Supernova (2000) a (very) belated review

La vittoria trova cento padrie nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso. (Victory has a hundred fathers, and no one acknowledges a failure.)  1942 G. Ciano Diary 9 Sept. (1946).

After a truly great run of movies from 1975 to roughly 1984, director Walter Hill reached the proverbial bump in the road.  While it was a pretty damn good film, 1984’s Streets of Fire didn’t light up (ouch) the box office.  Nor did many of the films he directed that followed, including the truly bad sequel to his biggest box office success, Another 48 Hrs.  Mr. Hill was hardly hurting.  He was, after all, the producer of the original Alien and Aliens, and would go on to produce all “Alien” related movies, up to and including last year’s controversial Prometheus.

But before the Alien universe truly blew up with sequels and Predator related spin offs, Mr. Hill made his thus far one and only directorial foray into sci-fi with Supernova.  Yes, Streets of Fire had a quasi-sci fi/alternate 1950’s type reality, but Supernova was a full on sci-fi spectacle complete with starships, alien worlds, and…horror.

I caught the film many years ago on DVD and found it an intriguing mess.  Mr. Hill’s original cut of the film was deemed unsatisfactory by the movie studios and they called in others, including Francis Ford Coppola, to re-edit it into something they were more comfortable with.  Ultimately, Supernova’s director credit was listed as “Thomas Lee”, a pseudonym not unlike the infamous Alan Smithee.  (That, folks, is the reason the quote is listed above)

The DVD I saw featured the “uncut” version of the film.  The other day, while watching oddball cable channels, the theatrical version of Supernova aired and, like a moth to light, I sat through it.  The theatrical cut differs from the “uncut” version in that we see a little less nudity from Robin Runney and, if memory serves, a slightly less gory death of (SPOILERS!!!!!) Lou Diamond Phillip’s character.  Otherwise, it was mostly what I remembered watching years ago.

And a fascinating watch it is.

The difference this time around, however, is the release of Prometheus.  When I first saw Supernova, Prometheus, of course, did not yet exist.  Now, however, watching Supernova proved something of a curious revelation.  For in Supernova I couldn’t help but notice that some of the movie’s elements wound up appearing in Prometheus.  That’s not to say that Supernova is something of a “rough draft” of Prometheus, just that you can see some of the elements coalesce.

To begin, Supernova involves a group of “space medics” who receive a distress signal from some far away planet (this is not unlike Alien, too!).  They head to the planet and find one person, Karl Larson (Peter Facinelli) who had a previous relationship with Dr. Evers (Angela Bassett), one of the members of the medical crew.  She finds Larson, however, very different from what she recalls.  Their relationship had grow very sour before he left her, but now, as she finds him, he looks very different…younger, stronger.  If you’ve seen Prometheus, this particular element of Supernova bears at least a little echo in the relationship of Shaw and Holloway.

Larson, we find, has discovered a strange object on that mining planet, a thing left behind by some alien culture.  In the course of the film we find that the object was made by an alien race to effectively eliminate other races they don’t want to have continue -and compete- with them.  In Prometheus, the alien engineers were upset with humanity and wanted to eradicate it with their oddball biological weaponry.  In the case of Supernova, the alien race (which in this movie remains unseen) has created a device that will entice its discoverer to take it to the heart of humanity, where it will detonate and destroy the offending race -and pretty much all the universe!- and then creating a “new” context for alien life.

What follows in Supernova is the cast and crew being killed off one by one by the infected Larson.  The way the villain is dispatched by the movie’s end is particularly groan inducing.  It involves “Flyboy”, one of the more bizarre (and extremely silly) concepts in Supernova, a robot that for no reason at all looks like a World War I flier enticing Larson into a hold before blowing him up.

Other than curiosity, it’s hard to come right out and recommend Supernova.  This is a genuinely flawed film (not that Prometheus wasn’t, as well!) that features some really good special effects but an obviously toyed with presentation.  Nonetheless I am curious about Mr. Hill’s original version of the film.  Given the fact that Supernova was a big flop, I doubt we’ll ever see a “special edition” of the film featuring Mr. Hill’s original cut.

But if one is ever released, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious to see it. Now, “enjoy” this truly awful trailer for the film.  The musical choices, none of which were in the film itself, really do no services for this already flawed film:

Interestingly, as I looked around YouTube, I found this, the alternate ending for the film.  I vaguely recall finding this on the DVD release mentioned earlier, and it features a far darker ending than the recut theatrical release:

Finally, this is another interesting cut sequence from the film.  Again, I’m getting vibes of Prometheus here, when the cast first meets up with the alien engineer creature. Perhaps its just me: