Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels
I dont understand the studios. January is usually the month for two types of releases: wide release of Oscar contenders and movies that the studio considers dogs. There are a few exceptions, but when a movie released in January isnt screened for critics, you know it belongs in the latter category.
Which is why I dont understand what MGM is doing with Supernova. In addition to the above-listed signs that the movie should be terrible, director Walter Hill took his name off the film, though he and MGM agreed to use the pseudonym "Thomas Lee" rather than the traditional "Alan Smithee" because the latter has become too well known in the general public. Usually when the directors relationship with a studio degrades to the point of taking his name off it, its a bad sign for the film.
So by all rights Supernova should stink. But it doesnt. Its not going to set a box office record like The Matrix or Star Wars: The Phantom Menace because its not as inventive and groundbreaking as the former nor does it have the built-in audience of the latter, but its a perfectly reasonable science fiction/thriller/adventure film.
Supernova focuses on the emergency medical vessel Nightingale 229 and its crew, which has recently gained a new member, co-pilot Nick Vanzant (James Spader). Initially, Vanzant doesn't fit in very well and doesn't really seem to care, but Dr. Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett) prods him into trying a little harder. The chemistry between Nick and Kaela is prickly at first and later icily sensuous, which makes for an interesting difference.
The action begins when a distress call from a Carl Larson is picked up by the Nightingale directly rather than being routed through the usual channels. You dont need Kaelas comment that Larson was the worst nightmare she ever met to know that trouble is ahead. Right on time, the arriving rescue vessel is sucked into the gravitational pull of a star. The ship needs 17 hours and 11 minutes to recharge its dimension jump engine and theyll be pulled into the star in 17 hours and 23 minutes, making for a narrow window of escape.
The window is even narrower once they get Larson (Peter Facinelli) on board, though the person rescued is Troy Larson rather than Carl. Regardless of what name he uses, the newcomer is trouble with or without the possible alien artifact he smuggled aboard.
Supernova has a great cast, which also includes Robert Forester, Lou Diamond Phillips, Robin Tunney (though she reuses the wide-eyed and confused expression she wore in End of Days) and Wilson Cruz as a rather charming computer geek. The special effects are perfect. The only flaws are in the script, though its better than many other adventure films. Rather than having holes you could drive the proverbial truck through, the bigger problem is that its not very suspenseful or mysterious for a science fiction thriller. Combine the basic story with the rule that big stars dont die, and theres little nail biting, though it does a decent job of making you guess how and when certain things will happen. The only real flaw is that the full reasoning behind the title isnt clear until the latter part of the film and it leaves a question that wont be resolved for more than 50 years in the films chronology.
Had it been released before The Matrix, Supernova would have been a good money maker, but its neither flashy nor substantial enough to hold up to comparison. Still, its an entertaining, well-acted adventure film that shouldnt disappoint fans of Spader or Bassett. If youre looking for a good popcorn movie or an expensively made B movie, its perfect.
Review © 2000 Beth Hannan Rimmels. Accompanying photographs © 2000 MGM.