which were not included as a bonus on DVD/Blu-ray versions of the film. These include: Kaela and Danika dressing up the Flyboy robot, Nick investigating the Titan mining colony and more areas of it, Nick finding more cocooned dead bodies of miners and examining them, Karl's original monster-like look, and Karl's original death sequence.
Walter Hill said in an interview some years after the film was released that his version was much darker, had a very different setup and that ending was much different. He also expressed strong dislike for the way the studio ruined the film, but said that James Spader did a great job with his role.
Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Yerzy, turned down the role the first few times it was offered to him, but once Walter Hill was hired as director, Hill called Phillips and sent him 40 pages of his re-written script, which Phillips liked and accepted the role. Problem was, when the filming began, Hill was forced to keep rewriting the script while studio executives were on set watching over him. Hill also heavily rewrote the original script because he wanted to distance the film from Alien (1979), a film which he produced. Phillips also said that once Francis Ford Coppola was called in to re-edit the film, he sent everyone from the cast a letter saying, "All of your work in this film is quite good. It has its problems. I'm going to recut it, hopefully in the spirit of what Walter Hill wanted." However, Hill ultimately took his name from the film.
DVD and Blu-ray versions include several deleted scenes as a bonus feature. These scenes are:
- Alternate opening where Captain Marley gives a philosophical speech about space.
- Vanzant makes an entry to his autodiary.
- Dr. Evers performs an autopsy on a recently deceased crewmember (a propulsion engineer named "Lucky" Chow Li who drank too much alcohol).
- Captain Marley tells Vanzant to visit Dr. Evers for a medical examination, because he doesn't want to lose another crew member.
- Captain Marley gives Vanzant some advice on how to get the respect of the crew.
- Sweetie tells Vanzant about the computer on Titan 37, whose name is George.
- George gives Vanzant some background information about Titan 37.
- Vanzant searches the operational level for fuel.
- Vanzant finds a lifeform in the operations housing. Later he discovers that this lifeform is the real Troy.
- A more violent version of the fighting scene between Karl and Yerzy, in which Karl crushes Yerzy's head and his eyes pop out.
- An extended version of the scene where Vanzant enters the ship. When the hatch turns around Karl shoots, but instead of Vanzant he shoots at the already dead Troy (who died before on Titan 37). The hatch turns again and Vanzant comes out.
- When the Observation Dome exploded Karl doesn't die but is only hurt.
- An alternate ending where Karl reenters the ship and tries to destroy the isolation chamber with Vanzant and Evers. But before he can do this he is killed by the effects of the dimension jump. Another change is that Sweetie doesn't tell Evers that she is pregnant. Instead, Sweetie tells them that the supernova will not be sufficient to extinguish the combustion created by the alien object. It will extinguish after all available three-dimensional matter has been combusted (the entire universe) and will reach earth within 257 years.
Before its release, MGM predicted that the film would not perform well at the box office. The film made $5.8 million in its opening weekend, ranking #8; by the end of its run, the film grossed only $14.2 million in North America and $598,000 in other territories, for a worldwide gross of $14.8 million. Against a budget of $90 million, the film was a box office bomb, with an estimated loss of $83 million.
"Supernova" was panned by critics and holds a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 61 reviews, with the consensus: "This is an insult to the Sci-fi genre with no excitement and bad FX." The New York Times reviewer Lawrence Van Gelder called it "light on originality and low on suspense though high on design and special effects." On Metacritic, which uses an average of critics' reviews, the film holds a 19/100, indicating "overwhelming dislike". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D" on an A+ to F scale.
Film Comment did say some positive things:
Almost all that remains is Hill-mounted and obviously well-directed. The dialogue has the snap of his rewrites; the action plays with an extraordinary vividness and a sense of grim veracity; the performances transcend genre, a Hill trademark. The cinematography... is clean, handsome, sparkling, tight. And the visual effects complement the story, a sci-fi rarity; they're glowing, ethereal and fibulating, matching the movie's dreamy psychosexual drama. In short, the released Supernova is still a good movie - not nearly the artistic disaster prophesied, indeed, preordained by the studio when it jettisoned its own product into cold space... [However] Coppola's version disconnects Hill's delicately drawn relationships and ruptures the film's thematic and stylistic unity. Coppola loses sight of Hill's visual echoes... Kaela's become a typically less interesting Coppola woman, rather than a strong dame in the Hill style. Vanzant's roughneck bearing, fearlessness and slightly alienated seething places him squarely in Hill's heroic tradition, but the changes alter the audience response to him too, weakening a literal turning point, when he stares down Troy/Karl, defending the honor of the crew and distinguishing their mission of mercy from his greed. Coppola's cruelest cuts eviscerate Hill's action direction, desecrate his modern transitional flow and emasculate the fight sequences. Somebody had to finish the movie, but getting Coppola to improve Hill's action is trading one director's proven strength for another's historic weakness. In Hill's manner, as edited by the amazing Freeman Davies (who also removed his name), the fights are properly built up, interconnected seamlessly and finished with Hill's trademark punishing violence: twofisted skull-busts, point-blank bullets to the face, men thrown through parallel planes of glass. Hill's movie climaxes to conclusion; Coppola's peters out. It took only a few months for Coppola's apocalypse to write the takeover, makeover and manifest destiny of Hill's Supernova, which has been consigned to the void... MGM's befuddling dismissal of Hill's superior version makes his current voluntary hiatus - prompted by his dismay at Hollywood's insistence on dumbing down its own product - perfectly understandable. If this is the future of filmmaking in America, to hell with it all.
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