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Trivia / Supernova

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2000 film

  • Alan Smithee: Walter Hill used the name "Thomas Lee" after MGM constantly interfered with the production and editing process (even bringing in Francis Ford Coppola to reshoot some scenes).
    • Actually, his use of the pseudonym is the first time the DGA allowed another pseudonym as "Alan Smithee" was too well-known to work anymore.
  • Box Office Bomb: Budget, $90 million. Box office, $14,828,081. Became an Old Shame to Walter Hill (he even took his name off the film) in addition to being one of the biggest bombs of the 2000s.
  • Creator Backlash: While Hill think's Spader's performance is one of the few things that wasn't ruined by the studio's intercessions, Spader himself considers this the film of his he would be least hurt if you skipped.
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  • Creator Killer: This is the second film and bomb for David C. Wilson's career after 1991's The Perfect Weapon, and his career was sent back into deep space until The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in 2015.
  • Executive Meddling: MGM recut AND reshot the film without director Walter Hill's input, and he removed his name from the finished film in response.
  • Saved from Development Hell: The film was in development for 12 years and cost an estimated 60 million dollars. Although the theatrical version runs only 87 minutes (the director's cut is 91), reportedly several hours of completed footage exists, much of it self-contradictory due to changes made to the script during the filming stage. Both Francis Ford Coppola and H. R. Giger were involved at one point.
  • The Shelf of Movie Languishment: The movie was filmed in 1998, but was shelved until January 2000 due to its Troubled Production, with Walter Hill disowning the finished product.
  • Troubled Production:
    • The script started off in 1990 as Dead Star, which the writer described as "Dead Calm in space". Over the next few years of Development Hell, it evolved to be more like Hellraiser in space, more of a sci-fi horror flick, without any of the originally envisioned scenes set on Earth.
    • After some reshufflings of stars and directors attached to the project, filming finally got underway in 1998 with James Spader in the lead and Walter Hill in the director's chair. MGM wanted it in the can before a possible SAG strike that summer, however, and Hill only had a few weeks to prepare, most of which he spent fixing script problems, unaware that the studio head had greenlighted the production precisely because he liked the version of the scriptnote  that Hill was now rewriting. (It may not have helped that Hill felt the script at that point was a little too like Alien, which he'd written and produced almost 20 years earlier).
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    • Halfway through principal photography, the budget was cut after a deal with Digital Domain, which would have produced the special effects at low cost in exchange for a stake in not only the film but other MGM productions, fell through. Again, Hill had to rewrite the script around a number of scenes that now had to be scrapped.
    • Hill spent six months editing the film after it wrapped. His initial cut did not include even the process shots that the film still had the money for, as they had not yet been finished. Nevertheless, MGM insisted on previewing it for test audiences anyway. Hill warned the studio that it would not go over well without the effects and refused to attend the screening, which MGM took as him not being a team player. After the audience did, in fact, hate the movie, Hill quit.
    • MGM then hired Jack Sholder to salvage something from the footage Hill had shot, perhaps with some reshoots to tie his version together. His cut got rid of many character development scenes Hill had shot, adding some more humor and giving Spader's character a slightly bigger role. It went over a little better with test audiences. But that wasn't good enough for MGM's new executive team, who went back to Hill. He asked for about $5 million worth of reshoots. After the studio again said no, he was done with the project for good.
    • In August 1999, MGM hired Francis Ford Coppola to re-edit the film. He was able to restore a zero-gravity sex scene cut from previous versions by digitally pasting Spader and co-star Angela Bassett's faces onto two other actors. But MGM wasn't happy with his version, either, despite spending an additional million dollars, and put the film back on the shelf with the intention of selling it.
    • It couldn't, and thus MGM decided on a January 2000 release. Its version eliminated the villain's transformation into a demonic monster for the climactic battle, despite considerable expense on the makeup, since the studio wanted audiences to be able to see the actor. Hill successfully petitioned the Directors' Guild to be credited as "Thomas Lee", which gave Supernova a place in film history as the first use of a directorial pseudonym other than the recently retired "Alan Smithee". Its sole place in film history. A film a decade in the making, costing by some accounts almost $90 million, has as of 2020 grossed barely $15 million.
  • What Could Have Been: Hill's cut, supposedly much straighter, darker and more disturbing. Vincent D'Onofrio in the lead. A corresponding supercomputer AI named "George" on the moon that provides some exposition. Karl transforming into a demonic creature during the climax.