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Supergirl (Limited Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 August 2000

Anchor Bay Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: PG
starring: Helen Slater, Faye Dunaway, Peter O'Toole, Peter Cook, Brenda Vaccaro, Maureen Teefy, Hart Bochner, Simon Ward, Mia Farrow
release year: 1984
film rating: One-and-a-half stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

This two-disc set is one of Anchor Bay's most elaborate productions to date, and doesn't even include the American cut of the film. One disc has the 124-minute "international version," with commentary by director Jeannot Szwarc; the other has the original director's cut, running 138 minutes, which has never before been released to the public. There are also extensive storyboards, stills, production sketches, trailers and other material.

All of this in service of a terrible movie.

From the very beginning, 'Supergirl' goes so wildly wrong that it simply could not be saved. It's awful at any length, from the 114-minute American theatrical cut to the interminable, 138-minute director's cut. A few of the actors are acceptable enough, particularly Helen Slater, who made her theatrical feature debut in the title role, but Faye Dunaway is mostly dreadful as the wicked would-be witch Selena. Yes, it is possible to overplay this kind of role, and Dunaway demonstrates the truth of that. She has a few good moments -- I love the way she says "now I'm really upset" -- but mostly she and the role crash headlong.

Many have blamed writer David Odell for this catastrophe, and it's true the dialog is colorless and silly. But in his vividly checkered career, Odell did write the interesting 'Cry Uncle!,' 'The Dark Crystal' and 'Nate and Hayes.' And in the narrative commentary, Szwarc claims to have altered the script after he was hired, so maybe it's Swarc whose head needs to be mounted on a pike.

Now, granted, Supergirl was not one of the imperishable heroes of the DC universe (definitely not: Marv Wolfman killed her off in Crisis on Infinite Earths), so really no one should have expected an outstanding movie about her. But someone has made the catastrophic blunder of deciding that since she is, after all, a girl, super or not, the audience will consist mostly of girls. And girls want sweet stuff, lyrical, moony, soft adventures. Not only is this sexism on a massive scale, it's a complete misreading of the audience. The main fans of Supergirl were boys, not girls, boys devoted to the "Superman mythos." And in trying to make a superhero movie for girls, Szwarc demolished the mythos, changing the science fiction (even if loopy science fiction) of the Superman movies into fantasy -- without realizing that even fantasy needs underpinnings.

The opening sequence in the original home of Supergirl, Argo City, is so foggily written that it is impossible to know just where this is, to know if it has any connection with Krypton, Superman's home planet (though Kara, Supergirl-to-be, does keep referring to Superman as her cousin), or even to know that Kara's parents are her parents. We learn that Zaltar (a hard-working if elfin Peter O'Toole) is some kind of big cheese, but we don't know what kind.

Somehow, the Omegahedron (parse THAT, Greek fans), a filigreed twirling gadget the size of a baseball, flies away from Argo City and plunges from the sky of Earth directly into Selena's bean dip. The Omegahedron is really really important, so Kara jumps into a thingy that Zaltar had invented to journey to Earth, and she sets off in search of the missing ball. She emerges from the sea or a lake or some big body of water -- on Earth, already dressed as Supergirl. Why is she dressed as Supergirl? Is Argo City underwater on Earth? When explanations consist of lines like "through the binary, through the warp, into another register," there's no way of telling. Szwarc seems to have thought that exposition was necessary, but at the same time, it didn't need to explain anything.

Once on Earth, Kara flies around for a while -- and admittedly, the aerial ballet sequence, much longer here than in the US release version, is damned near enchanting -- then decides, for no apparent reason, that she needs a secret identity to search for the Omegahedron (She has a bracelet that lights up when it's near. So why doesn't she search for the damned thing?) She signs up at a girls' school, Midvale, passing herself off as Clark Kent's cousin (which is true enough), Linda Lee. She rooms with Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy), sister of Lois, who's kind of going with Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), who shows up from Metropolis. (After Christopher Reeve backed out of doing a cameo, McClure became the only link between 'Supergirl' and the Reeve Superman movies.)

Over at the abandoned amusement park where she lives in the spook house ride (it's that kind of movie), Selena is experimenting with the Omegahedron, watched skeptically by her friend Bianca (Brenda Vaccaro), and criticized by warlock Nigel (Peter Cook), who's also a math teacher at Midvale for no obvious reason.

Again, for no obvious reason, Selena gets the hots for hunky, moronic delivery man Ethan (Hart Bochner, quite good under trying circumstances), and gives him a love potion; he'll fall in love with the first woman he sees. But he staggers out of the place, and somehow through a long, long, long encounter with an ensorcelled skip-loader -- Selena magicks it into chasing him down -- he manages not to even glance in the direction of any of the many women spectators. Linda, however, changes into Supergirl (literally -- she doesn't swap clothes, she transforms, like Billy Batson into Captain Marvel) and saves him. Changing back, Linda is the first woman Ethan sees, and of course, he's instantly gaga over her, an idea which doesn't really have a payoff.

But it does set up Selena's hatred of Linda; she uses magic to try to destroy the schoolgirl, who keeps becoming Supergirl and thwarting this. Some of the super-stunt scenes are okay, but the most impressive -- a big invisible whatsit -- was done better in 'Forbidden Planet.'

The tedious movie drags its way along; Supergirl ends up in the Phantom Zone which, here, is an actual place, though whether it's a planet or whatever is impossible to tell. Then she has to get back to Earth to stop Selena from taking over the whole damned thing. And so forth. And so on.

Slater's performance hits just the right mix of naivete, intelligence and strength; she's charming rather than sexy, graceful and convincing in the flying scenes, winsome when she's Linda Lee. If this picture hadn't been such a lox, she might well have become a bigger star. She's still very active, mostly on stage and television, but rarely in leading roles. Her first movie after 'Supergirl' was 'The Legend of Billie Jean,' which turned out to be another dissapointment.

Jeannot Szwarc made 'Somewhere in Time' in 1980, and although that, too, was a box office disappointment, it developed a strong fan following -- something that none of his other films have done. After 'Supergirl,' he made the almost equally disastrous 'Santa Claus,' which suffered from many of the same flaws: uneven tone, refusal to understand that fantasy has rules, and a failure to grasp just who the film was for.

Now, if you're really into superheroes, and feel that you need to collect every video, DVD or otherwise, that is based on a comic book, then you'll want to buy 'Supergirl.' If you're curious as to what was cut out of the American print, rent the film. But all others beware: this misguided, misbegotten mess should be avoided. I'd give it a single star rating except for Slater's charming performance.

If you liked this DVD.... nothing can save you

more details
sound format:
Dolby stereo
aspect ratio(s):
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1
Full Screen (Standard) - 1.33:1
special features: trailers, storyboards, biographies, making-of featurette, commentary by director Jeannot Szwarc
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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