One of the most vivid movie going memories from my childhood is going to see “Superman” in 1978. What an amazing movie! 2nd best superhero movie ever, in my opinion…and only beaten out of the top spot by “The Dark Knight” just a few years ago. The sequel was pretty good too, even though there was a bunch of behind the scenes turmoil that resulted in director Richard Donner being replaced by Richard Lester. But by the time “Superman III” rolled around, this time completely directed by Lester, the series was on it’s way down. But producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind still had one trick left up their sleeve…a super cousin! Prepare yourselves for 1984’s “Supergirl.”
When Richard Donner made “Superman,” his mantra was “verisimilitude”…truth. He wanted his Superman to be believable. Well, that’s all out the window with “Supergirl.” Little did we know that back when Krypton blew up, little Kal-El wasn’t the only survivor. A whole bunch of Kryptonians have been kickin’ back all these years in a place called Argo City, which exists in “inner space.” Young Kara Zor-El (Helen Slater in her first movie) is one of them. She’s a curious young lady who often hangs around with goofball named Zaltar (Peter O’Toole). One day, Zaltar has “borrowed” the city’s power source, a spinning glowing thingy called the Omegahedron. When Kara accidentally causes it to be lost, the city now seems doomed. So she decides to head to Earth to retrieve the magic croquet ball.
On Earth, the Omegahedron has been found by a wannabe sorceress named Selina (Faye Dunaway) who lives in an abandoned amusement park with an annoying sidekick (Brenda Vaccaro). Selena soon finds that her powers have now greatly increased, much to the surprise of her wizard friend Nigel (Peter Cooke). She quickly begins to set her sights on world domination.
Meanwhile, Kara, who has miraculously acquired a super suit during her transdimensional travels, arrives in the town of Midvale, Illinois. It’s a peaceful place where all the cool kids spend their time hanging out at Popeye’s Fried Chicken and listening to Howard Jones records. Kara can tell the Omegahedron is close, but doesn’t know where it is. So she settles in at all girl’s school as mild-mannered Linda Lee. Her new roommate just so happens to be one Lucy Lane…sister of Lois Lane. Lucy also happens to have the hots for Jimmy Olsen…played by Marc McClure, the only cast member from the Superman franchise on board for this spinoff.
Beyond just world domination, Selena also has eyes for local studly handyman, Ethan (Hart Bochner…Remember him from “Die Hard?” Hans, Bubie!). She tries to cast a love spell on him, but it backfires and he ends up with goo goo eyes for Linda…or is it Kara…or whatever. By the time Supergirl meets Selena in a final battle, there’s a mountain fortress rising out of the Illinois landscape and a smokey demon playing patty cake.
I never got to see “Supergirl” in the theater. I really wanted to…after all, I was 13 years old and Helen Slater looked awful cute in a short red skirt and go-go boots. But it didn’t stay in theaters long. “Supergirl” was hammered by critics and a flop at the box office…read the above synopsis again if you wonder why. But, I’ll be honest with you, I consider it a guilty pleasure which I enjoy more each time I watch it.
Despite the goofy material, Helen Slater is great in the lead role! Just like with “Superman,” the producers cast an unknown in the lead and surrounded them with big name stars. Slater was a perfect choice! She’s sweet, she’s tough, she’s gorgeous…she IS Supergirl! Even with the poor showing at theaters, her performance did receive a best actress from the Saturn Awards.
Now then, the so-called “veteran” actors that surround her are about as goofy and campy as you can get. Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, Peter Cooke, Mia Farrow (as Kara’s mother)…great googily moogly, these people know better. And don’t even get me started on Brenda Vaccaro, who’s performance here is like the human embodiment of nails on a blackboard. Can I say she’s like the female Robert Wuhl, or is that going too far?
There is one element of the film that is almost universally praised, and makes the film worth a look even if you don’t have much of a taste for bad movies…that is the beautiful score by Jerry Goldsmith. This score is every bit as grand and majestic as John Williams’ themes for the original “Superman” film. The list of films Goldsmith has scored is humongous, with many stand-outs. This score is one of his that is often forgotten but if you are a fan of movie music, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
In the end though, it’s Slater who really makes this B-level superhero epic worth watching. She soars while her co-stars chew up the scenery. And, as I said before, she’s awful cute in red boots.