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SUPERGIRL

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Faye Dunaway, Helen Slater, Peter O’Toole, Hart Bochner, Peter Cook, Brenda Vaccaro
Director:  Jeannot Szwarc
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  124 Minutes
Release Date:  August 8, 2000
                        

Film **

Supergirl is a movie that looks exactly like what it was:  a desperate last ditch effort to cash in on a waning franchise. 

When producer Alexander Salkind first acquired the movie rights to Superman, the rights to Supergirl had been thrown into the package.  I’m guessing he never thought he’d have to use them.  But after the first two Superman films, which were both terrific and successful, Superman III bombed and bombed hard, both critically and at the box office (NOTE:  One of our readers has since pointed out to me that the third film did in fact earn $60 million in ticket sales--not as well as the first two, but not quite a 'bomb' either).  Christopher Reeve would later reprise his role in a fourth installment, but at the time, he swore he’d never don the red cape again.

This paved the way for Superman’s less popular teenage female cousin to get her shot at carrying the franchise further.  It was a poorly conceived notion from the start.  Supergirl might have had a better shot at gaining an audience had she been introduced in one of Superman’s films, rather than have such a lofty weight on her shoulders out of the gate.  Likewise, it didn’t help her cause any that there was no appearance by the Man of Steel in HER feature.  The budget was obviously a far cry lower than what had been spent on the earlier films…possibly because the producers were still paying off Marlon Brando for NOT appearing in the last two hours of the first picture.  And let’s not forget that the villains make or break these kinds of movies.  Superman got to fight Lex Luthor and a trio of super-criminals from his home planet.  Supergirl gets a two-bit witch bent on world domination.

When the omegahedron (how’s THAT for pseudo-science terminology, Star Trek fans?), a little spinning sphere that powers the inner space city Argo is lost by eccentric inventor Zaltar (O’Toole), pretty young Kara (Slater) sets off to earth to recover it.  Luckily for her (and us), when she appears on this planet, she’s somehow already clothed in Supergirl attire.

As fate would have it, the damn sphere just HAPPENS to land where a kooky witch Selena (Dunaway) is having a picnic with her oft time warlock mentor, Nigel (Cook).  Selena finds in the power source the magic she needed to take over the world.  But learning to use it might just take a little time.

Keeping a low profile, our heroine dons the disguise of a mouse prep school student, Linda Lee.  Her first taste of Selena’s magic comes when a love potion gone wrong makes a hapless gardener Ethan (Bochner) fall in love with her.  Forget the kryptonite, this guy’s improvised poetry should have been enough to make the poor girl beg for mercy.

And soon, the battle is on for real.  Will the sweet but naïve Supergirl manage to overcome Selena and her newfound powers, take back the omegahedron, and save both the earth and her home city in the process?  One guess.

The giant leap backwards in production values is unfortunately noticeable at every turn.  Matte lines constantly call drastic attention to themselves, making all sorts of special effects shots unconvincing, including many of the all-important flying scenes.  Think back to how cool Krypton looked in the first movie, and you’ll be chuckling at the Argo sets, which look like some art school department threw them together. 

Still, it’s not completely without merits.  The cast is a good assembly of fine actors.  I had almost forgotten about this period in Faye Dunaway’s career:  she’s a talented actress who started out in many terrific roles, and has recently returned to that glory, but there was that time when it seemed she did nothing but camp, camp, camp.  She overplays Selena for all the role’s worth, and is sometimes quite funny. 

And what of nineteen year old Helen Slater in her first film appearance as Supergirl?  It was a lot to ask of a young actress to pick up a crumbling franchise, particularly without a better script or more competent direction.  She brings a sweetness to an otherwise bland and thankless role, and I doubt if anyone else could have done much better under the same circumstances.  Even the cheesy romance part of the story takes on a bit of an effervescent charm because of her.

But in the end, the franchise had run its course.  Supergirl and her powers couldn’t rescue it, nor could the return of Superman in that pitiful fourth installment that reeked of political correctness.  So we ended up left with the memory of how magical and exciting the first two films were, and trying to forget just how astray the series ended up.  At the end of Supergirl, our heroine begs her earthly friends to forget about her just before she flies away for good.  Ironic, isn’t it?

BONUS—Fun With Product Placement:  If you get bored, count how many times you can spot the A&W Root Beer logo in the film.

Video ***1/2

Anchor Bay has delivered a DVD package that far exceeds the mediocrity of the movie!  For starters, this anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite good, and they’ve proven once again that DVD’s of 80’s movies don’t have to look shabby.  Although THX doesn’t always serve as a legitimate measure of quality, you can consider it a positive endorsement for this disc.  I noticed no grain, distortion, or color bleeding, and only one or two very minor instances of a bit of shimmer around the edges.  Images are sharp and clear throughout—in some cases, almost TOO sharp, making those awful matte lines even more prominent.  Colors are excellent throughout…Supergirl’s outfit is particularly bright, with strong shades of blue, red and yellow.  Darker scenes are well composed also, with no image break-up or loss of clarity.  One can only hope the eventual release of the Superman movies will come out looking this good!

Audio **1/2

This is a good attempt at a solid 5.1 mix taken from what I imagine to be rather limited source materials.  A majority of the time, what comes out of the rear channels is a mere duplication of the front signals…only occasionally in a few select action sequences do they take on their own life.  The subwoofer is practically non-existent…I only really noticed it during Kara’s space/time flight sequence for a few good bumps and rumbles.  Generally speaking, the front range is fine, but a little thin, showing the film’s age more than the video transfer does.  Nothing really to complain about, and all things considered, probably as good as can be expected without a full scale restoration effort.  And I don’t see THAT happening anytime soon.

Features ****

What a package!  Anchor Bay has assembled a terrific array of extras for this title, starting with an audio commentary by director Szwarc and project consultant Scott Michael Bosco (who asks the questions and gets the answers).  There’s also a surprisingly interesting 50 minute documentary on the film, featuring interview segments with the director and all the major players, plus a bevy of domestic and foreign trailers, some TV spots, talent bios, storyboards, and a stills & posters gallery.  Impressive!

Summary:

Supergirl was doomed from the get-go…what more can you say?  Enjoy this film as both a trip down memory lane and as a terrific example of DVD treatment:  just because a film isn’t great, doesn’t mean the disc can’t be. 

NOTE: For die hard fans, a limited edition 2-disc set of Supergirl is also available from Anchor Bay, which includes all the programming of this disc plus the 140 minute international version of the film on the second disc.