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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Supernova on disc

For those willing to ignore bad word-of-mouth, a fascinating glimpse of what might have been.

By Steve Biodrowski     September 19, 2000

When it came out this February, Supernova was a box office bomb of almost epic proportions, thanks in large part to advance word about the film's troubled production history (including no less than three different directors, plus reshooting, recutting, and rescoring). With that kind of negative response, MGM was no doubt wondering whether anyone would want to buy or even rent the DVD, so they went out of their way to fill it with extra material that might interest people in checking out the home video version. The film is presented in an R-rated cut (as opposed to the theatrical PG-13 version), and the supplemental section contains twenty minutes of unseen footage, including a longer version of the ending that wraps up some crucial points. Also featured are the option of widescreen or standard aspect ratios (on either side of the disc), an original theatrical trailer (of the sort that seems designed to make you not want to see the film), and a 4-page collectible booklet, which lists the DVD's 24 chapter stops.

Needless to say, a director's commentary was out of the question, as the director who shot the lion's share of footage (Walter Hill) opted for a pseudonym after the film was recut. (Likewise, the text of the collectible booklet focuses on the film's special effects, as if the technological achievements were the only safe topic of discussion, not artistic ones.) Any difference between the PG-13 and R-rated cuts is scarcely noticeable (maybe the film doesn't cut away from brief flashes of nudity, but that's about it). In any case, the director's credit still reads 'Thomas Lee,' so it's not as if we have the restored director's cut here. Upon a second viewing, the film remains pretty much the same: an underrated but more than adequate outer space adventure, enlivened by some good performances and interesting ideas, that never quite grows into anything more than a big-budget B-movie.

The film may have been aiming higher before the post-production tampering. The additional twenty minutes (presented in individual snippets, almost like chapter selections) fill out the characterization, especially that of Robert Forster (finally, you understand why he took the part). Some of the points made are not absolutely necessary to the plot, but they do draw viewers more fully into the story. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the discovery of a survivor (heavily mutated) on the surface of the rogue moon when James Spader's character goes down to investigate. This sequence gives us a better idea of the ultimate result when humans come in contact with the '9th dimensional' matter that plays such an important part in the film. (In the film itself, the effect seems energizing; we're supposed to assume it's like an addictive drug that will have long-term deleterious effects, but we don't really see them.) There is also a brief flash of (effective) gore that was for some reason still omitted, despite the film's R-rating (surely it wasn't enough to earn an NC-17?).

Some of the deleted footage probably should have been deleted; for example, there is one of those 'the killer isn't dead yet' sequences that is hokey beyond belief (although it does include some nice visual effects of the sun going supernova while the ship jumps into hyperspacestuff that could have been included in the theatrical cut, even without showing the killer still on board the ship).

Other scenes seem to have been removed in order to render the film in a more upbeat tone. Mostly notably, the alternate ending casts a very dark light over the proceedings, implying a long term Armageddon for the universe as we know it. But truth be told, this conclusion does grow logically out of the foundation laid by the film, which feels more than faintly vague at the end, as if all the terrible things that have been suggested have now somehow been narrowly avoided (although we're not quite sure how). It's not a happy ending, but it's one that could have packed a wallopleaving a memorable impression on the audience that may have made the film stick in their minds much more than it did.

Even with the new footage, it's doubtful that Supernova ever would have been a masterpiece, and it's difficult to say whether these sequences make the difference between Walter Hill's cut and what finally emerged. Clearly, it would not simply be a matter of reinserting the scenes into the movie (which is no doubt why they appear as supplemental material); for one thing, the music score is entirely different (more of a futuristic, electronic, almost rock sound). The additional scenes suggest ideas that were never fully developed (unless there is yet more unseen footage), so it's easy to imagine why they were removed, rendering the film as more of a straight-ahead action piece. Nevertheless, this DVD will give you a better glimpse of what was originally intended, and it's not as if the final result was nearly as bad as everybody made it out to be.

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