MEGA-FRUSTRATING FILMOGRAPHIES #3

page 3

john cribbs

CHAOS HAS THE BALL: thomas lee's SUPERNOVA

 

Ok I lied...I'm not going to get right back on track, I'm not even going to include an easy transition into this next topic. I'm actually going to bring up another movie, which was kind of an elephant in the room when Supernova finally got released in 2000: Paramont's Event Horizon. Much closer to the "Hellraiser in space" idea than Supernova (even closer than the actual Hellraiser set in space), Paul WS Anderson's film focused on a space crew responding to a - sigh - distress signal deep in space which leads them to demons from another dimension that slowly sneak on board their spaceship to wreak havoc. One of Supernova's taglines, "All hell is about to break loose," even seems to suggest some kind of "space-Hades" storyline more akin to the events of, uh, Event Horizon. Made for around the same budget ($60-70 million) and released in 1997, the film wasn't a hit and disappeared from screens pretty quickly, a testament to the end of traditional "space journey" thrillers. Resembling Supernova both conceptually and aesthetically, it also borrowed heavily from Alien (even moreso from The Black Hole, with a little Don't Look Now thrown in for good measure) yet somehow managed to be its own film. Overall the movie's pretty brainless, but its story and characters are comparatively more or less consistent, and I admit to thinking the idea of opening a hell dimension on the cusp of an event horizon is pretty cool. The crew in Supernova don't find the entrance to a hell dimension. They find Peter Facinelli.

Now known for a certain successful tween vampire series, Facinelli was the guy who played the dude who looked and acted exactly like Tom Cruise in The Scorpion King. Here he plays a dude who looks and acts exactly like Tom Cruise, only this time in space.* The Nightingale picks up his shuttle as it flees the mining colony, bring him onboard for some x-rays and buy his story that he's the last survivor of a natural catastrophe down on the moon, although Spader opts to go down there and investigate personally. With that out of the way, Facinelli immediately becomes a smug asshole, strolling around the ship like he owns the joint and flirting creepily with the lady members of the crew. Tunney, who so casually stripped along with the other guys, blushes her cheeks off when Facinelli turns up wearing his birthday suit in a doorway (and yes, one leg is crossed behind the other as he leans on one arm grinning like the cat who fucked the canary). Not trusting Facinelli, Phillips checks out his cruiser and finds a curious package. The crew use a scanning gun thing that emits a noise like a proton pack from Ghostbusters, which reveals a pulsating light entity inside that sings out like one of David Cronenberg's orgasmic inanimate objects. It's official, the sound effects have taken over! Or, in the words of Spader, "I'd say right now order is up by one point with one minute left, and chaos has the ball..."

The object itself is to crappy movies what the Maltese Falcon is to classic ones: a useless macguffin. It's very specifically identified as something so important and amazing that people would be willing to kill to possess it, yet its actual function is so vague and transposable it made me think of Fry pining for the mysterious object concealed inside a box on "Futurama": "Whatever's in that box, it's everything I've ever wanted." Described as a "bomb" made up of isotropic ninth-dimensional matter that will create another Big Bang when it makes contact with three-dimensional matter, thus regenerating all organic life on whatever planet it happens to effect, it's basically a rip-off of the Genesis Devise from Star Trek II. But wait, it's also a throbbing orb that apparently absorbs all pangs of drug addiction and sexual desire! This fits in with all the freaky sex stuff that's been going on, especially considering its sensual shape, both egg-like and phallic. Tunney bluntly points out its similarity to "a sexual object - when you look right down to it, it looks like a... " cue record-needle scratch in the form of Spader interrupting with his line. (Nobody says "Yeah, and it looks a lot like somebody took the egg prop from Alien and added lots of light to it," but they're all probably thinking along those same lines).

Sure enough, Phillips soon finds himself developing a sexual attachment to the egg-dildo, spending his seemingly infinite downtime molesting its surface and dipping his hands into the bright, oscillating center. Just to make sure the audience hasn't misunderstood an iota of the subtle-free visual connections, the movie intercuts LDP's throbbing orb "me-time" with Tunney joining Facinelli for yet more PG-13 naked cavorting in zero gravity. His subtle-free pick-up line? "It's funny...here we are, out in the gravitational pull of the Blue Giant...and the one thing I keep thinking about...is sex." I guess the direct approach is better than Spader's absurd pear-in-a-bottle seduction of Bassett, but why would they have not one but two zero gravity sex scenes in the same movie? (the answer is weirder and more complicated than you might think - more on that later!)

Even if anything in the movie - the plodding story development, the thin characters, the sexual weirdness - was actually working up to this point, it's all thrown out as the film barrel rolls into its "terror in space" final act. After all the jazz about regenerating planets and relieving pent-up sexual energy, the primary function of the orb is to serve as an artificial means to turn the movie into the Alien-like thriller it so wants to be. Specifically, it turns folks into monsters. Phillips, it turns out, is only getting sloppy seconds from this eroticized plot devise: Facinelli has already been effected by his own obsession with the orb, which has mutated him into a super-human psycho who killed everyone in the mining colony and now intends to do the same to the Nightingale crew. Little wiggly waves start oozing around beneath his skin and his face contorts into a more monstrous visage; for some reason, his eyebrows disappear. Danny Boyle's Sunshine made the mistake of introducing a Jason Voorhees-like killer in its last 30 minutes - Supernova makes that same error much earlier, with a good amount of movie left to go, most of which consists of Facellini bashing in the set like he's Jack Torrance in The Shining. His first coup is to reveal everything to Spader, who has discovered the mutilated bodies of the colonists, via radio before abandoning him on the moon to dispatch the rest of the cast. This development turns the movie into a sort of "Dead Calm in space," with an exiled Spader standing in for Sam Neill (who, funnily enough, also starred in Event Horizon).

A quick word on Spader: it's not unlikely that he accepted this part as an attempt to move away from his typecasting as the token scumbag. His roles up to that point tallied up to include two dipshits, three dangerous psychopaths, three giant pricks, three weird pervos, two generic scumbags and one douchenozzle (those are actual tallies - see the bottom of the page for the full list!) He had tried the same thing with Stargate in 1994, but been largely invisible in that film as the nebbish scientist. Not wanting to take any chances this time he's bulked up, deepened his somewhat fey voice, and colored his hair darker than ever before. His transition to action hero is believable enough, but it's still hard to accept him as the one on the receiving end of a nefarious ploy concocted by a creepy scumbag.

So Super Spader is left to rot on the moon while back on the Nightingale Facinelli launches Operation: Kill Everybody. Tunney tries to stop him and he chucks her out the airlock. Phillips, in the process of transforming into a metahuman monster himself due to his exposure to the orb, offers to help Facinelli and he chucks him out the airlock (I actually liked that - they set it up like these two would work together, but Facinelli's already got it in his mind to just get rid of the entire crew). Any attempt to maim or incapacitate him prove futile as his lobbed-off body parts simply regenerate (except, I guess, his eyebrows). Bassett and Cruz find themselves alone against this unkillable hunk.

It was at this point in the movie that I got confused as to Bassett's relationship with Facinelli: she started off calling him Troy, now suddenly she's calling him Karl. It took me a second viewing to get this all sorted out: the name of the person who sent the beacon in the first place was "Karl Larson," a man Bassett used to know (why not, it's a small universe) and remembered as being not a very nice guy. When they pick up Facinelli, she doesn't recognize him as "Karl Larson" - he explains that he is actually Karl's son Troy. Then the big revelation is that this has been the Karl she knew and disliked all along, only changed into a younger man by the mysterious forces of the orb. I had totally missed the entire subplot the first time and didn't understand that Facinelli was supposed to be a younger, stronger version of Karl Larson with fewer eyebrows. Yet another unnecessary plot complication that goes nowhere. His name is funny tho: makes him sound like some office wienie who gets yelled at by the boss all the time: "Larson! Where are those reports? Look at this mess, Larson!"

Facinelli (playing Karl Larson - I get it now) chases Cruz into a sealed room and starts breaking down the door to get to him. This leads to the one genuinely interesting and well-executed moment in the entire film: Cruz tries to talk Sweetie into depleting the oxygen in the outside room and kill Facinelli. She explains that it's against her ethical programming to harm a human being, even if it means saving Cruz: it's HAL in reverse! Pleading his case desperately as Facinelli comes closer to forcing his way inside, Cruz reminds Sweetie of the opening scene of the movie where she woke him up to play chess - wasn't this a breach of her programming, a conscious decision made by her because she was lonely? Sweetie denies any such emotion, at which point Cruz tries to get her to understand death by asking how she would feel if the two of them never played chess again. Ultimately Sweetie is unable to act, Facinelli kills Cruz and the devastated hussy-voiced computer is left calling out his name, receiving no reply.

There's honestly no reason to stretch out the details of the underwhelming finale from here on out. Facinelli corners Bassett, Spader turns up again, uses a harpoon gun to shoot Facinelli - who seems as surprised to be shot by a harpoon gun as we are to see one on a spaceship - after which they dispatch the creep and his throbbing orb by strapping some explosives to Flyboy and blowing off half the ship. They go back through the space vagina in the same pod and end up switching one eye with each other and getting pregnant (luckily, it's Bassett who gets knocked up rather than Spader). The movie drops the ball by not ending with a hideous deformed Spader-Bassett hybrid, but then chaos always had the ball anyway. The two characters are left speculating whether or not the resulting supernova from the orb's explosion, which will reach the Earth in a little over 257 years, will simply destroy the planet or cause the population to evolve to a higher form. The latter is presented by Bassett like it's the preferable outcome, even after seeing what happened to Facinelli. The last shot of the film is of its title over an establishing shot of empty space, planting a brief dread that the whole thing is starting all over again...

SPADER ROLE TALLIES:

scumbags: Less Than Zero, Keys to Tulsa

dipshits: Endless Love, Bad Influence

dangerous psychopaths: The New Kids, Jack's Back, 2 Days in the Valley

douchenozzles: Mannequinn

giant pricks: Pretty in Pink, Baby Boom, The Rachel Papers

weird pervos: Sex, Lies and Videotape, Storyville, Crash

* Funny that Facinelli would become most famous for playing a blonde vampire a'la Cruise in Interview with a Vampire.

<<Previous Page    1    2    3    4    Next Page>>

home    about   contact us    featured writings    years in review    film productions

All rights reserved The Pink Smoke   2010