Another feature of...
It’s been asked by some, how can you hate a film so much as to write one of these insanely long reviews? I think that’s overshooting the mark somewhat. Yes, some reviews are written by hatred and desire to "punish" the film. But with some reviews it’s easy to see the author’s genuine affection for their subject. That’s the case here. I really wanted this film to work. I feel the cinema needs a strong female superhero, but this isn’t it. It’s an incredibly goofy film; inept and muddled. But still it has the rough charm of all B movies. And who knows, with Spider-Man cleaning up at the box office and numerous superhero films in the works, including the Fathom series with female crusader Aspen, maybe someone will take another look at Supergirl and give her the treatment she deserves.
Our film proper begins with opening strains of the rousing score. The cast’s names appear in 3D silver font over swirls of sunset colored smoke. To give you an idea of the dire spectacle to come the credits are easily the best special effects of the movie. The score itself is serviceable, composed as it is by Jerry Goldsmith, a Hollywood veteran. In fact the score is good enough to become a problem. Its triumphant brass and drums, borrowing heavily from John William’s original Superman score, will eventually become rather silly playing over the soon to commence debacle.
The credits end and we fade into a lit-up miniature representing Argo City. The model is rather lame. Even so, I’ll let it be, for there are more jaw dropping special "effects" in store. Argo City is the haven of the last surviving members of Krypton. It lies under a large dome that protects the city. We cut inside the structure, where a man is working on a sculpture. It’s white and twisted and looks to be the kind of thing you’d find in the center of a mall food court. Kara (Helen Slater), our heroine, runs up to him.
The sculptor turns out to be none other than Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia and drinking buddy to Hollywood. The ensuing years have not been kind to him. Wizened and wearing copious amounts of eyeliner he bears a startling resemblance to a desiccated David Bowie. [Editor Ken: As opposed to?] His outfit can only be described as CosbyWear 2450, a large bulky sweater with Christmas tree lights underneath.
For an awful flick to be truly memorable it should feature one very good, or even great, actor. Call it passive-aggressive schadenfreude but it’s a perverse pleasure seeing talented performers make fools of themselves. It has long-term benefits as well. When watching a fawning celebrity interview you can console yourself with "Sure, William Hurt. You can yak all you want about your ‘craft,’ but how do you explain Lost in Space ?"
Kara asks him what his creation is. We see that he’s making the sculpture using a device that seems to create matter out of thin air. Pete tells the young lass that this is an Earth object called a "tree". I can’t really rate O’Toole’s performance on the Embarrassed Actors Scale™ because he seems more bemused than ashamed. He spends much of his screentime wearing the pleasant smile of a lobotomy patient.
Kara mentions that her cousin Kal-El went to earth many years ago. Apparently the producers were hoping that this film would take off and Supergirl would have her own franchise where she would fight with the occasional help of The Man of Steel. In fact, Christopher Reeve was supposed to make a cameo appearance but backed out at the last minute. I would say he read the script but anyone who willingly appeared in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace has revoked the right to be picky.
The two exposit a bit more about how Argo City resides in "inner" space and about the dome that protects the city. Their chat concludes with Pete introducing the film’s MacGuffin, the Omegahedron. It’s a small glowing ball that spins. Kara gasps in amazement. Apparently this small device is one of two power sources that keep Argo City alive, and without the hedron Argo cannot survive. "You stole it from the guardians," she chides. "No," he merrily replies, "I just borrowed it." Frankly if The Christmas Ornament from Space is so vital why isn’t it kept under lock and key? Well, other than so a slumming British actor can inadvertently lose it and set our "plot" in motion.
He gives Kara the hedron and the tool he was working with and she scampers off to play. Kara’s parents then walk by to ask him where she is. Next in our Parade of Shame is Kara’s mother, played by Mia Farrow. They chat a bit and we see Kara causing mischief elsewhere on the set, which is awfully cheap looking. I don’t expect a Blade Runner level of attention to detail every time I watch a sci fi film. Still, when you can see the lines of the black backdrop there’s a problem.
Kara draws the outline of a large dragonfly on the floor. She places the hedron over the drawing and it materializes to life, as represented by papier-mâché and pipe cleaners. How what amounts to a glorified light bulb can cause inanimate objects to live is left unexplained. It begins to fly around and before Kara can stop it, flies through the wall of the dome. I myself would have probably put a second wall between the city and the dome, particular if it the dome can be broken by a child’s art project, but what do I know? The hole opens the city up to the vacuum of space. Oh no! The Paperweight of Life is sucked out. Kara is nearly sucked out too but her father gets there in time (small set, you know) and uses the matter stick to repair the hole. Kara and the gathered citizens can only look on in horror as The Magic Doorknob fades into the darkness.
Mia wails that Pete has killed them all. Kara is crestfallen and Pete begins to pontificate that he should be punished. I’ll say. Someone suggests going after it in the convenient one-person spaceship that’s located not more than ten feet behind the maddening crowd. This is met with the expected "Gasp, you can’t be serious! Watermelon, Watermelon… You’ll be killed, Cantaloupe." The citizens bicker back and forth and Kara quietly slips away.
She sprints to where the craft is kept. Like everything else important or dangerous in the city it is kept out in the open without the slightest security system. Kara crawls in and the walls begin to close in around her. Mia spies her out of the corner of her eye. (See earlier note about the size of the set.) They run to stop her but of course it is too late. They carry on in the proud Kryptonian tradition of standing around and staring ineffectually as the craft disappears into the darkness. Pete solemnly intones that in light of recent events he is banishing himself to the Phantom Zone. "Your agony will be brief, mine will be eternal." So true Pete. The rest of the players are finished but you still have several scenes left.
That matter taken care of, some of the worst special effects in cinema history may now…begin! When we cut back to the ship we see it "flying" in front of awesomely shaggy dog backscreen projection. This is supposed to represent flying through inner space, although Dennis Quaid is sadly absent. Instead it looks like taking a tour through a Cream video. We see the ship in front of blurry clouds of food coloring expanding in a tank. Drops of Paint in oil, various colored lights. We see Kara in shadow and she has now changed into Supergirl. I guess being exposed to a Jefferson Airplane video will do that to you.
Cut to earth were we see a peaceful lake. We pan across it to the bank, where a couple having a small picnic. The "Don't they have an Academy Award?" cast continues as we see that the woman is played by Faye "NO WIRE HANGERS!" Dunaway. Dunaway really camps it up in this picture. I think the film’s trying to go for the tongue-and-cheek tone of Superman II, but the script and direction leaves her a (very) poor man's General Zod.
Her dining companion is a local math teacher and warlock played by Peter Cook. He has been giving Selena (Faye) lessons in the Dark Arts. But it appears the student has surpassed the teacher. They continue to banter in a manner similar to Tracy and Hepburn in a dimension where Tracy and Hepburn movies suck. Thankfully their banter is cut short by the Vulcan Snow Globe, which crash lands in a particularly vile looking platter of pâté. (At least I hope it's pâté). Here logic begins to cry out in pain as it is sucked into the first of the major plot holes. Cook quickly identifies it as a powerful tool used in witchcraft (!?). How an alien power source figures into sorcery, well, you got me. Don't worry, though, the movie will carefully avoid ever trying to answer that question.
Faye chews through a few more lines. Then, pleased with her new find, she leaves Cook without a ride back to work. Cook grumbles a bit and then marches off toward the girl’s school. Man, Faye has got you whipped. He fades into the distance and moments latter Kara makes her appearance. She lands on shore resplendent in her Supergirl outfit. She looks around at this bucolic representation of nature. We spy a cute bunny rabbit. The scene is shot through a golden filter giving every thing an otherworldly glow. A little more gaped-mouth staring follows. (Yep, she’s a Kryptonian all right.)
She picks up a rock and crushes it. She's delighted! What a strange, wondrous place this is. She's strong enough to crush rocks, there are cute rabbits and she has a kicky new outfit. Boy, it's great to be here and not on Argo dying a slow, horrible death with her family.
A noise startles her and Kara involuntarily leaps into the air and hangs there. She can fly! Well, those Kryptonians can. Wait, she’s going to test this baby out. Here, for the moment, one of the film's virtues pops up. They use wires for the flying and the effect is excellent. Supergirl tries a few midair summersaults and, with a big smile, takes off. Now the flying’s represented by bluescreen, not the best but a marked improvement over Superman IV. (Again, not saying much).
She flies over stock footage of New York, passing the Statue of Liberty. In mid-flight she becomes sad. Oh, right, the dying civilization thing. Realizing there's a price attached to those shinny red boots, she lands in a seedy part of town. Apparently it’s time for Supergirl to prove she can crush more than just rocks, so two greasy-looking white guys walk by. (Hollywood's favorite stock villain next to the multi-ethnic street gang). They begin to catcall and close in on her and she proves to be The Woman of Steel. Tossing them about with her super-breath and using those cartoon bolts from her eyes to set off an explosion. [Editor Ken: Embarrassingly, I know that the bolts Jessica’s referring to represent Supergirl’s heat vision. Not because I remember the scene from the movie, but because I know that Kryptonians, powered by Earth yellow sun, count that amongst their myriad super-abilities.]
Discouraged by this primitive human behavior, she flies a bit before landing in the woods for a good night's sleep. She's awakened by a cute little bunny. Hey! It's just like Snow White! Thankfully, though, she doesn't sing. Hearing a sound from off-camera, she walks to the edge of the woods and spies a baseball game. The players appear to be from the local girls’ school, as they’re all clad in matching kelly green sweaters. She watches, entranced. Guess that whole "Your Race will soon die" thing will have to wait. After observing them a bit more, Kara transforms herself into a student. This involves her walking behind a row of trees and invoking her power of quick editing to change her clothes, including trading her blond locks for a brunette wig. Thus transformed, she walks into the closest building.
The script merrily leaps over logic and carries Kara directly to the Headmaster’s office. He asks her name and she stutters, "Linda uh …," she spies a picture of General Lee – Hey, every Midwestern girls’ school has one -- "Lee, Linda Lee." Seeing nothing odd in a girl who has trouble remembering her own name he asks if she has a letter of recommendation. [Editor Ken: What I find odd is that Kara would know who Robert E. Lee is, especially since no girl her age who’s actually been raised in this country does.]
Kara/Linda smoothly lies that her cousin Clark Kent set a letter. Contrivance, disguised as a secretary, calls him out of the office for a moment. This allows Kara to use her super-speed to type up a letter and insert it in the file cabinet under "K". Which means they file letters alphabetically by who wrote it instead of by student. A method that may at first appear inconvenient is made clearer by the Headmaster’s return. After checking the file and seeing that, yes indeed, she has a letter of recommendation, he escorts her to her room. Huh, I guess having a social security number or medical records or any other proof that you exist is moot if you got one of those fancy letters of recommendation. Reckon I gonna get me one of those letters one day.
He takes her to her new room, which the set dresser has thoughtfully draped with t-shirts to let us know it’s a "teenager’s" room. We here meet her roommate, Lucy Lane, little sister of Lois. Following the proud tradition of movie best friends, the actress playing Lucy is button nosed, freckled, brunette, and could be easily mistaken for a boy. She is wearing a baseball cap cocked at an angle no one outside of movie characters wears. This lets us know she’s a tomboy and will provide no competition for the inevitable romantic lead. [Editor Ken: Unless…whacka chicka, whacka chicka…] Kara yells over the loud music (yep it’s a teenager’s room, all right) that she’s pleased to meet her. Lucy gets up to shake hands and Kara stares at her quizzically. I guess Argo City taught what Earth boarding schools were, how to use a typewriter, and how to write in English. But the handshake? Maybe Kara missed that day. Lucy gently coaxes Kara on and she experiences her first human handshake.
That taken care of, we cut to Faye’s House of Overacting; free biscuits served with extra ham. In a very Scooby Doo turn of events we see that she lives in an amusement park funhouse. Hilariously, as we later see, it isn’t an abandoned one. Oh no, Selena makes her Pit of Penultimate Darkness smack dab in the middle of a fully operational theme park. Don’t scoff, I hear Dumbledore is planning to relocate to Six Flags.
Faye fumes around her place giving us an eyeful of her outfit. Taking into account that the hairdresser plunked an electrified badger on Faye’s head, the dress doesn’t help much ether. A bizarre white caftan number, it appears someone threw up a Pier 1 Imports on her. It’s also here that we meet Bianca, Faye’s *sigh* humorous sidekick.
Bianca reacts with ‘comically’ exaggerated expressions over Faye’s plans for world domination. Yup, that’s right. This Dynasty reject is going to take over the world. Here logic is seized, shoved against the wall and shot as Faye combines The Electric Bialy Roll with some walking stick the prop department has decided to call the "Brundi Wand". Apparently the two devices -- mind you, we’re talking a piece of alien technology and an ancient instrument of voodoo -- when combined create enough malevolent power to enable Faye to take over the world. Huh, reckon one day I’m gonna get me one of those fancy demonic voodoo world-dominating walking sticks too.
The film further disintegrates with Selena’s next scheme. It seems she’s cooking up a little black magic. The concoction, a love potion, hinges upon a spider placed in a walnut shell. As long as the spider stays in the shell, the first person the drinker sees he will fall madly in love with. (Three guesses where this is going).
Why doesn’t she use The Cyber Sea Urchin? Well, I would guess that the ‘writers’ realized that Selena couldn’t use the hedron to hold this prospective character captive. Because then Supergirl would have to destroy it to set him free and she needs it to save Argo. You know, the city? The hedron powers it? Remember? Oh never mind. So they created the spider bit in order to have Supergirl be able to destroy something to free the captive but not endanger The Orb of Goofiness. Kids, this is your movie on sloppy plotting; just say no.
That taken care of the quarry makes his appearance, it’s handy man Ethan. Ethan will be the Romantic Interest for this picture, and a dumber specimen our species has yet to produce. Yes he is moderately attractive, but not nearly enough to make up for the dearth of activity going on between his ears.
He asks about the problem and Faye seductively purrs if he would "Like a drink." Ethan can’t figure out what’s going on. (Bet he has that problem a lot). He dumbly accepts and Faye bats her eyelashes as she hands over the goblet. The scene utterly fails in creating any sort of tension or chemistry and it’s due to the two leads. Faye acts enough for the both of them while Ethan has all the charisma of a napkin dispenser. Plus the "handyman" call to the lonely woman’s apartment to check out a "problem"? I guess someone decided to life a plot device from a late-night Cinemax offering. I wonder if next Faye will order a pizza and ask the delivery boy if it comes with "extra sausage." If you know what I mean, and I think that you do.
Ethan drinks and begins to stumble around. All is going to plan until contrivance, the patron saint of this film, appears on the scene in the guise of math teacher Cook. This allows Ethan to make his escape. Faye browbeats Cook and then sets to getting Loverboy back by using The Intergalactic Clown Nose to animate a bulldozer. Now, you’d think it would be hard to make a city-wide rampage tedious, but not for this film it isn’t. Ethan staggers down the road, pursued by a bulldozer tooling along at normal speed. The dozer knocks down a few powers lines. It passes by a gas station, tipping over a few cans but causing a huge explosion.
Cut to Linda and Lucy having lunch in a downtown diner. They hear the explosion and rush outside to see what the commotion is about. Pandemonium erupts over one errant piece of machinery and Linda purposely slips away. Soon Supergirl is in the air punching through a water tank to put out the fire and cauterizing the power lines with bolts from her eyes. Stopping the dozer, she rips it open to rescue the addled Ethan and spirits him away.
Once she lands she changes back into Linda. Ethan wakes up and, you guessed it, being still under the effects of the potion falls madly in love with her. These two simple creatures stare at each other, vainly trying to conjure up a spark of lust. All the while they are being observed by Selena through her magic mirror. Leaves no cliché unturned, this film does, a-yuh.
Faye, not one to take anything lying down -- Except Ethan! Thank you, and I’ll be here all night -- sends an invisible demon to kill Supergirl. That’s right, invisible. Taking a page from the Ator School of Filmmaking; Can’t afford a monster? No problem. Just have your hero make struggling motions and yell how hard it is to fight something you can’t see.
The battle royale begins. The next bit is actually kind of neat. This film came out around the same time as Ghostbusters, and the effects and scenes of charged lightning are *cough* similar to those used in Ghostbusters’s final scenes. Kara finally uses an electrified lamppost to send our beastie to his maker and heads back to her dorm. Then, Komedy Ahoy! The stern dorm mother reprimands her for wearing such a skimpy outfit. I think I’ll need a moment to recover from that bit.
Supergirl's bracelet, which she’s worn since leaving Argo, lights up. The Energizer Battery from Voltar is close by. Supergirl goes to investigate. If it seems they are cramming an awful lot of adventure into a single day, chalk it up to the screenplay. The scriptwriter must have missed his pacing and story arc class. Presumably they remembered that Argo will perish without the hedron and wanted to cram in as much adventure as they could before Kara retrieves it and saves the day. (What? You actually think she’s going to lose?) Only they’ve forgotten to keep Supergirl focused on her mission. So we’ll see her blissfully enjoying fries and discovering handshakes. Then suddenly she’ll remember, "Oh, right, the fate of my people rests on me… maybe I have time for one more game of Q Bert". This leaves the audience member constantly rubbernecking between tedium and slapdash action.
Back to our story. Supergirl follows the signal into the amusement park. Ethan is there in one of the bumper cars, mooning over Linda. Spotting him, Supergirl changes into Linda and heads over to talk to him. He professes his love and the two lovebirds make excruciating goo-goo eyes at each other. Faye, always on top of the situation, uses The Donut Hole of Doom to cause the bumper cars to jump into life and spin and crash at lethal speed to kill Ethan. And again the audience feels nothing. Ethan is knocked out and Linda becomes Supergirl and flies Ethan and the entire bumper car away.
They travel to a deserted island. Supergirl cracks open a coconut and tenderly dabs Ethan’s head with milk. During this she looks upon him with a gaze so tender and so moving it nearly moved me to throw up. Forrest, er, Ethan, wakes and immediately asks about Linda. Supergirl assures him that Linda is all right. They begin to chat until Ethan is knocked out yet again by a coconut astral projected by Selena. (Hey, I just call em’ as I see them, folks). When he comes to he asks about Linda again and she assures him she is fine.
They begin to connect and grow all starry-eyed at each other. And then perhaps the biggest jaw-dropper of the film occurs. Ethan and Supergirl kiss and he figures out that Supergirl is Linda. Whoa! Whoa! Hold it! Okay, Lois Lane couldn’t figure out who Clark was in all those movies because he wore glasses, but this mouth breather is able to? Not buying it, movie, sorry.
Their island getaway is cut short when Ethan is whisked back by Selena. Faye and Cook, working together, have called upon the Powers of Heaven and Hell to create an enormous matte painting of a foreboding mountain and castle. From this fortress, a.k.a. The Castle of The Whitesnake Album Cover, Faye and Cook plot to defeat Supergirl once and for all.
Supergirl flies to the castle and confronts Selena. Ethan is in chains, supposedly being hypnotized into loving Selena. But since his portrayal of a lifeless lackey is so close to the rest of his performance it’s hard to tell. Selena and Supergirl trade a few blows and things end with Supergirl in a glass cage. Here horrible shrieks can be heard. Don’t worry, it’s only the death throes of logic as Selena pushes Supergirl into the Phantom Zone, yes, the Phantom Zone. As to how she would know about it, I have no clue, and the movie doesn’t either. Wasn’t it discovered by Jor- El and meant for Kryptonian prisoners? Yes, it was. Is there really is no way Selena could know it is there? Indeed. Do you need a drink? You better believe it.
That taken care of, Selena arranges a victory parade. The whole scene recalls Triumph of the Will as done by a group of fourth graders with an eight-dollar budget. Faye dresses as what only can be described as a geisha-hobo and rides atop a really classy Rolls Royce down the streets of Midvale. Incidentally, the movie has given us no indication that Selena’s domination extends further than this little hamlet. Perhaps she’s the compassionate conservative of tyrannical despots. She and her army, a rather meager handful of extras dressed all in black with face-obscuring motorcycle helmets, threaten the local populace. We see that Lucy has picked up the rabble-rousing ways of her sister and is leading a small protest. Selena spots them and has her minions grab them. Hilariously, we see the thugs awkwardly maneuver through the crowd in order to get to the kids, leaving them plenty of time to run away. It must be hard to see through those visors.
Meanwhile, we see Supergirl in her "cage," flipping toward the Phantom Zone. This effect was the weakest in the original Superman film, so its appearance here isn’t helping matters any. Kara lands on a dark muddy set representing the Phantom Zone. She tries to fly away but, horrors, her powers are gone. Worse still she lands in the mud and gets that nice red mini all dirty. She then trudges around the landscape (not too fast, though, don’t wanna run out of set) before collapsing with exhaustion. As she lies prone a mysterious figure approaches and drags her away.
When she awakens she finds herself in a murky dwelling. Her savior turns out to be none other than, surprise, Pete O’Toole. Supergirl is overjoyed to see him but becomes worried when she obverses how downtrodden he appears. Then she sees that Pete has consoled himself with hit of a space age spray bottle. Hmm, O’Toole playing an alcoholic, there’s a stretch. He tells here there is no way out and she would do well to accept her fate. Supergirl gives him the usual I won’t give up, don’t you give up, you can do it, you can achieve anything if you believe in yourself rah rah sis boom bah deal.
Encouraged by her faith, or wanting her to shut up, he mentions that there might, might, be a slight one in a million chance of her getting out of here. It’s called The Rift and my Spidey Sense is telling me it will most likely involve horrible special effects. Sure enough, after Pete and Supergirl cross the Plane of the Unbearable Wind Machine they reach The Rift. It appears to be an old Star Trek set, beneath which is the latest in the series of awful bluescreen projections. This is the Quantum Vortex, which will swallow them whole and cause an eternity of agony if they are caught. The blurry swirling colors beneath them resemble the inner workings of a Slushy machine.
Pete and Supergirl slowly make there way up the cliff face. They see a light above them and Pete tells us they’re almost there. Then the filmmakers, realizing we need a noble, martyr-esque death for this turkey have any meaning, have Selena send fireballs to attack the pair. One strikes Pete and he falls to his death into the Sarnac. I mean, the Vortex. Supergirl cries out in horror and struggles up a few more feet before stopping.
Then, as if out of a better movie, Pete’s voice can be heard in the air. "Use the force, no, no, I mean, It is forbidden to interfere, wait, that’s not it, I mean, Press on, Girl!" Strengthened by this rip-off, Supergirl crawls the last few feet into the light. Her powers return and she flies along the flow of light and crashes through Selena’s magic mirror. She proudly stands arms akimbo and states, ‘You’ve had your fun, Selena, the game is finished." Selena threatens to kill Lucy and the others, who are imprisoned in iron balls high above the floor. Lucy cries out from her medieval Christmas ornament to encourage Supergirl. Meanwhile, Selena uses her magic to raise black painted safety cones to rise up from the floor. Oh? These are "razor sharp" spikes? Sure. She then has stagehands turn on orange lights underneath the floor to let us know that the floor is white-hot.
Selena then uses the Lethal Underarm Crystal to create a gale force wind and several other second tier special effects to toss at our heroine. Finally, pulling out all the stops, she creates a "shadow demon" to finish Supergirl. The smoke machine kicks in full force and Faye stands there in that ridiculous get-up, the wind machine blowing back her wig, her eyes bulged in fury. Suddenly it feels like we are in a Heart video.
The "shadow demon" raises its head among the smoke. Oh lordy, how to describe it. When something that is supposed to be the physical manifestation of Evil makes you burst into giggles, something has gone seriously wrong. This dragon-looking demon is a rather threadbare animatronic device someone pinched from a Disney World ride. The stagehands scramble around pulling on ropes and working its gears. Air fills up the cloth stretched over its frame. The red light bulbs representing its eyes light up.
Supergirl fights it off and then moves in for the kill. Spinning faster and faster, she creates a mini-tornado that slowly drags Faye and Puff closer together. Then, with a mighty shove, Faye and Puff tumble into the Phantom Zone. And be done with you, Selena, for crimes against humanity and fashion.
With Selena gone, Lucy and Ethan are freed and the Omegahedron is in Supergirl’s hands. She bids them goodbye and flies away. Suddenly, the matte painting disappears and Ethan, Lucy and the others find themselves in the middle of a Midvale street, everything returned to normal. They shake their heads in wonder and ask themselves if it was all real. They promise never to reveal Supergirl’s secret and walk back to school.
Cut to dusk. Supergirl dives through the lake to reenter inner space. We see her flying before further cheesy bluescreen effects, ah, it’s nice to be in familiar territory. Our last shot is of Supergirl, the Celestial Tennis Ball clutched firmly in her hand, flying toward the milk carton model of Argo. The Christmas tree lights inside the tiny city grow brighter as she approaches with the hedron. The day is saved.
Farewell, Supergirl. Too bad your efforts couldn’t have been used in the service of a good movie.
-Review by Jessica Ritchey