Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Supergirl: Special Edition (1984)
Studio Line: Anchor Bay - Adventure runs in the family!

After mistakenly losing the Omegahedron, Argo City's life-sustaining power source, Kara takes off on a misssion to Earth to retrieve it and save the city. Upon reaching Earth, she is transformed into Supergirl and carries the alias Linda Lee. She must deal with the evil ambitions of a wicked witch, Selina (Faye Dunaway), and her meddling ex-boyfriend Nigel, who plan on ruling the Earth with help from the power of the Omegahedron, which they found when it crashed landed on Earth. Assisted by Jimmy Olsen and Lucy Lane, Lois Lane's sister, Supergirl is off on an adventure to save the Earth and Argo City.

Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Cast: Faye Dunaway, Helen Slater, Peter O'Toole, Mia Farrow, Brenda Vaccaro, Peter Cook, Simon Ward
Box Office: Budget: $35 million. Gross: $13.6 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; English DD 5.1 & Digital Mono; THX; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single side - dual layer; 24 chapters; rated PG; 125 min.; $24.98; street date 8/8/00.
Supplements: Extended 125 Minute "International Version"; Audio Commentary by Director Jeannot Szwarc and "Superman" Expert Scott Bosco; Theatrical Trailer; TV Spots; Making-Of; Extensive Booklet with Interviews and Photos; THX Optimode.
Purchase: DVD | Limted Edition DVD | Novel - Peter David | Score soundtrack - Jerry Goldsmith

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/A-/B+

It seems like whenever a movie tanks critically and financially, someone claims that it would have been terrific if the director got his way. There's always some superior cut out there somewhere, the version that allows the ugly duckling to transform into a swan.

Sometimes these opinions end up being correct, as in the case of The Abyss; that film's extended edition greatly improved on the original version. However, this didn't cause a revelation, as the theatrical cut was still decent; the longer one simply made it more complete and logical.

The Abyss is the exception to this argument, though, as most extended editions just make the pain last longer. I saw Supergirl during its theatrical run in 1984 and frankly thought it was pretty lame. Since that seemed to be the general pattern in the Super series after the first couple of films, I didn't think much of it and happily went on with my life.

Over the years, I heard that there was a longer "international" version that greatly improved on the US cut. When Anchor Bay announced they'd release this one on DVD, I was definitely intrigued. I always liked comic books and superhero projects, and I usually wished for their success as films. Unfortunately, they generally aren't very good, so if there was any hope a longer edition of Supergirl could make it entertaining, I was all for it.

Now that I've seen the international cut of Supergirl, I can say with certainty: this is a pretty mediocre movie. Overall, I didn't think it was laughably bad; although it flirts with camp, the film never enters the realm of the genuinely atrocious. Instead, it commits what may be a more egregious sin: it appears quite dull for the most part.

Comic book movies can be good or bad or funny or tragic or silly or dramatic and still remain at least partially interesting. However, if they become boring, the viewer suffers the worst fate of all. I can't say I really disliked Supergirl, but I found myself disinterested for the vast majority of its running time; I kept hoping that the story would eventually take off but that never quite happened.

Films like this are often burdened by the necessity of vast amounts of exposition. Look at the first Superman; I haven't seen it in years, but I believe it takes a good hour to get to the introduction of the Man (not Infant, Toddler, or Teen) of Steel. Supergirl doesn't take quite so long to get Kara (Helen Slater) into her tights and cape, but it feels like forever.

Ironically, the movie might have been more interesting if it had spent more time with introductory material. The set-up feels rushed and incomplete. Of course, that might be due less to the amount of time devoted to the exposition than because of weak writing; the characters seem so flat and weakly-drawn that I don't think additional space would help them become more real.

The plot itself is very basic. After she accidentally allows the Omegahedron - a funky power source that keeps everything going in her home of Argo City - to fly into space, Kara splits in a ship and chases after it. Both the Omegahedron and Kara end up on Earth, where aspiring sorceress Selena (Faye Dunaway) has found the magical OH. She snags it, and Kara very slowly tries to chase after it. Along the way, she enters a girls' school - where she just happens to room with Lois Lane's sister Lucy (Maureen Teefy) - and meets dreamboat gardener Ethan (Hart Bochner). Mild complications ensue, most of which seem to revolve around who can bag the hunk.

If you're going to make a movie with someone as powerful as Supergirl, the story should probably involve events more life and death than just who'll get the date to the prom. Yeah, that simplifies things, and we do see Selena start to create a fascist state based on her power, but even when the movie tries to expand into these bigger issues, it still feels small and weak.

Some of that stems from Slater's performance. She's quite lovely and looks very good in the part. However, she's inherently a tiny presence and has a lot of difficulty pulling off a powerful character like this. As such, though Slater's as cute and sexy as Supergirl should be, she seems awfully flat and drab.

Slater succeeds much better with meek roles such as the one she superbly filled in Ruthless People. As she works here, Supergirl never presents a strong, heroic persona. I mean, she should really be almost as powerful and tough as Kal-El himself, but she always feels like a wimp. Selena's challenges should mean little to Supergirl and the "struggle" we witness really should never exist.

Which leads to another problem with Supergirl: the poor villain. Selena's an awfully "girly" baddie; her initial interest is in making hunky Ethan fall in love with her, after all! Yes, that seemed to be part of her plan for world domination, but nonetheless, you wouldn't see a male villain bother with such silliness. Dunaway vamps it up in the role but doesn't lead us anywhere. The character is not fun or intimidating or clever; she just exists.

As Bianca, Brenda Vaccaro adds a female counterpart to Superman's Otis, but she also suffers from a lack of definition. Otis was impossibly dumb, which made him cartoony but at least he seemed entertaining. Bianca just appears to give Selena someone to talk to throughout the movie; she adds no interest on her own.

Following the descent into dreck he began in Caligula, Peter "Show Me the Money!" O'Toole appears as the genius behind Argo City; he is also the one who accepts the punishment for Kara's goof and flits off to the Phantom Zone. O'Toole tries his best to work with the material, but he can't do much to make it compelling.

Speaking of Argo City, its treatment illustrates the shoddiness of the film's exposition. As I recall from the comics, Argo City was supposed to a new home for folks who survived the explosion of Krypton. There's no mention of this in the movie and we receive very little indication these people ever had anything to do with the residents of the doomed planet other than a couple of mentions that Superman is Kara's cousin.

It's the absence of the depth that comes with those details that most harms Supergirl. The movie seems poorly conceived and blandly executed. The film looks fairly good, and most of the effects still hold up nicely, but the story is dull and the characters lack range. It's not the worst superhero film ever made, but it's one of the less interesting ones.

(One note: Supergirl excelled in one department, that of product placement. I noticed at least three instances in which A&W Root Beer receives significant presence. Twice this occurs through the inclusion of vending machines, while the third features a character who wears an A&W T-shirt! We also see a participant order a root beer of unspecified brand at Popeye's - another prominently-featured business. I'm not sure the placement is terribly positive; one of the vending machines gets destroyed, and the guy who dons the T-shirt is a baddie. Still, I found this obvious branding of the set amusing.)

The DVD:

Supergirl appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although it occasionally shows its age, overall Supergirl looks quite good.

Sharpness usually seems precise and well-defined, with only a slightly soft appearance occurring at times, usually in some of the wider shots. We also see some "glamour" lighting and soft focus which can result in some mild haziness; these scenes generally concern Dunaway, and they're only a small concern. Moiré effects are a periodic issue, and I also noticed a moderate amount of artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV; these appeared mainly during city scenes, especially when we see a school bus and other vehicles.

Print flaws almost entirely happen during blue-screen flying scenes. On those occasions, I witnessed varying levels of grain; those specks could range from virtually non-existent to quite heavy. During the rest of the film, however, the print seemed very clean. I saw extremely little grain, and I noticed no speckles, scratches, nicks, hairs or other problems.

Surprisingly, colors tend to seem fairly natural and accurate; I expected brighter, more "comic book" hues. That's not a criticism - just an observation. Overall, the colors are clear and solid without any bleeding or noise apparent. Black levels appear deep and dense and shadow detail looks appropriately heavy without excessive darkness. Ultimately, the image seems very strong, with only some minor - and almost inevitable - flaws to knock it down to a "B+".

Even better is the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix given to the soundtrack. The soundstage seems quite broad and engaging, especially from the forward channels. These displayed a great deal of activity and placed the sounds precisely within their places. Panning can be a little awkward, as the transitions between channels seems slightly jumpy, but overall the audio blends fairly well. The surrounds are less active but they contribute nicely to the effect. Both music and ambient sounds come from the rears, and we even get some decent split-surround usage on occasion.

Quality seems equally fine. Dialogue can come across as a little flat but it usually sounds natural and accurate, with no edginess or interference. Effects are crisp and fairly dynamic; they appear clear and realistic. Jerry Goldsmith's score seems especially bright and bold, with strong presence and no apparent distortion. The mix shows some very good bass at times, which adds nice depth to the track. The audio got a slight grading "curve" to make it an "A-", but it's still a strong mix, especially when you factor in the age of the material.

Supergirl packs in a nice little collection of supplemental features. First up is an audio commentary from director Jeannot Szwarc and "special projects consultant" Scott Michael Bosco. (Apparently "special projects consultant" is another name for "dude who helped assemble the extras".) Sensibly, Szwarc dominates the track, since he's the only one of the two who actually worked on the film. Bosco generally functions as an interviewer, though he contributes some helpful facts about the movie as well and he steers Szwarc into some

Overall, it's a nice commentary in which we learn a lot of interesting information about Supergirl. We find out what scenes didn't appear in the original US cut and get lots of background details, such as changes made to the script (including a planned appearance by Christopher Reeve), casting choices, and other facets of the production. Even though I'm not wild about the movie itself, this track was quite compelling. It suffers from a few too many empty gaps but usually seems very good.

Next we find a 49-minute and 45-second documentary about the film called "Supergirl: The Making of the Movie". When I first started this piece, I noticed that it was produced at the same time of the film's theatrical release and I feared the worst; I usually prefer contemporary programs, since they often provide more detail and better perspective.

However, I found this documentary to offer a terrific look at the making of the film. Yes, it lacks the historical viewpoint I'd like, but it more than compensates by way of excellent footage from the set. We find all sorts of great material here, from some of Slater's test shots to "behind the scenes" interactions and some good interviews. The program seems pleasantly raw; it even includes a chat snippet with Szwarc during which an assistant interrupts the interview because they're resuming the filming of the movie! Those involved are fairly frank about the issues they confronted - it's wonderful to hear Peter O'Toole talk about how he copes with the silly dialogue - and the whole show creates a lively impression of the shoot. It's a tremendously entertaining little program.

We discover a collection of storyboards. Actually, there are six sections in all, and the boards are presented as filmed montages; each of these runs 110 seconds and seven minutes, five seconds, with most of them lasting around three minutes or so. I'm not a big fan of storyboards, so these didn't do a lot for me, but they're presented nicely. The video montage didn't seem as annoying as I anticipated, and each board fills as much screen space as possible, which isn't always the case with some DVDs. One complaint: all of the boards presented come from existing scenes, and I would have preferred to find a few sections that featured deleted segments.

Some nice stillframe materials show up in the "Still and Poster Galleries". Overall, this includes about 200 photos in four different sections ("Posters and Advertisements", "Helen Slater as Supergirl", "Color Stills" and "Black and White Stills"; these vary in size from 32 to 70 shots. All of the stills are fairly promotional in nature; none of them seem to be candid snaps from the set, though many are clearly taken from the shoot. There are a few repeat pictures as well; in fact, I think a few of them even show up in three of the four areas! In any case, the snaps are worth a look, especially since so many of them feature Slater all dolled up in her leotard. Excuse the blatant sexism, but yum!

A slew of other advertising pieces can be found. The DVD features five different trailers: teaser; US; International; UK; and German. We also get three TV ads: "Her First Adventure", a 90-second clip, plus "Heavenly Romance" and "Secret Mission", both of which last 30 seconds each. Interestingly, the American materials (the teaser, the full trailer and the three TV ads) feature the only prominent use of John Williams' famous score from the original Superman; the foreign ads all go with Goldsmith's tunes. By the way, the German trailer is fully dubbed, which makes it easily the most entertaining of the lot.

Next come "Talent Bios" that feature information about Slater, O'Toole, Dunaway and Szwarc. These entries are all quite good; the filmographies are too brief, but the text discussions of the different folks' lives provide some nice details. They're all very interesting and readable.

As first seen on the Fight Club DVD, Supergirl includes the "THX Optimode" program to set up your TV. This provides you with information to correctly configure various audio and video aspects of your home theater. I don't think it fully replaces something like Video Essentials, but then again, "Optimode" comes as a free addition to a DVD, so it's clearly a bargain. If you haven't already used VE or some similar product, you should find "Optimode" very helpful.

Finally, the DVD includes a four-page booklet. Two of these present some nice production notes from commentary participant Bosco. He reflects some of the notions presented during that track but adds some other information that makes it worth a look.

But is Supergirl ultimately deserving of your time? Yes and no. The DVD presents the film in a cut not previously seen in America, and it does so with style; both sound and picture are very good, and the disc includes some excellent extras. However, the movie itself remains a serious dud. Fans of the flick will be very happy, but the most I can recommend for anyone else might be a rental; it's a nice package, and the fun supplements add interest, but it's not something I'd want to keep in my collection.

Final note: Anchor Bay offer two DVD editions of Supergirl: this one and a limited edition 2-disc set. The latter features the same DVD we find here plus a second one that presents a never-before-seen 138-minute "director's cut" of the movie. Apparently no additional supplementary materials pop up on the second DVD; it's just the longer movie, ala the limited edition of Halloween. Why Anchor Bay doesn't present these films with seamless branching so we can get all the different cuts on one DVD is a mystery to me, but be alerted that this alternate release exists. That package retails for $15 more than this one-DVD edition costs.

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