Francis Ford CoppolaJames SpaderAngela BassettRobert Forster
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Walter Hill [as Thomas Lee], Francis Ford Coppola [uncredited], Jack Sholder [uncredited]
Writer: William Malone, Daniel Chuba, David C. Wilson
Keywords: SF
Country: USA, Switzerland
Actor: James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips, Peter Facinelli, Robin Tunney, Wilson Cruz, Eddy Rice Jr., Knox White, Kerrigan Mahan, Vanessa Marshall
Format: 90 minutes
Website category: SF
Review date: 20 January 2012
It's not that bad. There's nothing here you'd call good, but it doesn't deserve the hatred it's received. If you imagine it as a Doctor Who episode (which it could have easily been turned into), it would be a bit below 42... drab, dull and charmless, but nowhere near The Twin Dilemma or Warriors of the Deep. However this film was:
1. The first post-Alan Smithee film, instead using "Thomas Lee" as the new pseudonym for a director who wanted his name off the final product. Walter Hill walked. MGM hated the film and hired Jack Sholder for reshoots and Francis Ford Coppola for re-editing, then dumped it into cinemas in January with no advance screenings for the critics. I've heard it said that the deleted scenes on the DVD are interesting, but that's no consolation for those of us watching MGM's theatrical cut.
2. A box office flop, taking less than 15 million worldwide on a 90 million budget.
3. Abandoned over a script dispute by its first director, Geoffrey Wright, five weeks before shooting.
4. Dumped on from a great height by reviewers.
It's okay, though. The storyline isn't particularly original, but it's too simple to fall apart. Its main crime lies in a stinginess with explanations, so you'll think you've found a plot hole until later you discover that the film had a perfectly good reason for what it was doing, but hadn't wanted to tell you. The pregnancy right at the end is silly, especially "it's a girl", but that I can live with because dimension jumps presumably time. What looks like ten seconds might have eaten a couple of months. No problem. However I have my suspicions about their limited fuel supply and the resulting eleven-minute window, which no one bothers to recalculate even when they get hit by another ship, take aboard its extra mass and then go jaunting off in a shuttle that uses up, yes, fuel.
It's set on a hospital ship where the crew are a bit odd. The captain's writing a thesis on Tom and Jerry, for instance. Soon though they get a mayday and have to travel 3,000 light-years to an ice mining operation on a rogue moon, Titan 37, to pick up Peter Facinelli. The landing's rough. Their ship's damaged, they've lost fuel and Facinelli has an alien artefact.
It's a chilly film. The colour scheme is so blue that you could get almost the same effect by watching a black-and-white film through a filter. Angela Bassett barely seems like a human being. There's no charm or wit, although there are minor upsides in the facts that two of the crew like zero-gravity sex and that you have to be naked for the dimension jump. It's risky, you see. It's basically Jeff Goldblum's machine from The Fly, but used as an interstellar drive. Your body might meld with anything that's with you in the transport pod, be it clothes, other life forms or even the pod's glass lid. Anyway, the alien artefact turns out to be dangerous (no, really?) and the film's second half is basically a superpowered psycho on the loose in a spaceship. The original plan had been to do "Hellraiser in outer space", but the final film plays like an attempted remake of 'Alien' but with no aliens, style or imagination.
That said, though, it sort of works. There's not much of an emotional hook for the audience, although James Spader and Angela Bassett were presumably meant to provide that. However if you like to watch people getting killed on a spaceship, you'll see that here. It's also trying to feel realistic. This is nuts-and-bolts space travel, not far removed from authentic-looking 2000 films like Mission to Mars or Red Planet. It's certainly nothing like goofier SF fare like Star Wars, Battlefield Earth or Jason X, if that's what you're wondering.
This is undoubtedly a bad thing for a lot of the potential audience. If you're looking for dumb fun, try elsewhere.
There are a few themes and ideas. The fountain of youth device is quite nice, as is the mild emphasis on sex. This isn't done for titillation... or at least if it is, they failed. Instead it comes across as a bunch of people in deep space turning in upon themselves, with the most unusual example being the love between a man and a computer. It's never consummated, but it's definitely sexual. The female-voiced computer is liable to wake up Wilson Cruz because it wants to play chess with him, then get evasive when he questions him about it. "Congratulations, Benjamin. Your strategy was both subtle and forceful. You can play with me whenever you want." There's also a weird throwaway from the guy writing that Tom and Jerry thesis that when we banned violent cartoons in the 21st century, this unleashed a new level of malevolence in mankind. This is immediately forgotten, but it suggests worldbuilding of which I'd have liked to see more.
The ending's weird, though. There's a supernova which might either destroy the Earth or elevate it to a new plane of existence, which might be a more polite way of saying "destroy". Anyway, we don't know which. Is there a race against time to stop this supernova? Will our heroes save the planet? Um, no. The supernova detonates and they go home. However the good news is that it'll take 51 years for the supernova's effects to reach us, so if the worst comes to the worst, at least we've got plenty of party time before planetary extinction!
In summary... it's okay. It's not horrible. It's just that it's dreary and without fun. The characters are drab, the storyline is simple and even the nudity and violence isn't particularly worth seeking out. However it's reasonably efficient and even solid in its unimpressive way. The actors are believable. I went in with low expectations, but they were fulfilled and hence I sort of enjoyed it. I don't expect to remember much about it in six months' time, though.