Please note, this is the 1984 version of Supergirl. As I understand it based on the random information that floats my way on a daily basis, the Linda Lee/Kora Zor-El (Helen Slater) character in the film is not all that close to the original DC Comics material. However, that is the least of the problems for this poor movie. When the original Superman movie premiered in 1978, people were quite thrilled to see arguably the most famous comic book character of all time on the big screen, and the late Christopher Reeve certainly looked the title part. The subsequent sequels bombed, though, and the franchise was looking for a fresh start. I researched some of this information, but a lot of this can be surmised simply by watching Supergirl. They talk about Kora Zor-El’s more famous cousin often throughout the film, and if it were not for the fact that it is a woman with all the corresponding parts and blond hair, you would almost say it was Superman. They can do all the same things, but you cannot have the Man of Steel because, as it laughingly says in a radio broadcast, he is off to another galaxy to bring peace to it. Thus you get the Woman of Steel. The result is a blend of awful that will make you wish for kryptonite, which is suspiciously lacking in Supergirl.
Having a familiarity with Superman will not help you with Supergirl. You know his story: his home planet of Krypton is destroyed, and he is sent as an infant to Earth where he becomes the superhero we know and love. Apparently Kora Zor-El’s home has nothing to do with any of this, nor is it ever explained how she is related to the more famous Kryptonian. She just says it when she shows up on Earth eventually, but I am getting ahead of myself. In the hilariously thin habitat in inner space (whatever that is), Kora Zor-El is living in what seems like a hippy commune. Her instructor, Zaltar (Peter O’Toole), miraculously knows all about Earth and attempts to recreate certain aspects of it using a device known as the Omegahedron, though it is more fun to refer to it as the McGuffin ball. Again for poorly explained reasons, he is not supposed to have it, but somehow it ends up in Kora Zor-El’s hands. Her attempt to use it results in it being ripped through the cellophane that encapsulates their enclosure and it lands in Earth. In a moment so ironic as to be preposterous, it lands next to Selena (Faye Dunaway), a witch who moments previously had been plotting to take over the world. Now she has the wonder device she needs to harness her dark powers, though it takes her some time to get the hang of it. In the meantime, Kora Zor-El climbs into a pod and takes off after the Omegahedron and ends up on Earth as well. Once she is there, she bursts up out of the water in the classic Supergirl costume, having magically changed en-route, and immediately she discovers she has all the familiar powers of her cousin. But where to find the Omegahedron? So, what does Supergirl do? She stumbles upon an all girls boarding school, materializes their uniform, changes her hair from blond to dark brown, and enrolls in school. Makes sense, right? No? Here, the film grinds to a halt as Selena tries to master the wonder ball and Supergirl adopts the persona of Linda Lee and goes to math class. There is also a gardener at the school, Ethan (Hart Bochner), that Selena’s assistant Bianca (Brenda Vaccaro) finds attractive, but then Selena arbitrarily decides (after initially panning him) that she must have him for herself. In order to accomplish this, she concocts a love potion, but botches its delivery. Ethan wanders off while Selena is distracted, and of course finds his way into Linda Lee’s sight, making him fall in love with Supergirl. Jealous, Selena once more uses the glowy-thingy to send an invisible monster after Supergirl. Yes, you read that correctly. One of the biggest action set pieces of the entire film features our heroine doing battle with an unseen beast. Deciding she has to finally do something about Selena, a need made more urgent when the witch imprisons Ethan, Supergirl goes to confront her tormentor. As soon as she flies into the conjuress’s new mountain lair, Supergirl is entrapped and sent to the Shadow Zone (once more, just a thing tossed into this movie). This needlessly prolongs the movie, but at least we get to see Zaltar again who helps her return to Earth. Hooray? Why Selena does not repeat this move when Supergirl gets back, I do not know. After another comically awful special effects fight, Selena is defeated and Supergirl takes the Omegahedron back to wherever it is she came from.
Almost every decision that was made during the filming of Supergirl was the wrong one, and it makes for a film that is so bad as to almost be good. Almost. It is dated with its special effects, which were not even good for 1984. Those, along with the bad acting and inexplicable plot points, make for a painful movie to watch though punctuated by fits of laughter at the odd choices made. I suspect that a lot of this can be explained by what was probably a small budget, the bulk of which likely went to getting Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole. I mean, Supergirl fights an invisible monster, for crying out loud! In order to get a better sense of the perplexing nature of this film, I will relay the series of questions I jotted down in my notes while watching this film. Why does Kora Zor-El’s home have such a thin barrier to what is apparently a deadly environment outside it? Where does she get the Supergirl outfit when she takes off in the pod wearing long, flowing robes? How does she know how to use a typewriter? Why does she know Clark Kent? How does she know how to play field hockey? Why does Ethan talk like a Shakespearean actor when he falls in love with Linda Lee? No, seriously, that is a thing that happens. How does Selena know about the Phantom Zone? There are a whole host of other questions you can come up with if you looked over the thoughts that jogged across my mind while sitting through this debacle. I was giggling most of the time while wrote them, but I was also doing that when I recorded Selena’s perplexity over being able to make it rain cocoanuts but not being able control men’s minds. You know, because naturally if you can do one you should be able to do the other, right? One final note: there is a song listed in the credits literally titled “New Song.” Really creative.
With Supergirl, another aspect that I found silly and slightly annoying was her wide-eyed wonder at everything. I should pump the brakes for a moment on this point. As a Christian, God’s creation should be looked at with awe. It truly is extraordinary in its wonder and variety. His greatest gift is love, and this is something that Kora Zor-El experiences, even if she does abandon Ethan to return home. The other aspect of her character I could appreciate in spite of the pain of watching it was her dedication to doing good. The obvious vehicle for this is her struggle against Selena, though it shows itself in more subtle ways. Her roommate at the school, Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy), who is, of course, Lois Lane’s sister, attempts to get Linda Lee to sneak off campus to hang out with her. She resists the temptation to break the rules, so kudos. And when she meets a broken Zaltar in the Phantom Zone, her desire to not give up rallies his conviction. The rest of this is bunch silly garbage, and I did not care for the devil imagery you see towards the end with Selena. Nonetheless, at least there is a minuscule glimmer of something to keep your sanity as you sit through this two hour slog.
As I alluded to before, Supergirl bumps up against being so bad it is good. The images discussed at the end of the previous paragraph is what tips it into the column of being a film to avoid. The devil does not deserve such distinction, even if it is associated with villainy. On the other hand, I cannot emphasize how incredibly bad it is. “Incredible” is a good word for it. Not “incredible” as in amazing, but as it relates to its true meaning as being something unbelievable. I, for one, came away from it being incredulous as to how it was made in the first place. It just goes to show you that anyone with enough money can film anything. They needed a little more.