Supergirl
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Supergirl Limited Edition

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Frequently, when a character or part of a popular franchise is reinvented, the studios dig through their vaults for any properties they might own that utilizes them. This is the case for the 1984 movie, ‘Supergirl.’ The recent explosion of the CW multifaceted Arrowvese franchise. Brought together a diverse lineup of the most popular superheroes from the DC comic book universe. After a solo season on CBS, the television series ‘Supergirl’ was canceled only to be welcomed to the CW lineup immediately. Now, as the series is poised to enter its fourth season, it is the ideal opportunity to revisit the earlier incarnation of the character. In keeping with a tradition established by DC with there television shows, the actress portraying Supergirl, Helen Slater, has been cast in important parts in a subsequent variation of the Superman universe.

There are some movies that film lovers can discuss for hours on end. Other movies may be dismissed by many such movie aficionados as subpar, beset by numerous technical or narrative failings. This variation of Supergirl has never been accused of being a particularly intellectual film. The only lists that have ever managed to find inclusion are the noting the worse superhero flicks. However, a case may be made for categorizing it as that reluctantly admitted class of movies, the guilty pleasure. It’s a fun movie. Nothing less but little more than a piece of light entertainment ideal for a Saturday night popcorn viewing. Not every movie has to provide a serious contribution to the generation’s zeitgeist. The artistic expression inherent in cinema is among the most expansive and inclusive among the plethora of artist expression. It is perfectly acceptable for the sole effect a movie brings is a couple of hours of escapist entertainment. For those of us that became infatuated with motion pictures during the fifties and sixties, we grew up on those ‘B’ movies with the cheapest special effects ever and films stories. That has built up our tolerance for movies not up to the contemporary standards that younger viewers demand adamantly growing up with Industrial Lights and Magic spoils the DIY feel of the old school effects. We had fun watching spaceships cobbled together with a Chevy hubcap and fishing line or monster costumes with visible zippers and ripped seams.

It is crucial to suspend reason and disbelief along with any expectations of award caliber craftsmanship. Approach the experience as you would if you were embarking on a fun afternoon at a local amusement park. The storyline, what little there is of it, centers on Kara Zor-el (Helen Slater), a Kryptonian girl who resides in Argo City, an enclave of Kryptonian civilization serving as an enclave of Kryptonian culture and intellectual achievement. Kara’s mentor and founder of the city are Zaltar (Peter O' Toole). While trying to expand his research, he covertly appropriates the Omegahedron, the source of the city’s power. If his underlying motives weren’t benign, that action would be classified as a thief. He loses it and dooming the city to collapse and inevitable destruction. Zaltar banishes himself to the phantom zone, a dimension embodying a living hell normally reserved for the most heinous criminals. Kara journeys after the power crystal and follows it to earth. On earth the crystal is found by Selena (Faye Dunaway), a wannabe witch with (of course) evil ambitions to take over the world. Kara as Supergirl finds herself inexorably drawn into a battle against the witch. In possession of the crystal, she is imbued with almost unlimited power. As with the other Superman movies, the film is heavy on the special effects, providing the audience with more sizzle than steak. Little presented here is different from the effects that made Superman a mu,ch-loved franchise. This movie was made after the lackluster ‘Superman,n III’ that began the passing of the franchise. Several other movies revolving around Supergirl, including crossovers with her famous cousin, had been planned but the mediocre reception by the critics and box-office, derailed those plans.

One reason it is possible to overlook the lack of story or consistency in the story is the caliber of the actors in this film. Helen Slater is mostly endearing as Kara although occasionally annoying. She carries the role off because she is herself under whelmed by her powers. She is rather natural in the role of a young girl who happens to have extreme powers. This movie is very much a gender reversal. Here, it is the women, not the men that carry the story and have the power. The evil witch played by Dunaway is pure evil. No pretense is made to humanize her. In fact, in the whole movie, there are no fully three-dimensional characters, only cartoonish characters. But that’s all right; this is a live action cartoon after all. A great talent like O’Toole is underutilized in this film but manages to add a little touch of class. Brenda Vaccaro wonderfully provides the comic relief. As the best friend and toady of the witch, she gets some of the funniest lines in the film. If you look closely, you’ll see an excellent little cameo appearance by Matt Frewer as one of the two misfortunate men that try to rape Supergirl. The film is full of little camp moments like these that are pulled off only by the abilities of the performers.

Director Jeannot Szwarc does a fairly good job of holding this all together. He is best known for a lot of TV work such as ‘Providence,’ ‘Seven Days’ and the ‘Practice.’ He also directed the lamentable Jaws 2. His TV background is obvious in the framing of the shots. Although the film was shot in widescreen, there is little meaningful composition beyond the 1.33 frame imposed by television. The scenes are almost too staged, forced and the background is often distracting. Still, he moves the story along with some care and attention to detail. After watching the three versions of this film available, it seems that more is not necessarily better since there is far too much padding in the longer versions. There is a commentary that features Szwarc, which provides an interesting insight into the making of a ‘B’ movie with a big budget. It often seems that the director is not aware that this movie often provides laughs in the wrong places. His talent is best when restricted to the small screen.

Carried over from the previous DVD release is the rare, alternate cut of the movie. This special Blu-ray edition of Supergirl also presents the film’s International Cut, remastered in High Definition for Blu-ray, along with the rare Director’s Cut on a bonus DVD. This is for hardcore fans of the old school DC universe but might lack the interest of the legion of Arrowverse shows. Still, when considered on its own, it does continue to deserve the appellation of a guilty pleasure.

Posted   07/27/2018

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