Anchor Bay // 1984 // 124 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // August 7th, 2000
Send a man to do a woman's job and that's what you get!
From the pages of DC Comics comes the first, as well as the only, screen adventure of the Maid of Might, Supergirl (Helen Slater).
In search of the lost power source of her world, the Omegahedron, Supergirl comes to the planet Earth. While here, Supergirl hopes to make some new friends, catch up with her cousin, Superman and maybe even get a first kiss from a boy. Her plans are complicated by the sorceress Selena (Faye Dunaway), who has found the Omegahedron and plans to use its powers to achieve her dream of world domination.
Fighting the forces of dark magic, surviving the horrors of the Phantom Zone and not laughing at those '80s hair styles are all tasks that Supergirl must overcome on her path to victory.
Can she do it? What do you think?
Ah, Supergirl. Even the mere mention of it brings a smile to my face. In the category of guilty pleasures this movie ranks right up there. Nothing about it is very good but on the flip side, none of it is especially bad either. To be fair, the international version presented here plays a lot better at 124 minutes than the studio shortened 105 minute domestic cut. Characters are given more time to develop and the story is allowed to breathe. The special effects are, for the period, quite good and composer Jerry Goldsmith turns in a lovely score that rises to the heroic level when needed.
Director Jeannot Szwarc (Santa Claus, Jaws 2) gives the movie a delicate sense of elegance that serves the material well, not to mention he offers an interesting counterpoint to Supergirl's cousin Superman and his three movies. In the title role, Helen Slater (City Slickers, Ruthless People), is surprisingly good. At the time of production she was 19 years old and this was her first film but given the way she handles herself, it's as if she was an old hand at this big budget kind of thing. She certainly looks the part and is able to give the character the three different faces that are called for in the script. She conveys strength and humor, as well as having a sweet kind of innocence. If anything, there are moments when it seems that she is underplaying some of her scenes. That being said, if Milton Berle were playing against Faye Dunaway (Network, Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown), as the witch hell-bent on world domination Selena, the same would probably be said of him. No doubt about it, Slater holds her own with some heavy weight talent. No, that was not a slam against Brenda Vaccaro.
Functioning as the Marlon Brando role in Supergirl is Peter O'Toole (The Ruling Class, My Favorite Year, The Stunt Man, The Lion in Winter, Beckett) as Zaltar. Zalter was the artist responsible for the creation of the inner space city of Argo that serves as Supergirl's home. He is also the person who dooms it by allowing the Omegahedron to escape. It is this loss of Argo's power source that sends Kara (AKA Supergirl, AKA Linda Lee) off into outer space and condemns Zaltar to a lifetime of self-exile in the Phantom Zone.
O'Toole, who has turned in some of the greatest performances in film, can be quite the scenery chewer when left to his own devices. Let me just say, the scenery budget must have been huge. No reason for O'Toole to shadow his work here with nuance when he could just leap over everyone and go straight for over-the-top. Not nearly as embarrassing as his work in, say, Caligula, Supergirl could hardly be a career highlight for him, instead it probably served as a nice paycheck. As a quick aside, there is something very wrong in the world when none of Mr. O'Toole's credits mentioned above are available on DVD.
I have already mentioned composer Jerry Goldsmith's work, and it is one of the movie's strongest suits. While it does not have the quality of staying in your head the way John Williams music does, Goldsmith's work is cerebral and more grounded in the emotional. To that end, the style serves the material better than a more bombastic composer might have.
Screenwriter David Odell (Masters of the Universe, The Dark Crystal, Running Scared) contributes a screenplay that has its share of lines that are sure to get a few groans, but it also has a number of charms. Everything about Supergirl is quieter than its cousin, Superman, and that goes for its villains as well. While never quite as evil as Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor, Dunaway still has moments where she is an amusing and dangerous foil for the girl of steel. To Odell's credit, he also never lets Vaccaro's sidekick character sink to the buffoonish lows that Ned Beatty plagued the original Superman movie with.
Looking like they walked in from other movies is Mia Farrow (Husbands and Wives, Rosemary's Baby) as Kara's mother, Alura and the late, great Peter Cook (The Princess Bride, Yellowbeard, Bedazzled) as Nigel. Both are fine actors and while Cook has much more to do than does Farrow, both are pretty much wasted.
Anchor Bay has done it again. The transfer done for Supergirl is nothing short of amazing. With its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 intact, the film is given a new anamorphic transfer that sparkles. Cinematographer Alan Hume's (A Fish Called Wanda, Return of the Jedi, For Your Eyes Only), work has rarely looked better on home video. Colors are well rendered, having a natural and lifelike glow. Edge enhancement was never really detected and film grain is held to the barest minimum. Darks are solid and they show great clarity with no pixel breakup. If you could ignore the '80s fashions and hairstyles, the movie looks like it could have been produced last year.
Anchor Bay also provides a brand new 5.1 Dolby Digital mix for Supergirl and it is the way to go. Directional surround effects are not overwhelming but the sound field created is very natural sounding. The LFE channel kicks in enough to make its presence known but the mix is very much front oriented. Sound effects are well integrated with Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful score and dialogue is always easy to understand. Listening carefully I could make out no background distortion or hiss. I'm sure it gets boring to read, but it is another great job from Anchor Bay.
It should be noted at this point that when Supergirl hits the street there will be two versions to chose from. There is the one I am reviewing here as well as a two-disc limited edition set which includes an even longer director's cut. For whatever reason, we here at the Verdict only received the single disc issue from Anchor Bay, so that is one I am discussing. Anchor Bay is not choosing to call the single disc version a Special Edition, but that is pretty much what it is.
The chief feature is a scene specific commentary track with Director Jeannot Szwarc and special projects consultant Scott Michael Bosco. I am a big fan of multiple person tracks and this is one where the advantages are on display. Bosco really keeps Szwarc talking, with a lot of what is being talked about being pretty interesting and informative. The most intriguing tidbit is how Supergirl was supposed to have had Christopher Reeve as Superman playing a fairly instrumental role in the film. The director discusses in some degree of length what those scenes were going to be like and what was written to replace them. All in all, not a bad commentary track.
The disc also has a making of featurette on Supergirl that was produced at the time of its actual production and for what it is, its actually pretty good. Sort of a precursor to Universal's "Spotlight on Location," this one is longer, more informative and overall, a lot better.
The disc has loads of trailers, as well as television spots and those are always fun to watch. Talent Bios, stills and a poster gallery are also included with another section of original storyboards closing out the goodies.
This also marks the first time that Anchor Bay has included close captioning for the hearing impaired. It is a welcome and overdue inclusion on their part.
To be honest, Supergirl is far from high art. Much of the film is hopelessly dated by the early '80s and the movie suffers from over acting syndrome on the part of Ms. Dunaway. Stuck in Mommie Dearest land, she never gives the film the credible threat it needs. If you believe in the train of thought that a hero is only as good their adversary, Supergirl can leave quite a bit to be desired. As the male lead Hart Bochner (Anywhere But Here, Die Hard, Breaking Away) looks good but is far too old for the 19-year-old Slater. A leading man on the bland side, the romance aspect never rings true, instead playing as quite flat.
Those expecting another Superman will be disappointed. This movie never has the "gee whiz" quality of the original and it does take some time to get going. The first hour can be slow going but I thought the second half paid off handsomely, your mileage may of course, vary.
Once more Anchor Bay proves why they are one of the top companies in the world of DVD. They have taken another in a long line of films that nobody was really begging to see and treated it with more respect and care than quite a few of the so-called major studios give to some of the all-time biggest money makers. Can anyone say Paramount and Titanic?
Anchor Bay has given us the version of Supergirl that was never shown here in the states because of shortsighted studio executives. A true Special Edition, the movie looks and sounds great, the disc is loaded with extras. Just another spectacular job from our friends at Anchor Bay on all fronts.
To my mind, the one big thing about this movie is that it never pretends to be anything other than what it really is. With very little darkness to be found or deep thoughts to be pondered, Supergirl is a fun ride, pure and simple. Sure, sometimes it borders on camp but that is part of its charm as well. For those of you that have never seen Supergirl, I would certainly suggest a rental the first time out. A true guilty pleasure, the movie is an acquired taste and simply is not for everyone. Personally I get some very strange stares when I tell people that I really like this movie, so if you buy the disc, you might well want to keep it hidden away from prying and judgmental eyes.
Anchor Bay, Jeannot Szwarc, Alexander Salkind and Helen Slater are all acquitted by this court. With all business completed, including Anchor Bay finally giving us close captioning, this court is dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2000 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary with Director Jeannot Szwarc and Special Projects Consultant Scott Michael Bosco
* "The Making of Supergirl " featurette
* U.S. and Foreign Theatrical Trailers
* U.S. Television Spots
* Original Storyboards
* Still and Poster Galleries
* Talent Bios