Supernova


Angela Bassett takes time out to play a high tech version of Cat's Cradle.

Angela Bassett takes time out to play a high tech version of Cat’s Cradle.

(2000) Science Fiction (MGM) James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips, Peter Facinelli, Robin Tunney, Wilson Cruz, Eddy Rice Jr., Knox White, Kerrigan Mahan (voice), Vanessa Marshall (voice), Kevin Sizemore. Directed by Walter Hill

By now, virtually any sci-fi movie junkie can tell you the plot of a typical Hollywood space opera without seeing it: A crew of a seen-better-days vessel goes to remote system, finds alien/bad person/person affected by alien object, and brings he/she/it aboard said vessel.

Crew gets offed one by one in gruesome fashion aboard suddenly claustrophobic ship. Brave captain/crewman/strong silent type battles alien/bad person/person affected by alien object and is defeated and assumed to be killed.

Alien/bad person/person affected by alien object stalks comely female. Comely female battles back and does surprisingly well, until a), she blows up vessel with alien/bad person/person affected by alien object inside it, b) she lures alien/bad person/person affected by alien object into airlock with her comeliness and/or gratuitous nudity, then blows it into space, or c) brave captain/crewman/strong silent type comes back from the dead to rescue comely female and TOGETHER they blow up seen-better-days vessel with alien/bad person/person affected by alien object inside it.

No matter what, big things go boom inevitably in Hollywood’s formula for sci-fi. Even in space where sound doesn’t actually travel.

Supernova follows this plan nearly to the letter, as a rescue vessel answers a distress beacon from a remote mining colony. En route to the colony, the captain meets a particularly gruesome end (this one is for Trek fans who yearn to see graphic transporter accidents) and the ship suffers some heavy damage. The rest of the crew meets the sole survivor (Facinelli) of the supposedly abandoned mine, who is the son of a man who was once romantically involved with the ship’s doctor (Bassett).

From the first moment we meet him, he acts suspiciously enough to make Mother Theresa paranoid. Shortly thereafter, all heck starts breaking loose, as delineated in the outline above.

While Supernova is certainly predictable, it does have its moments. There are some gen-u-wine whiz-bang special effects (for its day) and the cast is solid, particularly the nearly unrecognizable James Spader in the taciturn hero role. Robert Forster as the ship’s luckless commander and Lou Diamond Phillips as an amorous crewman also turn in solid performances in a picture that overall doesn’t deserve ’em.

Be warned – Supernova sat on a studio shelf for more than a year before seeing the light of day – never a good sign – and was quickly dumped onto the marketplace during a time of year when new releases are generally few and far between. There IS a reason for such shabby treatment, folks.

I can’t think of many reasons to go rent the movie (and, it appears, neither did the moviegoing public, which stayed away in droves) especially in a theater full of obnoxious, restless teens as Da Queen and I did (at least we got a couple of passes for our trouble). Ah, sweet memories.

Supernova IS a great looking movie, for the few of you who absolutely, positively must see it. Spader is reasonably interesting as an action hero, a radical change from the soft-spoken cerebral sort he usually plays. Still, these are mighty poor excuses to plunk down hard-earned cash on a movie that reminds me of seeing a paint-by-numbers done by a four-year-old hanging in the Louvre.

Obviously I can’t really recommend this other than to those who want to see every big budget sci-fi film ever made. It isn’t completely without redemption, but for the most part you can find a better movie to fill your time with without stretching too hard.

WHY RENT THIS: Some fairly decent special effects. Spader is serviceable as the action hero.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Pedantic and predictable. Lapses in believability.

FAMILY MATTERS: The movie has it’s share of violence and action scenes as well as a little bit of sexiness and some nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Was the first post-Alan Smithee film in Hollywood. For years whenever a director wished his name removed from the credits for whatever reason (normally because he didn’t want to be associated with the final product), the name “Alan Smithee” would be substituted. After the film Burn, Hollywood, Burn: An Alan Smithee Film was released, the name became too well-known and the Directors Guild of America substituted the name “Thomas Lee” for Alan Smithee. Although Walter Hill (himself a last-minute replacement for Geoffrey Wright who departed a few weeks before shooting over a script dispute) directed, the movie was credited to Thomas Lee upon release, the first film with the dubious distinction of doing so.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $14.8M on a $90M production budget.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Womb

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Mission to Mars


Mission to Mars

A little romantic skydancing never hurts a relationship.

(2000) Science Fiction (Touchstone) Gary Sinese, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O’Connell, Peter Outerbridge Kavan Smith, Jill Teed, Elise Neal, Kim Delaney, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Robert Bailey Jr., Patricia Harras, Lynda Boyd, Jody Thompson, Lucia Walters Pamela Diaz. Directed by Brian De Palma

The human nature is to explore, to find out what lies beyond where we have already been; to ask questions and then find answers. We explore without; the world around us, and someday, the worlds beyond our own. We also explore within; who we are, where we come from and where we are going. Hey, it keeps us busy.

Mission to Mars looks at that aspect of ourselves. Set in 2020, it posits the first manned mission to the Red Planet. Tragedy dogs the mission even before it leaves; its commander, Jim McConnell (Sinese), withdraws following the death of his wife and co-commander of the mission.

At first, the mission seems fairly routine; to discover the feasibility of colonization. However, the new mission commander, Luke Graham (Cheadle) discovers an anomaly, one which quickly turns deadly. When it becomes clear to mission control that something has gone wrong at Mars Base, a rescue mission is mounted, led by Woody Blake (Robbins), his wife Terri (Nielsen) and mission specialist Phil Ohlmyer (O’Connell). Blake insists that McConnell accompany the team, as he is the one who wrote the mission plan for the original expedition, including a possible rescue situation, and knows more about Mars than any other astronaut. It takes some convincing of the still-grieving McConnell but he eventually realizes that he could save lives so he assents.

The rescue mission also meets with unexpected tragedy after a micrometeorite shower holes the ship. The rescue party has to use all their resourcefulness in order to make it to the planet. There, they find the object of their mission … and a puzzle for them to solve. It explains why the first mission had to die … and a whole lot more. Think of this as a junior 2001: A Space Odyssey with better special effects and a director who is more of a storyteller. That, perhaps, is the biggest problem with M2M; rather than leave the mystery pretty much unsolved, letting the audience come to its own conclusions as Stanley Kubrick did with his film, director Brian de Palma makes sure that everything is explained in nice, neat little packages. That takes away from the grandeur of the mystery, and leaves us feeling like Peggy Lee; is that all there is?

Visually, there are some stunning moments, particularly late in the movie during the Martian Head scene, and during a cataclysmic accident. Sinese and Robbins are solid actors who never disappoint; Sinese is particularly excellent, playing an astronaut for the first time since Apollo 13 and comporting himself as a complex man, switching between mourning his wife and achieving the dream they both shared. Cheadle is an actor whose stock in Hollywood was on the rise when this was made; for me it cemented his standing as an actor whose every role was worth seeking out, a place he occupies to this day.

It makes for an odd switch; I’m usually more forgiving of the excesses of sci-fi flicks than Da Queen, but she liked this movie better than I did. That it got a one-hanky recommendation from Da Queen is telling enough; that she found it thought-provoking should be recommendation enough for anyone. For my part, I give it a mild recommendation; certainly, it’s worth seeing for the scope of its vision as well as the performances of its solid cast. I also give the writers props for avoiding cliché characterization and action for its own sake.

Still, I’ve seen 2001, I’ve enjoyed 2001 (although I didn’t love 2001), but this ain’t 2001.

WHY RENT THIS: Some spectacular effects sequences. Solid performances from Sinese, Cheadle and Robbins.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Explains too much – a little more mystery would have gone a long way. Could have used more depth in characterization.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a bit of violence, some bad language and a few disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: There is a “hidden Mickey,” seen here when the Mars Explorer lines up with Mars, the rotating circular hub of the spacecraft and antenna dish form the iconic image of Mickey Mouse. Of course, Touchstone is a division of Disney, and “hidden Mickeys” are notoriously placed throughout all of the Disney theme parks as easter eggs for their guests.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is an animatics to finished scene comparison that is fairly interesting. The making of featurette also shows the input of NASA into the finished film making it a little more interesting than most.

BOX OFICE PERFORMANCE: $111.0M on a $100M production budget; the movie’s ambitious budget outpaced it’s decent box office and so it was unprofitable during its theatrical release.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: 2001: A Space Odyssey (in case I didn’t make it clear in the review)

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Skyfall