Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kara Package!

Supergirl  (TriStar Pictures, 1984)

I owned this poster back in the day. I also noticed a HUGE BLOOPER on it.
Do you see the problem in this big budget movie's poster?

Before the Camera:

Helen Slater  (The Legend of Billie Jean)
Peter O'Toole  (Lawrence of Arabia)
Hart Bochner  (Die Hard)
Mia Farrow  (Rosemary's Baby)
Brenda Vaccaro  (Capricorn One)
Peter Cook  (Bedazzled '67)
Simon Ward  (The Monster Club)
Maureen Teefy  (Grease 2)
David Healy  (Patton)
Sandra Dickinson  (Superman III)
Robyn Mandell  (My Stepmother is an Alien)
Jenifer Landor  (La Ronde)
Diana Ricardo  (Morons from Outer Space)
Sonya Leite  (Cold Enough for Snow)
Nancy Wood  (The Pirates of Penzance)
Matt Frewer  (TV's Eureka)
Marc McClure (Superman)
Jimmy Olsen

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

Produced by Timothy Burrill and Ilya Salkind

Written by David Odell

Supergirl created by Otto Binder

As part of their deal to make Superman movies, the Salkinds - father Alexander and son Ilya - also negotiated in rights to Supergirl. Originally they planned to include her in one of the regular Superman movies, but after part III and Christopher Reeve’s bristling at putting on the tights for a fourth flick, the never-daunted producers decided to exercise their rights by making a full-on Supergirl movie. As usual, Alexander immediately started casting in his head, envisioning Brooke Shields as the Kryptonian lass. Ilya, on the other hand, felt that they should again go with a relative – or complete – unknown, just as they had with Reeve in the 70’s. Eventually they went with Ilya’s idea, hiring Helen Slater for her first movie. They proceeded to surround her with some fine actors, big sets and production design, and some typically well done special and visual effects, as they were wont to do on their big productions. But would the Girl of Steel be able to soar as high as Superman did in his first two movies?
Supergirl's 1st appearance in comics.

In the comics, Supergirl arrived on Earth, was met by Superman, explained she was his cousin Kara, and proceeded to tell him how and why she’d come to Earth – her hometown got knocked off Krypton when it exploded, intact, and the Argosians – including Kara’s father Zor-El - Superman’s uncle on his dad’s side – managed to build a dome with recycling air and resources, and to line the streets of Argo City with lead foil because like all of the chunks of the destroyed planet, the ground of Argo City was turned to Kryptonite. Eventually, the lead foil failed, and Zor El and his wife Alura - who just happened to have a small rocketship much like the one that Jor-El had built - quickly shoved Kara into it and launched her to Earth as the entire city succumbed to Kryptonite poisoning. The Els are glad their daughter will live on Earth, where she too will gain super powers and can live with her cousin. Having digested this, Superman then proceeds to justify the website Supermanisadick.com as he promptly tells his cousin why she cannot live with him in Metropolis because no one would ever believe she could be his cousin recently orphaned and needing a place to stay, which is to say, mostly the truth. I understand why he didn’t suggest she could live with the Kents in Smallville as at this point in comics’ continuity they were deceased. No, instead, good ol’ Supes sticks her in an orphanage and forces her to wear a crappy brown wig under the name Linda Lee and not use her powers. Yeah, real nice there, Clarkie.
Kara in Argo City. She can make big bugs with The Wand,
but no shoes...

We get off to a slightly different start here as we open up in Argo City, not flying through space, but suspended in some kind of movie limbo. It also doesn’t look like the Krypton we saw previously, as the angular crystals and shards are now rounded foamy looking shapes and squiggles. These are the product of resident smart guy and Big Name Movie Guest Star Zaltar (O’Toole), who forms these shapes with The Wand and something called the Omegahedron, the principal power source of the city that keeps the air flowing and the lights on. Kara thinks he’s ginchy and hangs out with him, and their dialogue gives us the background of how Argo City here was not blown off the planet into space when Krypton exploded, but instead shunted into a parallel dimension right next door to the Phantom Zone, where Zaltar’s and Zor-El’s genius has kept them alive ever since. Moments later a lot of plot kicks in as Kara’s parents turn out to be Simon Ward and Mia Farrow; the Omegahedron is lost out into that limbo surrounding the city; and Kara leaps into a conveniently handy plot device…er…I mean one person transport globe…and takes off after the OmegaMcGuffin. Up to this point the movie is okay; the actors are a little guest-starry, and a different production designer doesn’t really justify completely changing the look of what is a Kryptonian city, but those are quibbles. We cut to Earth, where we join a picnic in progress and meet wannabe witches Selena (Dunaway) and comedy relief sidekick Bianca (Vacarro), who are novices at the Black Arts and chafing under the tutelage of Selena’s warlock boyfriend Nigel (Cook).

The producers spent a big part of the film's budget on hairspray
and soft focus filters.
Then the Omegahedron falls into their cheese dip, and the movie starts its own slide into cheesy territory too. For some unknown reason, Kara comes flying up out of a nearby lake, bone dry and in a complete and fully fetching supersuit just like her cousin’s, though with a short skirt to show off her coltish legs and a more three dimensional chest emblem – if you know what I mean and I’ll bet you do! After this WTF moment Kara flies around in a mostly wire-rigged air ballet that is kind of cute and endearing, if a little long. Back over at the bad guys’ picnic, a barely heard radio report indicates Superman is in “another galaxy” on a “peacekeeping mission” as Christopher Reeve refused to show up for the expected cameo he'd verbally agreed to when this movie began preproduction.

This leaves Kara to find her own way to Midvale and give us another WTF moment as she sees a softball game being played in Midvale, a small comic book city outside Chicago. Kara then decides to disguise herself as a student at the boarding school, coming up with her Earth disguise by walking behind some trees (!) (?) and emerging in a matching schoolgirl outfit and with brown hair. (!) So, with her city back in limbo running out of air, she takes the time to assimilate and hang out with her new pal Lucy Lane (Teefy), another student at this boarding school whose sister is - c'mon, you know who! Lois Lane! What a small world it is! As Selena uses the Omegahedron to become the mother of all witches; the movie becomes a bit of a teen soap as both ladies become infatuated with handsome but vapid gardener Ethan (Bochner) and give us a few kind of well mounted but still cheesy effects setpieces as they wield their powers at each other for the remainder of the flick’s not inconsiderable running time.

Selena had incredible magic power...and lousy aim...

I saw this movie in the theater back in 1984, and was not much impressed. Apparently neither was Warner Bros, who didn’t even bother releasing the finished film, instead turning it over to TriStar, who promptly cut the 138 minute movie into a trim but nearly incomprehensible 105 minute version, which is what unspooled before my eyes 27 years ago. Back then the movie was just not that great, not even the equal of the worst of the Reeve Superman movies. Watching it now in a 124 minute director's cut edition - still 14 minutes shorter than what is now called "the European cut", but what the hey - the movie was better in some ways, but in others, you're just getting more mediocrity. I think I'm just going to have to list the good points and the bad or this review could get very long indeed. The good - Helen Slater is gorgeous as Supergirl. By the way, I'm not nearly as creepy saying that as you might think, as the young lady was around 21 when she slipped into the spandex. So, continuing - she looks adorable in the costume, and the costume looks good, with the skirt and bare legs adding some va va va voom, and a little strategic engineering (read: padding) up top adding some ba ba ba zoom...
    I digress.

The fate of the world rests with this giant glowing stickpin.

    On with the good - the idea of pitting Supergirl against witches is okay, as Kryptonians are susceptible to magic, meaning our heroine faces danger, and not just from another chunk of kryptonite laying around. Most of the cast is fine, though Faye Dunaway doesn't chew the scenery nearly as stylishly as Gene Hackman. Brenda Vaccaro is pretty good - but to be honest, I'd like to see what would have happened with the role if the producers' first choice had said yes: Dolly Parton! The production design and effects are actually really good - with some wire work flying that is well nigh incredible considering they had no digital effects guys with computers to erase the wires in post. And lastly, it's nice to see Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen to give us more than a picture of Christopher Reeve on a wall to tie us to the other movies, even if I'm sure he wasn't all that thrilled to be there. Then again, he got a paycheck and a trip to England out of it, and moved from this into the Back to the Future movies, so maybe he was having the time of his life.
Marc McClure, Helen Slater, and Maureen Teefy.

    Then there's the bad, which is pretty much everything else. The fantasy elements of Kara's dry emergence from the lake in costume; and her unexplained simple dissolve costume changes back and forth from Linda Lee to Supergirl don't work. I kind of understand that you probably don't want what is supposed to be a teenage girl yanking her shirt open to expose her Big Red S and her Large Blue T's, but you could handle everything behind something - she goes behind a tree and emerges in the other outfit - superspeed is the explanation - let's move on. But here, she goes behind a tree and emerges 20% changed - another tree, another 20% change - and several of the other changes are just on camera dissolves. It just looks silly. The other big problem is that the bad guys are fairly boring - some of the scenes with Selena and Bianca noodling around with Nigel are interminable.

By far, though, the biggest albatross around the movie's neck: the villainess has no big Earth shattering plan up her sleeve. She gets some magic powers and basically uses them to fight with Supergirl over a boy like a junior high school student. And on top of that - after setting up what is practically a disaster movie plot with Supergirl in a desperate race to find this Kryptonian power source before her city rolls the dice to decide on freezing to death or suffocating; Kara just meanders around for the middle third of the movie before finally getting back to finding the damned thing.
    In the end - weirdly - I kind of like this movie now. I have to admit, though, that I think it's a nostalgia thing. It's certainly skippable on most levels, and I can only really recommend it to Superman completists who want to see everything the Salkinds did in the Super Universe.

Bonus Super Extra!

I don't normally include video clips or trailers in my reviews - but here is a fun Public Service Announcement starring Helen Slater in new Supergirl footage, along with some effects shots from the movie:

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At roughly 37:49, Faye Dunaway doesn't want to fight with Brenda Vaccaro over Hart Bochner.

Eye Candy ?


I love attractive women in superhero costumes! Welcome to the list, Helen Slater!

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Supergirl is the least in the Super Canon. And
that includes the one from Cannon."

Summed that one up nicely, Buddha me Man! Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Do you suppose Supergirl would bring us some chicken and beans and rice?

  2. I'm sure she would! No biscuits though?

  3. Not only have I never seen Supergirl, I have also never been a fan of Superman. Only Superman movie I've seen was Part 2 - yes, I'm quite a comic adaptation despiser :)

    1. You definitely want to steer clear of this one then! You'd never watch a movie with a swatch of spandex in it again!

  4. Ah yes, even with "super" powers, we women still engage in cat fights with bitches and witches. Nice. Boy oh boy H-wood/DC/Marvel/rest of Comicville certainly do not like to make women truly equal and powerful. I always thought that Supergirl should have shoved Kryptonite up Superman's ass, then locked him in the Phantom Zone. She certainly would have been better for Earth. ;)

    Still, I agree wholeheartedly with you on this one. As a teen girl when this came blazing across the screen I had such high hopes. But, it was not to be. My fave superheroes are still Xena and Wonder Woman.

    1. Yeah, you crazy broads with your cat fights! For the way he treated her in this comics, and for not showing up in the movie for even a walk-on - let's have Kara El get to shoving and locking ol' Kal El up!

      I can totally understand your affection for those two b---ss b----es! I too have great affection for those ladies - but mine might start from a slightly different point than yours... ;)

  5. I never would have noticed that the Statue of Liberty had been flipped if you hadn't pointed it out!

    Great review, Craig. I think we both feel the same way about this film.

    1. That poster was up on my wall for weeks, if not months - and one day it just hit me! And it's not referenced as a blooper very often either. Sorry I'm so long in responding!

  6. Even today I love the scene of Supergirl in the Phantom Zone, having lost her superpowers, helplessly falling into that pit of green Kryptogoo, getting weaker and weaker, there's something sexy about it.

    Where's Catwoman to wrestle her when you need her?