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Supergirl (1984)
Director: Jeannot Szwarc

review by Steven Hampton

Her name's Kara, from Argo City, right? And she's a 'cousin' of the world's most famous superhero. Her mission is to retrieve the lost 'Omegahedron' - essential source of life-sustaining power for her capsule township home, locked in 'inner-space', where they escaped the destruction of planet Krypton. The McGuffin (as Hitchcock might term it) is the glowing bauble, so vital to Argo's survival, which unaccountably turns up on Earth, disrupting munchies at a picnic site. Later, Supergirl emerges from the nearby lake to fly about the woods, like a demented pixie. What happens then is... a protracted quest saga, saccharine romantic adventures, the proverbial battle of good versus evil - theatrically enacted with chiefly pantomime verve.
   The casting is unexpected. Peter Cook's hammy maths teacher and party-time warlock recalls his earlier role in Bedazzled (1967), in which he played the devil. Faye Dunaway (grandstanding) and Brenda Vaccaro (commentator) are a wacky double act playing delightfully bitchy witches, Selena and Bianca, who may in retrospect form a genre link - admittedly tenuous - between the TV comedy of Bewitched and today's movie witches in such Disney fare as Hocus-Pocus.
Supergirl poster
The supernatural threats conjured up by various special effects people include a malevolent digging machine (inspired by Theodore Sturgeon's Killdozer?), and a rampaging invisible monster - clearly modelled after the one from Forbidden Planet. The climax takes place in a mountaintop castle, where Supergirl confronts the ultimate 'power of shadow' in the form of a somewhat metaphysical satanic figure, the illusory manifestation of Selena's ill will. Supergirl brings home to us the spectre of Arthur C. Clarke's often-repeated genre message that super-science is indistinguishable from magic rather better than any other fantasy movie.
   There are numerous inconsistencies, though. How is it that Krypton's alien technology effectively amplifies the inherently evil force of Peter Cook's voodoo wand? And where on earth did Selena get books of spells instructing her on how to imprison Supergirl in the 'Phantom Zone'? What makes the movie work at all, and rightly holds this otherwise lacklustre enterprise together, is Helen Slater's central performance. As critic Roger Ebert puts it: "She shares with Christopher Reeve the ability to wear a funny costume and not look ridiculous. We look at her and see Supergirl." This is just as true for the flying sequences - accompanied by a lush, melodic score - as in Slater's grounded speeches with defiant stare and fists set on her on hips. Compare Slater's efforts to Peter O'Toole's wearied character - ostensibly the heroine's tutor, who puts about as much into his role as if he lost a bet and is doing penance. He's certainly no match for Marlon Brando's star turn in 1978's Superman.
   Anchor Bay's Region '0' DVD extras are spectacular. This is a two-disc pack with a 16-page booklet. Disc one is the international version (with 10 minutes of footage unseen in USA), plus scene access in 24 chapters, a Making Of Supergirl featurette, talent biographies, storyboards, gallery of stills and posters, cinema trailers, TV spots, and the director's commentary. Disc two is the director's cut, 24 minutes longer - which has been actually been on British TV.
previously published online, VideoVista #20
Supergirl
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