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The Girl Can Fly

June 13th, 2010 · 6 Comments

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In the month of June, Joe Valdez “takes over” programming of the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles with a series of double features on his favorite film themes.

Here’s Part 1 of a bill featuring super heroines.

Supergirl 1984 poster Supergirl dvd

Supergirl (1984)
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Screenplay by David Odell, based on the character appearing in comics and magazines published by DC Comics
Produced by Timothy Burrrill
124 minutes (international version)/ 114 minutes (U.S. theatrical version)

Years before anyone had heard of Comic Con or knew what a “fanboy” was, Alexander and Ilya Salkind gambled $35 million — roughly $140 million in today money — that audiences would welcome an expansion of the DC Comics universe with a girl powered spin-off of their Superman film franchise that starred Christopher Reeve. Warner Bros. changed their minds about producing Supergirl and though TriStar agreed to distribute the picture in the U.S., when critics and audiences got a look at it in November 1984 the response was so middling that the Salkinds got out of the Superman business. A trifle silly and very definitely flawed, Supergirl doesn’t fly as high as Richard Donner’s Superman or Superman II, but it stacks up as the best super heroine adaptation anyone’s made yet (Barbarella, Red Sonja, Catwoman and Elektra are the also-rans).

It isn’t required that you be an 8-year-old girl or collect My Little Pony to enjoy the charms of Supergirl, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. Those who venture further are likely to find Supergirl’s sorceress adversary and the hunk they covet to both be super silly. Mysteries such as how Supergirl changes into her costume are left unanswered, but director Jeannot Szwarc evokes some of the charm of Hans Christian Andersen; contrary to the line on Supergirl, it’s no more campy than The Little Mermaid is campy. The picture is as lavish as it is elegant, with a triumphant musical score by Jerry Goldsmith, a candy color look by Alan Hume and spectacular crane and wire work, each and every one as astounding as anything in Superman. 19-year-old Helen Slater and costume designed by Emma Porteous are a sight to stop a train.

Supergirl 1984 title card

On the satellite world of Argo City, Kara Zor-El (Helen Slater) visits Zaltar (Peter O’Toole), an architect who has “borrowed” the city’s energy source, an orb known as an omegahedron that creates the illusion of life. When the orb is lost in the vastness of innerspace, Kara hops aboard an innerstellar capsule to retrieve it. On Earth, the omegahedron falls into the hands of a would-be sorceress named Selena (Faye Dunaway), who lives in an abandoned amusement park with her daffy sidekick (Brenda Vaccaro). On Earth, the blonde haired Kara discovers physical and intellectual abilities comparable to those of her cousin Superman. To fit in, she disguises herself as a brunette student named Linda Lee and enrolls in “Midvale High School” in Illinois.

Sharing a dorm room with Lucy Lane (Mauren Teefy) — kid sister of Lois Lane — Linda develops her powers of super strength, X-ray vision and super hearing. Meanwhile, Selena uses the omegahedron to throw a love spell on a beefcake landscaper named Ethan (Hart Bochner) and when he bumbles off, sends a bulldozer through Midvale to bring him back. Supergirl saves the town, but the witch’s spell makes Ethan fall in love with Linda. She traces the omegahedron to the old amusement park, but is unable to retrieve it from Selena when Ethan shows up and she has to protect him. Her powers growing stronger, Selena banishes Supergirl to the Phantom Zone. Reunited with the exiled Zaltar in the barren prison dimension, Supergirl looks for a way back to Earth to save both her adopted planet and her home world.

Supergirl 1984 Helen Slater Peter O'Toole

Supergirl 1984 Faye Dunaway

Supergirl 1984 Helen Slater

Supergirl 1984 Helen Slater Maureen Teefy

Supergirl 1984 Helen Slater

Supergirl 1984

Supergirl 1984 Brenda Vaccaro Faye Dunaway Helen Slater

Supergirl 1984 Helen Slater

Supergirl 1984 Helen Slater Peter O'Toole

Supergirl 1984 Helen Slater

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 192 users: 26% for Supergirl

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Alternate universe · Beasts and monsters · High school · Master and pupil · Small town · Woman in jeopardy

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 moviezzz // Jun 13, 2010 at 8:49 am

    I saw this theatrically, and didn’t think much of it.

    I saw it again a couple years ago, after seeing LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN again and going back and rewatching some Helen Slater films.

    I think I thought even less of it.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Jun 13, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Jim: From one son of the ’80s to another, I can’t believe that movies like Supergirl or The Legend of Billie Jean ever got made in the first place. But I don’t think I’m gripped in nostalgia or a fever when I say that I like Supergirl. I’ll offer that the 124-minute version released in Europe is far superior to what was shown on U.S. screens and on VHS. The technical credits are all sharper than I remember, particularly Jerry Goldsmith’s score, and Helen Slater is so damn cute. At 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, I appear to be a minority on this. Thanks for commenting!

  • 3 Flickhead // Jun 16, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Unfortunately, I saw the 124-minute version.

    If there’s an 80-minute version floating around anywhere, I might be more charitable toward the film.

  • 4 Joe Valdez // Jun 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Ray: I’d go as far to say Supergirl is the best Superman themed movie not directed by Donner. I can’t watch Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns for more than 5 minutes without having to turn it off and of course, Superman III and Superman IV are god awful. Whatever Supergirl is, it’s not awful, in this writer’s humble opinion. Thanks for commenting!

  • 5 Flickhead // Jun 19, 2010 at 2:09 am

    To be honest, I’d say Supergirl is superior to the Donner films. Even upon release, unmoved by all the promotional hype, I found his Supermans bloated and uninvolving and way, way too long for their own good. If my memory’s correct, there’s a scene in the first one with Margot Kidder (woof! woof!) narrating about her enchanted encounter while Superman flies her about, a scene that felt amateurish, embarrassing and way too forced.

    In fact, if it weren’t for Inside Moves, I could make a case for Donner never having directed a picture that transcends mediocrity. Indeed, most of his product fails to attain even that level.

  • 6 José A. Villanueva.Garavilla // Jul 10, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Más fotos de Helen slater como supergirl de la película del mismo nombre.

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