Thursday, May 21, 2015
You may have heard about a new Supergirl TV show. If you haven't, then make sure to watch the trailer on YouTube (I think it shows a bit too much, but it looks good, anyway). But did you know that Supergirl once starred in a major motion picture more than 30 years ago?
Following the disaster of Superman III, the eccentric Salkind family, which own the movie rights to everything Superman, decided to try to revive the franchise with a Supergirl spinoff. Following the same formula of Superman: The Movie, the Salkinds went with an unknown to star in the lead — Helen Slater, who would later provide the voice of Talia Al-Ghul in Batman: The Animated Series. But, as with Superman, the top billing went to the villain, portrayed by a well-established Academy Award-winner — Faye Dunaway. And to round out the cast, the Salkinds chose one more big name to serve as the leader of an alien community — Peter O'Toole, who never won an Academy Award, but was nominated a record seven times for the Best Actor award.
Unfortunately, the Salkinds struck out on just about every other aspect of this movie. Christopher Reeve turned down an offer to cameo in this film, as did every other Superman character, except for the always-eager Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen). And despite his failure with the third film, the Salkinds actually wanted Richard Lester to return as director. But he wisely turned them down, leaving Jeannot Szwarc in charge, a Frenchman whose main claim to fame prior to this was Jaws 2. And, of course, John Williams did not return to write the score, giving the job to the accomplished Jerry Goldsmith, who actually did a fairly decent job here.
Supergirl was released in 1984 with a budget of $35 million. It only earned back $14 million and earned Golden Raspberry nominations for the most accomplished cast members — Dunaway (Worst Actress) and O'Toole (Worst Actor). The film currently holds a 7 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is all but forgotten and ignored by even the biggest Superman fans. So why is this movie so bad? Let's find out.
I always start each review by giving the movie a 5 out of 10, then adding or subtracting points along the way. But I dropped this movie's score down to a 0 rather quickly, and never had any reason to raise it back up. So I'll do my best to provide a synopsis for this mess of a film, and then I'll hit on my main complaints. Keep in mind, however, that this movie doesn't make one bit of sense, so my synopsis won't be very good.
We begin in Argo City, which is apparently a Kryptonian settlement in "inner space" (Earth and everything else is in outer space). Argo City is a bit more vibrant and alive than the Krypton we saw in Superman: The Movie, although it does feel rather hippie-ish — everyone's barefoot for some reason. The city's founder is Zaltar (Peter O'Toole), who is hanging out with Kara Zor-El (Helen Slater) and using some sort of magic wand to sculpt what he calls an Earth tree. I think he needs to work on his research, because his "tree" looks nothing like any tree I've ever seen.
Anyway, Zaltar then shows Kara the Omegahedron, a small, spinning, glowing sphere that is apparently one of two power sources for Argo City. Zaltar has taken this essential power source without permission in order to feel "inspired" as he creates his art. He uses the Omegahedron to make his "tree" slightly glow purple or whatever, and he explains to Kara that the Omegahedron can't actually make things come to life, but it can make things appear to be alive. He then creates a braclet for Kara and gives her the wand and sphere as he idly talks to her parents about his plans to visit Earth, or perhaps Saturn or Venus. Such a journey used to be impossible, but Zaltar points out a new spaceship he created that can make the trip.
Kara, meanwhile, spreads out on the ground like a child half her age and creates a dragonfly-like creature. She uses the Omegahedron to animate the insect, which begins flying around uncontrollably until it bursts through the thin membrane protecting Argo City. The Omegahedron is sucked out of the hole, and Kara almost is as well, but Zaltar saves her by patching up the hole with his wand. However, with the Omegahedron now lost to outer space, Argo City is doomed to die in a few days.
Without saying a word, Kara jumps into Zaltar's ship and takes off after the Omegahedron, and no one really tries to stop her. Zaltar explains to Kara's parents that she will survive the journey, but be forever changed. He, however, takes full responsibility for the catastrophe and basically volunteers to be sentenced to the Phantom Zone.
We then cut to Earth, where we meet Selena (Faye Dunaway), a witch-in-training, having a picnic on a tiger rug with her mentor/boyfriend Nigel the warlock. Just as Nigel complains that Selena is too impatient, the Omegahedron lands right in the middle of their picnic. Selena seizes the sphere, and instantly feels great power emanating from it. She proclaims this to be the key to unlocking her potential and takes off, leaving Nigel behind. As she drives away, the radio makes a quick announcement about Superman heading off on a peace-seeking mission in a galaxy a trillion miles away.
Kara then emerges from the lake a short time later, suddenly wearing her full Supergirl outfit for some reason. She is amazed to find she can crush rocks with ease, make flowers bloom with her ... heat vision? ... flower vision? ... and, most importantly, fly. And fly she does, performing aerial acrobatics Superman would never dream of attempting, and taking a quick tour around the world, becoming most interested a group of wild horses. After getting all that out of her system, she discovers her bracelet glows in proximity of the Omegahedron. But just her luck, the bracelet stops working when Selena places it in a strange dragon-shaped container for some reason. And would you know, that container just happens to be made of lead?
And now things really start to unravel. Supergirl's first night does not go well, as she has to fight off a couple of creepy truckers. But this one slightly dark moment is soon forgotten in this rather light-hearted and kid-friendly movie. Supergirl spends the night in the forest, literally sleeping next to a cute bunny rabbit. She's awoken by a nearby softball game being played by an all-girls school, to which Supergirl decides to join. She somehow transforms her super-outfit into a school uniform and makes her long blonde hair short and brown.
Kara visits the principal to enroll in the school, but he won't let her in without a letter of recommendation. Luckily, their meeting is interrupted by Nigel the warlock, who just happens to be a math teacher at the school, and is complaining about the poor behavior of the girls. The principal leaves with Nigel for just a minute, which is more than enough time for Supergirl to quickly type up a letter of recommendation from her cousin, Clark Kent, and sneak it into the principal's files. When he comes back, she tells him to check the K folder, and when he sees everything is in order, he leads "Linda Lee" to her room with Lucy Lane, who, you guessed it, is the never-before-mentioned little sister of Lois Lane. Lucy has a big poster of Superman, who Supergirl recognizes as her cousin. The two roommates talk about how they each have a family member working at the Daily Planet. Oh, and for added measure, Lucy happens to be dating Jimmy Olsen.
Oh, and as for Selena? She's set up base in an abandoned haunted house/amusement park with her ... friend? ... sister? All I know is she's a slow-witted lady who's supposed to be funny (the equivalent of Otis to Lex Luthor). Selena repeatedly talks of using the sphere for world domination, and she repeatedly shuns away Nigel, who tries to warn her of Supergirl's arrival and of meddling with objects beyond her understanding. But Selena's first priority is securing a boyfriend. She is smitten by the local gardner, whom all the school girls have a crush on because of his hunky looks and penchant for working without a shirt on.
For some reason, Selena decides to save the sphere's power and instead conjures a complicated and easily-failable spell to make the gardner, Ethan, fall in love with her. The spell will make him fall in love with the first person he sees, but it initially puts him into a strange trance, and he wanders away from Selena. Instead of chasing after him, she takes control of a bulldozer and tries to scoop him up. All this is happening in the middle of town, where Supergirl is out with Lucy, Jimmy and the gang at Popeye's Chicken. They all see the unmanned bulldozer running amok, and the only person who tries to stop it is Lucy. She jumps inside and tries to take control, but she is somehow knocked out. Jimmy may have taken a picture or two.
Finally, after standing idly by for far too long, Linda Lee sneaks off to the bathroom and emerges as Supergirl. But instead of helping her unconscious roommate, she saves the hunky boy, trapped inside the bulldozer's bucket. She rips the bucket off, and for some reason flies it rather far away. And for another unknown reason, she decides to turn back into schoolgirl Linda Lee before opening the bucket to save Ethan. And would you believe it, but Ethan spent all that time wandering around without seeing another soul until Linda. So he falls in love with her, which Selena sees through her magic mirror.
So Selena summons the "power of shadow," which conveniently happens to be an invisible monster. The monster is sent after Linda Lee, but is met and easily defeated by Supergirl. I think Selena then took the Omegahedron out of the dragon-box at this point for some reason, because Supergirl was finally able/willing to track it at that point. She follows the signal back to the abandoned amusement park, where Ethan also happens to be with chocolates and flowers, looking Linda there for some reason. And then ... ugh ... it just gets so stupid. I guess Supergirl and Selena get into a brief fight, but then stop for whatever reason.
When Selena realizes even the Omegahedron isn't powerful enough to defeat Supergirl, she reluctantly recruits Nigel, who provides her with a tribal wand that pure, unadulterated evil. Using the two devices together, Selena is able to get Ethan to fall in love with her, and banish Supergirl to the Phantom Zone (which Selena somehow knows all about). Supergirl goes flying away in the pane of glass just like General Zod. But after some time, she steps away from the glass to find a bleak, dark world where her powers don't work. After sitting and crying for some time, she falls into a tar pit, but is rescued by Zaltar.
However, Zaltar has quickly given up on life and become a drunken mess. In her most heroic moment of the movie, Supergirl shows Zaltar the error of his ways and convinces him to help her try to escape the Phantom Zone. And the escape turns out to be rather straightforward. They just have to crawl/climb up to the top of the cave or whatever. Sure, I guess it's kind of intense, with some sort of whirlwind, and Selena somehow manages to summon a few fireballs that completely miss her targets. Ultimately, Supergirl is able to escape, while Zaltar "tragically" falls to his death in the whirlwind.
Meanwhile, Selena finally got around to starting to take over the world, beginning with creating a gigantic mountain with a castle on it in the middle of the town. She also somehow takes control of the police. But several school girls, led by Lucy Lane, begin picketing against Selena, brandishing signs that say things like, "Dorm G Against Selena!" Selena sends the police after them, and Jimmy Olsen shows his heroic side by saying, "Uhh, Lucy? I don't think this is a good time to express yourself ..." and, "Hey! You can't arrest me! I'm Jimmy Olsen, a member of the press!" Selena then puts the two of them in round cages next to the betrayed Nigel, whom Selena cursed to wear slightly shabby clothing.
Supergirl then arrives for the final fight, and Selena once again summons the "power of shadow." I guess the enhanced magic of the evil wand helps, because this time we actually see the monster, which is a really crappy looking dragon. It attacks Supergirl and the screen gets all wonky and distorted, leading me to wonder whether this is a physical or psychological attack. Either way, Supergirl spends some time moaning and crying, and saying, "I can't! I can't!" She then hears Zaltar in her head, saying, "You can!" This gives her the confidence to ... I don't know ... create a big whirlwind that just ... sucked up Selena and her friend/sister who never did anything.
I honestly have no idea what happened (and I watched this twice), but somehow Supergirl caused the two bad guys to go away and the mountain and castle and everything vanishes. Nigel, however, gets off scot-free, despite actually playing a role on the wrong side of this event. Anyway, with the Omegahedron in hand, Supergirl says goodbye to Ethan, Lucy and Jimmy, and returns to her ship in the lake. She returns to Argo City in inner space as credits role, and I guess the lights grow a bit brighter, somehow implying that she may have saved her people.
So yeah, that's pretty much Supergirl. I did skip the really pointless scenes of Supergirl at school, learning she could suddenly solve complex math equations, and had a couple of random encounters with a bully, including one in the shower. And I'm sure there is a bunch of other stuff I'm missing, but it's all pretty stupid and pointless. So here are my top five complaints with the film:
1. Nothing makes sense.
They simply refuse to explain anything. We know that Zaltar created Argo City, but we don't know how or why. Was it related to the destruction of Krypton, or was that just a coincidence? And does Supergirl know that her cousin is not only on Earth, but is also both Superman and Clark Kent? And why did she become Supergirl in the first place? I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. So many basic elements of this plot were presented without the slightest hint of explanation.
2. Supergirl is stupid.
I don't mean the concept of the character is a dumb one. I'm totally fine with the idea of there being a Supergirl in every media available. But in this movie, the character Kara Zor-El was presented as an idiotic simpleton. For some stretches on Earth, this makes a bit of sense as she's trying to adjust to Earth culture, and doesn't understand why girls pierce their ears and such. But in Argo City, her home, Kara should have appeared more intelligent. To put it bluntly, she basically acted like a special needs child. I don't want to offend anyone, but that was the impression I had. And throughout the whole movie, Supergirl very rarely displays any intelligence in a useful manner.
3. The villain is a witch.
Superman and magic rarely work. He, and his family of characters, are scientifically based. And the first three movies of this series understood that, using villains that had their roots in science, or the alien planet Superman is from. But in this movie, we are presented with an actual witch, who is able to conjure actual spells and demons. Her power did not derive from the alien technology of the Omegahedron like I initially suspected, but rather that scientific artifact was able to enhance her powers. But only so much. Ultimately, she needed to rely on an actual evil magic wand to truly threaten Supergirl. The problem here is that the audience was abruptly required to stretch their imagination in strange, new ways. Nothing magical had been previously established in this film series, so when it was suddenly introduced, it felt out of place and unsavory.
4. Awful special effects.
After helping the world believe a man could fly in the first Superman film, the Salkinds then did everything they could to make the world forget that in their following three films. Each subsequent installment had a lower budget and worse effects. And that problem could not have been more blatant here. Supergirl's big fight scenes involved invisible monsters and strange image distortions. And the flying looked so, so bad. It always looked like she was flying in front of a projection screen. And when we very first saw her as Supergirl, I swear I could see the wire lifting her out of the water. It really was that bad.
5. A serious lack of urgency.
Argo City allegedly could only survive for a couple of days without the Omegahedron. So Supergirl should have been quite focused on finding it, like searching non-stop for this device. Even when her convenient tracking bracelet conveniently fails to penetrate lead, she still should have been out looking for this life-saving power source. But she chose to just casually meander around Earth, fly with the horses, sleep with the bunnies, and for some bizarre reason, set up a secret identity at a girls school. Only after goofing off for quite some time does she eventually get around to saving her family and friends. And she's not the only one. Selena, who was initially described as impatient, puts off her plans of world domination for the majority of this movie, as she inexplicably devotes so much of her time and energy on this worthless gardner boy. Why isn't anyone focused in this movie?
In conclusion, this was a truly horrible film, and everyone is right to ignore it. I don't hate it as much as Superman III, which I believe created the greater sin, but this is every bit as bad. It was so bad, it caused the Salkinds to sell the movie rights to Superman, which turned out to be a good thing in the long run. And the good news for the Supergirl TV show is that this movie set the standard so low, that no matter what they do, it will be better than this disaster.
Final score: 0