Supergirl (1984)
Supergirl (1984)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.

Release Date: November 21st, 1984 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Jeannot Szwarc Actors: Faye Dunaway, Helen Slater, Peter O’Toole, Hart Bochner, Peter Cook, Maureen Teefy, Brenda Vaccaro, Mia Farrow

 


 

A

s if inside a kaleidoscope, the surprisingly vast, glittery, crystalline, silvery colony of Argo City houses a labyrinth of individual dwellings and common areas (decorated like a mishmash of leftover pieces from the sets of “Barbarella”), including the twisting, coral-like structures of founder and artist Zaltar (Peter O’Toole), who is perfecting a tree – an organic formation from Earth, as he explains to Kara (Helen Slater), who looks on in wonderment. He also explains the planet’s relationship to their own – which exists in innerspace – and the fact that Kara’s cousin, Superman, previously journeyed to the human homeworld. Their discourse further includes plenty of jargon (such as sixth-dimensional geometry) as they fiddle with an invaluable power source, a magic wand, and a conjured dragonfly.

“Our lights will go dim!” When Zaltar carelessly loses the Omegahedron, the energy orb that powers the entire city, Kara hops into an inter-dimensional spaceship (which curiously isn’t required for the inevitable return trip) to retrieve it (from Earth, as it so happens) – while Zaltar is banished for eternity into the Phantom Zone for his recklessness. Also, by some inexplicable chance, the Omegahedron lands in the hands of malevolent witch Madame Selena (Faye Dunaway, receiving top billing) and her henchman Nigel (Peter Cook), rather than some benevolent commoner. Mere seconds later, Kara manifests nearby, adorned in a red cape, skin-tight blue suit, and impractically short skirt – complete with the signature “S” embroidered across her chest (“What’s with the Halloween costume?”). Plus, she has extraordinary strength and can fly (and has flowing golden hair, longer and better groomed than when she was in Argo City).

The theme music by Jerry Goldsmith tries desperately to feel exciting, but it struggles to make its mark as either original or catchy (at least the opening and closing credits designs possess a certain aesthetic amusement). Sadly, every time it swells, it sounds like a cheap imitation of some grander, familiar adventure soundtrack. This is particularly unfortunate considering that the music could have helped aggrandize the plot, which soon becomes little more than an opportunity for an alien being to find laughs and love (and rapists – her very first encounter) as she acclimates to the follies of humankind.

Rather than donning a pair of thick-rimmed glasses to hide her identity, Kara takes on the alter ego of Linda Lee, the new kid in the all-girl Midvale School in Illinois, contending with typical adolescent woes like homework, sports, bullies, stern instructors, and cute guys. Thanks to additional, almost nonsensical coincidences, Linda attends a math class taught by Nigel, while rooming with Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy) – Lois Lane’s younger sister. The attempts to tie this spin-off into the realm of the ongoing Superman series (which was in decline after the lackluster third entry) is exhausting, since it tells a similar tale that absolutely doesn’t require the constant reminders of its adjacency. It would have been far cleverer to keep those nods to a minimum.

Further incongruous oddities abound, from a love-potion subplot with Selena (does the villainess have to have a romantic conquest?) – who lives in an abandoned carnival’s house-of-horrors, studies witchcraft with potions and spells, and has a goofy roommate (Brenda Vaccaro) with whom she can have sitcom interactions (as if a sillier derivation of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) – to a weekend getaway for the schoolgirls to gab with dates. A hint of action arises with destructive, magic-laced mayhem, but it’s difficult for these sequences to remain engaging when Kara can simply use her superpowers to save the day. There’s no real sense of danger, especially when all the characters – protagonists and antagonists alike – impart their own comic relief. “Okay, now let’s get serious.”

A few of the practical effects shots are adequate, but many of the special visual effects (credited to Derek Meddings) demonstrate the limited qualities of rotoscoping and primitive CG of the era. Ultimately, the concepts of writer David Odell and director Jeannot Szwarc don’t fit with their avenues of execution; they may have lofty ideas, but they fail to bring them to the screen with a suitable level of spectacle. It’s almost puzzling how the filmmakers could craft all of these fantastical conceits to fizzle out with such conspicuousness; thrills are largely absent, clashes between good and evil are terribly bland (perhaps due to alternately inconsequential and frivolous motives), and notions of sacrifice and redemption and desperation are meaningless in the face of spontaneous and unexplained (and otherworldly) conflicts. Though numerous edits of “Supergirl” were released theatrically (and later on television and home media), with some international versions adding extra character development (the director’s cut adds more than a half-hour of footage), no iteration can redeem the considerable faults in storytelling, the unmanageable script choices (it isn’t the acting as much as the screenplay that generates so many dull spots), and the striking lack of entertainment value.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10