So I saw this trailer on Twitter.
Obviously, I sent it to my roommate with the comment “next movie night” and he responded “First of all, yes.” So my evening plans were squared away pretty quickly.
From the trailer, you’d think that this movie would be a fun Y2K romp in space, and in fact only the Y2K and space parts of that assumption would be true. I wish that this movie had Sugar Ray on the soundtrack, or that the multiple deaths depicted in the trailer were zany punchlines. Perhaps what I actually wanted was a grown-up Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, or a Galaxy Quest that fucks. What I got, though, was Supernova.
Supernova definitely fucks. That’s one of the only things I can say for certain about it. The plot was convoluted and the dialogue incomprehensible, but I know for sure that the crew of the emergency rescue vessel Nightingale are boning in zero gravity on the regular. The first sex scene occurs one minute and 32 seconds into the film.
I think that Supernova takes place in the future, although all the dialogue is like “This moon was expelled from orbit around its original star system and is now classified as a rogue body” and “Can’t spare the fuel for a standard Hoffenlicht Maneuver — we’ll have to catch her on a roll,” so I can’t really make heads or tails of it. I think it’s the future, though. It’s very advanced. All two of the women have short hair, and everyone is comfortable with nudity. There are no sexual hangups in space.
The plot kicks off when the Nightingale gets a distress signal from some miners on a faraway moon or planet or something. In order to reach the caller, the crew has to dimension jump. This apparently can’t be done with clothes on, so they all rip their suits off and hang around naked, the whole time chatting pleasantly as if they’re catching up around the water cooler.
Each person has to be in their own individual protective pod for a dimension jump, because dimension jumping might warp your DNA if done incorrectly. I suppose that’s the reason it must be done in the buff, so you don’t become a half-human half-polyester hybrid. Unfortunately for the ship’s captain, his pod was malfunctioning and he turns into a hideous Cronenberg of mangled genes. Even more unfortunately for him, the movie hadn’t really established much about his character, so I felt nothing watching him die.
All of the characters in Supernova have quirks but no real motivations. One guy named Benjamin plays chess with the ship’s Siri-like navigation system, Sweetie. He’s supposed to be the jokester on the ship, but his acting is so egregiously bad that all of his “funny” dialogue is mortifying. Captain Marley (RIP) was working on his dissertation on Tom & Jerry (?) for his anthropology PhD (??). Two characters — whose names I never learned, so I called them Pixie Cut and Her Boyfriend — wanted to have a child together. They have to submit an application to do so, with what appears to be a second grader’s permission slip for a field trip to the zoo.
Angela Bassett is the ship’s doctor, I guess. She’s there to say things like “Hazen is not just a type-H mind-altering escape” and “Nanoscan kit, number three laser scalpel, vascular cauterizer, STAT!” and she has so much gravitas that she almost pulls it off. Usually when a great actor is in a terrible project, I feel embarrassed for them, but it’s impossible to feel embarrassed for Angela Bassett. I’m embarrassed for everyone involved in the movie for letting Angela Bassett down.
James Spader is the ship’s co-pilot who becomes the captain when the real captain Cronenbergs. He’s a loose canon who might go rogue but get the job done. He’ll disable Sweetie when she’s trying to steer them in through a terrifying meteor shower so he can take control himself, and when someone says “What are you doing??” Spader will say with measured cool, “Buying us some time.” When someone says something like “We should have known that Captain Marley’s pod would malfunction, and we should have transferred the distress call to another vessel,” Spader replies, as James Spaderly as you can possibly imagine, “And Marley would still be alive, and you’d be playing chess with Sweetie right now. And what if they never crucified Christ? But they did. And Marley’s gone, and here we are, and that’s how it is.”
(I assume that Sweetie was named Sweetie to add even more condescension when men bark orders at her like she’s an underpaid secretary on Mad Men. Benjamin and Sweetie are very close. He’s always playing chess with her while other characters get dicked down. The movie sets up some indications that Sweetie might be gaining true artificial intelligence, possibly starting to feel human emotions, and I assumed that it would pay off with either some thought-provoking questions on the nature of humanity or with Sweetie generating a gorgeous hologram form so she can fuck Benjamin. It did not pay off in any way.)
James Spader is a recovering Hazen addict (Hazen is a type-H mind-altering escape) who, like, requested to be on this spaceship as part of his rehab program? Or something? “I like deep space, it’s quiet,” he says, by way of explanation. Angela Bassett is tough as nails but she loves her shipmates and she’s wary of James Spader. She was once in a relationship with an abusive Hazen addict and she’s still traumatized and wary. Plus she can’t have kids, a burden for any woman to bear. Spader has a hard time connecting with people, because of how cool and aloof he is, but he wants to connect with Angela Bassett. She’s hardened and uptight and Spader is an irreverent bad boy, so you already know that they’re gonna bang so she’ll loosen up. What you may not expect is how that seduction actually goes down.
I personally would never use a pear in a bottle as a sexual metaphor, but that’s just one of many reasons why I’m not cut out for life in space. Allow me to transcribe the suggestive (??) dialogue preceding their sex scene:
SPADER (a hint of amusement playing on his lips, looking curiously at the bottle of pear brandy): How do you think they get that in there?
ANGELA BASSETT (a smart lady, knows everything about pear brandy): They put the bottles on the branches so the buds are inside and the pears grow right in them. Then (a slight pause as she makes meaningful, flirtatious eye contact) when they’re ripe (she stares at the bottle sensually) they pick the bottles, pour in the brandy, and voila.
SPADER (voice lowered but still James Spader as fuck): Of course the real question is how the hell you get it out. (He looks at ANGELA BASSETT intensely, making the subtext clear. Her vagina is the pear, and he needs to know how to make her get it out for him. CUT TO: sex scene in zero gravity chamber.)
That’s one way to get over watching your deformed freak captain die in front of you a couple hours before, I guess.
So they finally pick up the tiny ship that sent the damn distress call and the passenger onboard is Peter Facinelli, aka Dr. Carlisle Cullen. Facinelli is very attractive as Carlisle and I loved him in Can’t Hardly Wait, but he’s pretty bad in this movie. Everyone is pretty bad in this movie, except for Angela Bassett, who’s incapable of being bad, and James Spader, whose acting choices transcend human standards of quality. Peter Facinelli plays every scene like he wants to fuck. Sometimes that’s obviously justified by the script.
Lotta butts in this film. Wall-to-wall butts and tits.
Other times, though, Facinelli’s overt horniness has no justification at all. It was fascinating. I once took an acting class that was all about identifying your character’s big-picture and moment-to-moment motivations, and I imagined Peter Facinelli sitting down with his script and analyzing it in the same way, but just writing thoughtfully in the margins of every page “I wanna fuck.”
Angela Bassett thinks that Peter Facinelli looks like her abusive Hazen addict ex, Karl Larson, but he’s obviously way younger so she realizes it’s Karl’s son. When he comes to and starts showing off his dick to Pixie Cut, he identifies himself as Karl’s son Troy. He plays every scene with Angela Bassett, allegedly his dad’s ex, like he wants to fuck her. Mostly, though, he wants to fuck Pixie Cut. He eventually does so, in the zero gravity chamber, obviously.
But what about Pixie Cut’s boyfriend?? Who cares. I don’t, the film doesn’t. This sex scene doesn’t pay off in any way. Spader’s Hazen addiction never pays off in any way. Sweetie’s near-sentience never pays off in any way.
Now seems like a good time to mention that this film was directed by “Thomas Lee,” who is not a real person. The four directors who were actually involved — William Malone, Geoffrey Wright, Walter Hill, and Jack Sholder — wanted to disown the project, so they released it under a pseudonym. Hill put together one cut of the movie (#ReleaseTheHillCut) that was scrapped because test audiences hated it. It was screened before any of the special effects were added, so, yeah, that checks out. Jack Sholder came on for some reshoots and then recut the film, and the reactions in test screenings were better but still mediocre. The movie was briefly given back to Hill, who proposed $5 million in reshoots, but the studio declined, so then all the footage was given to Francis Ford Coppola (!!) to make sense of.
One of his ideas was adding a sex scene between Spader and Angela Bassett. I guess the pear brandy scene was just supposed to fade to black and imply sex, which would make more sense than a hard cut to them in a completely different part of the ship fucking in zero gravity. But Coppola wanted a sex scene to solidify their bond. None had been shot. So where did the sex scene come from? Coppola had the special effects team edit footage from Facinelli and Pixie Cut’s sex scene to insert Spader and Bassett’s heads on them and recolor Pixie Cut’s skin!!
Supernova is as confusing a movie as you’d expect from four directors recutting a sort of horrifying, often horny space movie in 1999. The movie gets serious when Facinelli reveals that he’s actually The Dreaded Karl, de-aged by the mystical powers of some “9th dimensional” space orb that he found that’s making him younger and stronger. Karl goes on a killing rampage on the ship and there’s this big dramatic moment where it seems like Sweetie will prove that she has sentience and step in to stop him but instead she’s just like “I am not programmed to make this ethical calculation. I’ll see you in hell, Benjamin.”
The movie is entertaining! I’ll give it that! My roommate and I had a great time and both agreed that it was way more fun to watch than A Star Is Born. (It’s on Prime until the end of the month, so watch it this weekend if you’re into that sort of nonsense. I’m gonna spoil the ending, though.) We both really enjoyed the production design, which has a fun Y2K aesthetic and looks like some money went into building cool sets. The CGI looks surprisingly good for an effects-heavy movie from 20 years ago. A lot of the dialogue made us laugh out loud. Not any of the actual jokes, though, which made us groan or physically recoil. It’s what you want out of a bad movie!
But it is still a bad movie. I don’t care about any of the characters enough to really react when Karl hurls them out the hatch to their space deaths. I could never really keep track of the stakes because I only knew the broadest strokes of the plot: distress call incoming, captain dead, Karl suspicious, Karl bad, people dying, ship needs to go, unclear why. The ending is absurd. With Karl defeated, the survivors of the Nightingale — Spader and Angela Bassett, obviously — must dimension-jump if they want to survive. Again, not sure what they’re escaping from. I think there might be a supernova happening? That would make sense. They rip off their clothes, natch, and realize that all the protective pods are broken except for one. Either one of them must die, or they can take their chances curled up in the same pod, which could Cronenberg them together.
They choose the latter option. They curl up naked in each other’s arms, sipping in the moment of their probable death like an aged pear brandy. They make the jump. And their DNA does get scrambled.
Eye swap!! These two crazy kids did an eye swap. Also, apparently Angela Bassett’s body is accepting kids now, and she has one gestating in there from her post-brandy fuck sesh maybe 24 hours ago, and it’s a girl! Mazel tov, Angela Bassett. We don’t know if you really like James Spader or if you want a child or how easy it is to get a space abortion, but we do know that the other lady onboard had wanted a kid so it stands to reason that you do too.
Anyway, that’s the movie and I don’t think it’s good and I had a great time.