USA 1999

Reviewed by John Wrathall


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

The 22nd century. Joining the crew of deep-space medical-rescue vessel Nightingale 299, co-pilot Nick Vanzant gets a frosty welcome from chief medical officer Kaela Evers. The Nightingale picks up a distress call from a mine on an abandoned rogue moon apparently from Karl Larson, an abusive former lover of Kaela's whom she believed to be dead.

To reach the moon, the Nightingale has to perform a "dimension jump", during which the captain is killed. Nick takes command. The ship loses most of its fuel supply in an asteroid attack. A patrol vehicle docks carrying the sole survivor of a mining expedition, who claims to be Larson's son Troy. His vehicle is carrying an alien object which Troy dug out of the abandoned mine. Led to believe that there is fuel on the abandoned moon, Nick goes to investigate, but is left stranded there by Troy. Kaela realises that the alien object on board her ship is "ninth dimensional" and will destroy the Earth if it is taken back there. But Troy, whose body and mind have been infiltrated by an alien force, is determined to do exactly that. After killing the rest of the crew, Troy reveals to Kaela that he is in fact Karl, rejuvenated by his contact with the ninth dimension. Now he wants her back.

Kaela is rescued by Nick, who manages to return from the moon in time to blow up Karl and the ninth-dimensional object. Forced to share the only undamaged "dimensional stabilisation chamber" on the journey back to Earth, Nick and Kaela undergo a transfer of a small amount of genetic material which leaves Kaela pregnant.


The slow decline of Walter Hill as a director over the past 20 years, from The Driver (1978) and The Long Riders (1980) to his more recent Trespass and Last Man Standing, has been offset by a parallel career as producer and sometimes co-writer of one of the most successful film franchises of the era, the Alien quartet. That Hill chose to entrust the direction of Alien to the then relatively untried Ridley Scott, and its sequels to comparative newcomers James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, suggested an acknowledgement on his part that science fiction wasn't his forte. So it's a mystery why Hill, some way from the height of his powers, should have chosen to direct this substandard Alien imitation which he apparently had no hand in writing. Supernova proved a disastrous experience - not just for the viewer but for Hill himself, who removed his name from the credits, replacing it with Thomas Lee. (Alan Smithee is presumably too well-known for his own good.) Extensively recut and reshot (by an uncredited Francis Ford Coppola, among others), Supernova bombed at the US box office earlier this year.

Like Alien, Supernova relies on the basic set-up of alien, or in this case alien-infected human, picking off the crew of a spaceship one by one. And as with Alien, in which the spaceship was named after Joseph Conrad's novel Nostromo, Supernova toys with references to classic nautical literature, specifically Jack London's The Sea Wolf. In The Sea Wolf, Larsen is the ship's captain who terrorises the castaways he rescues; here Larson is the castaway who terrorises the crew who rescue him. Alongside such literary references, there are a few interesting ideas buried in Supernova, notably the decision by an advanced alien race to plant a lethal "ninth-dimensional object" in a far corner of the universe as a booby trap for any species evolved enough for deep-space exploration - and thus posing a threat to their supremacy.

But like so much else in the film, this intriguing premise remains undeveloped. Whether it's the fault of the script or the re-editing, Supernova feels woefully rushed and bursts with loose ends and unfulfilled set-ups. In the film's incoherent first act, for instance, the spaceship's speaking computer Sweetie has to keep up a running commentary in order to give us any idea what's going on.

As for Hill, the only sign of his involvement as director is the strange, seasick camera style, forever tilting from side to side, which marred his 1995 Western Wild Bill. More seriously, he seems to have broken the cardinal rule that gave such early films as The Driver their existential charge: his avowed refusal, against received Hollywood wisdom, to give his characters backstory. Here, fatally, the whole plot depends on backstory, in particular Karl Larson's past relationship with medical officer Kaela Evers, which is what motivates him to send out his distress call to her ship. But since we're never told the terrible things Karl did to Kaela during their time together (presumably the scene where this happened ended on the cutting-room floor with so much else), the climactic revelation that Larson's son Troy is in fact the rejuvenated Karl falls hopelessly flat.


Thomas Lee
[i.e. Walter Hill]
Ash R. Shah
Daniel Chuba
Jamie Dixon
David Campbell Wilson
William Malone
Daniel Chuba
Director of Photography
Lloyd Ahern II
Michael Schweitzer
Melissa Kent
Production Designer
Marek Dobrowolski
David Williams
©Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Production Companies
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures presents a Screenland Pictures/ Hammerhead
Executive Producer
Ralph S. Singleton
Zoetrope Producer
Shannon Lail
Associate Producer
James R. Johnston III
Production Supervisor
Nancy Rosing
Production Co-ordinators
Jean Costello
2nd Unit:
Zoila Gomez
Production Manager
Ralph S. Singleton
Location Manager
Karen White
Post-production Supervisor
Kim Aubry
2nd Unit Director
Allan Graf
Assistant Directors
Jeffrey Wetzel
Jeff Okabayashi
2nd Unit:
Christopher T. Gerrity
Amy Schmidt
Script Supervisors
Tricia Ronten
2nd Unit:
Sherry Gallarneau
Mary Jo Slater
Tim Michals
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Robert La Bonge
Camera Operators
Mark La Bonge
Mike Chavez
2nd Unit:
Gary Huddleston
Norman G. Langley
Michael Frediani
Visual Effects Supervisor
Mark Stetson
Additional Visual Effects Supervision
Tim McGovern
Visual Effects Post Producer
Rochelle Gross
Visual Effects Post Co-ordinator
Allison Troxell
Special Visual Effects/ Digital Animation
Digital Domain
Additional Visual Effects
Hammerhead Productions Inc
Digital Effects/Animation
PDI (Pacific Data Images)
Digital Visual Effects
Pacific Title/Mirage
Additional Visual Effects
Santa Barbara Studios
Rainmaker Digital Pictures
Additional Computer Graphics
Mobility, Inc
Additional Matte Painting
Jay Mark Johnson
Special Effects Producers
Thomas L. Fisher
Scott R. Fisher
Miniature Effects Unit
Digital Domain
Art Director
Bruce Robert Hill
Set Designers
Luis Hoyos
Kristen Pratt
Lauren Cory
Domenic Silvestri
Set Decorator
Nancy Nye
Costume Illustrator
Mariano Diaz
Conceptual/Production Illustrator
Rick Buoen
Fred Arbegast
Costume Designer
Bob Ringwood
Costume Supervisor
David Rawley
Key Make-up
Gary Liddiard
Adam Christopher
Kimberly Felix-Burke
Dennis Liddiard
Special Make-up Effects Designer
Patrick Tatopoulos
Special Make-up Effects Supervision
Patrick Tatopoulos Designs Inc
Key Hair Stylist
Joy Zapata-Chavez
Hair Stylists
Ora Tillman Green
Robert Stevenson
Laura Connolly
Title Sequence Design/Visual Effects
Gary Gutierrez
Hollywood Title
Title Opticals
The Image Resolution
Additional Music
Burkhard Dallwitz
Steven R. Bernstein
Music Editors
Terry Delsing
Bunny Andrews
Music Recordist/Mixer
John Richards
Additional Mixing
Michael Farrow
Mark Boccaccio
Additional Sound Design
Jim McKee
Sound Design Editors
Peter Michael Sullivan
Rodger Pardee
Craig Berkey
Sean Garnhart
Production Sound Recorders
Jim Webb
2nd Unit:
Robert Janiger
Re-recording Mixers
Greg Watkins
Greg Orloff
Melissa Hofmann
Brad Sherman
Additional Re-recording Sound Mixers
Patrick Cyccone Jr
Paul Massey
Michael Keller
Doug Hemphill
Peter Horner
Drew Webster
Eric Flickinger
Supervising Sound Editors
Michael Kirchberger
Mark Stoeckinger
Jay Wilkinson
Dialogue Editors
Paul Carden
Mark Gordon
Fred Stahly
Dave Kulczycki
Susan Shackelford
Sound Effects Editors
Bryan Bowan
Scott Sanders
Phil Hess
Alan Rankin
Chuck Michael
Barney Cabral
Jerelyn J. Harding
George Berndt
Brian Basham
Rick Canelli
Ron Bedrosian
Tom O'Connell
Jeff Gomillion
Connie Kazmer
Glenn Morgan
Nick Korda
Jeffrey Wilhoit
James Moriana
Dan O'Connell
John Cucci
Greg Zimmerman
Linda Lew
Nerses Gezalyan
James Ashwill
Willard Overstreet
Gary Mundheim
Ted Caplan
Chief Science Consultant
Dr Jacklyn R. Green
Stunt Co-ordinator
Allan Graf
James Spader
Nick Vanzant
Angela Bassett
Kaela Evers
Robert Forster
A.J. Marley
Lou Diamond Phillips
Yerzy Penalosa
Peter Facinelli
Karl Larson
Robin Tunney
Danika Lund
Wilson Cruz
Benj Sotomejor
Eddy Rice Jr
Knox Grantham White
Troy Larson
Kerrigan Mahan
voice of Troy Larson
Vanessa Marshall
United International Pictures (UK) Ltd
8,126 feet
90 minutes 18 seconds
Colour by
Super 35 [2.35:1]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011