Supernova starts out with a tedious look at the crew of the emergency
medical rescue ship Nightengale (a sort of ambulance in space). There's
Commander A.J. Marley (Robert Forster); chief medical officer Dr. Kaela
Evers (Angela Bassett); medics Yerzy Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips) and
Danika Lund (Robin Tunney), who are lovers despite the fact that neither
of them seem able to produce any kind of human emotion; and computer technician
Benj Sotomejor (Wilson Cruz), apparently in love with the ship's computer,
"Sweetie." Also along for the ride is Captain Nick Vanzant (James
Spader), who, because he is a recovering drug addict, enjoys the animosity
of the entire crew, especially Dr. Evers. So much for the Hippocratic oath.
When a distress call is received from a mining station in the far reaches
of space, our crew snaps into action. The first special effects treat we
experience is the inevitable "jump through space," which not only
transports them across the universe, but bends their faces in many amusing
ways. Things go wrong, however, and soon the Nightengale is stranded
in stellar backwaters with a crewman dead and no fuel. Even more distressing
is the lone stranger found at the station, Troy Larson (Peter Facinelli),
and the curious object he brings aboard. It's a big, glowing, purple phallus.
This film makes the tragically common mistake, like those mentioned above,
of attempting to blend the subject matter of science fiction with the plot
structure and characters of action films. In good space films like
Alien (not its sequels), Contact, and the 2001-2010
franchise, the crew members are portrayed as they should be, like scientists.
People with intelligence, technical knowledge, and college degrees not obtained
through mail order. But Supernova is presented from the standpoint
of "let's pretend a bunch of well-built teenagers go into space."
With the exception of Bassett, who lends a modicum of maturity to her role,
these characters are simply not believable in this setting.
The one potentially interesting thing about the film, the mysterious object, is inexcusably squandered by Wilson's script. It's function is supposed to be equivalent to the monolith in 2001 (no one knows what it is, what it does, or where it came from, but everyone agrees that it's one heck of a thing). But instead of engaging us in the obvious political and metaphysical impact of finding such an object in deep space, as 2001 did, this story simply uses it as something to fight over, allowing the muscle-headed crew to engage in fisticuffs and machismo banter. On ships like the Nightengale, and in films like Supernova, the Prime Directive is "When in doubt, blow something up." **
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