'Supergirl' - The Film Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Supergirl' - The Film

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The shield of the Arts and Entertainment faculty of the h2g2 University.The Christopher Reeve Era Superman Films
'Superman' - The Film | 'Superman II' - The Film | 'Superman III' - The Film
'Supergirl' - The Film | 'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace' - The Film



She has all the super-powers of Superman; she is his cousin.
–  Supergirl novelisation.

Supergirl was the first serious superhero film with a female heroine, and the last film in the Superman series to be produced by the Salkinds. Intended to be the first in a spin-off super series, after its disappointing performance, the Salkinds ended their association with Superman films after making them for a decade.

Plot

Isolated Argo City, having survived Krypton's destruction, is home to Kal-El's cousin Kara. Struggling with her studies, Kara enjoys spending time with Argo City's founding artist, Zaltar. For artistic purposes, Zaltar borrows one of Argo City's crystal Omegahedrons, the principle power source and without which Argo City would not be able to survive. After an accident, the Omegahedron is lost from Argo City. Kara steals Zaltar's spaceship, following the crystal to Earth, passing through another register which changes her beyond recognition. Meanwhile, Zaltar is doomed to eternal imprisonment in the Phantom Zone as punishment and the inhabitants of Argo City prepare to meet their fate.

On Earth, the Omegahedron is found by a sorceress named Selena. She plans to use the crystal to gain world domination, assisted by her friend Bianca, despite the warnings of her former boyfriend Nigel. Kara arrives on Earth transformed, now having identical powers to Superman, and searches for the Omegahedron, aided by a bracelet which Zaltar had given her. She disguises herself as Linda Lee in order to live at a boarding school, where she meets Lois Lane's younger sister Lucy Lane, a friend of Jimmy Olsen. Selena, meanwhile, becomes obsessed with local gardener Ethan, whom she drugs with a love potion.

Ethan escapes her clutches and is menaced with a JCB, which threatens the town of Midvale, but Midvale is saved and Ethan is rescued by Supergirl. Kara reverts to her Linda Lee disguise, but Ethan spots her and falls in love with her. Selena, jealous, tries to use witchcraft to conjure up a monster to murder Linda, but this is destroyed by Supergirl, who tracks the Omegahedron back to Selena's lair in a ghost train ride at an abandoned theme park. At the theme park Supergirl, disguised as Linda, is wooed by Ethan before Selena appears to harass them both. Supergirl takes Ethan to a place of safety, but Selena uses her evil powers to drop a coconut on his head.

Selena manipulates Nigel into helping her, which he agrees to, after breaking the love potion. With Nigel's help, Selena kidnaps Ethan, but then she betrays Nigel. When Supergirl arrives, Selena sends her into the Phantom Zone. Selena takes over Midvale, brainwashes Ethan and kidnaps Lucy and Jimmy. Kara meets Zaltar in the Phantom Zone. He helps her escape at the cost of his life. Kara then confronts Selena in a dramatic showdown and, with the aid of Ethan and Nigel and the phantom voice of Zaltar, sends Selena, Bianca and a demon that Selena had summoned into the Phantom Zone. Regaining the Omegahedron, Kara returns with it to Argo City.

Cast

CharacterActor
Kara/Supergirl/Linda LeeHelen Slater
SelenaFaye Dunaway
ZaltarPeter O'Toole
NigelPeter Cook
Lucy LaneMaureen Teefy
BiancaBrenda Vaccaro
EthanHart Bochner
Jimmy OlsenMarc McClure
AluraMia Farrow
Zor-ElSimon Ward
Mr DanversDavid Healy
Woman with scorpion in her mouthSandra Dickinson

The cast gathered for Supergirl was truly talented. Only Marc McClure returned to play a role established in the Superman films, although it had originally been hoped that Christopher Reeve would appear to pass the torch to Helen Slater, who was making her acting debut.

Faye Dunaway, who was given top billing on Supergirl, is a talented, Oscar-winning actress famous for appearing in films such as Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Towering Inferno. She had previously played the villainess Milady de Winter in the Salkinds' successful The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, a role which led to her being first choice for the evil, sexy and seductive Selena.

Award winning actor Peter O'Toole is most famous for his role in Lawrence of Arabia and has often appeared as kings, including King Priam in Troy, King Stormhold in Stardust, and King Henry II in Becket and The Lion in Winter.

Peter Cook was a famous comedian, whose comedy partner Dudley Moore would star in the Salkind's next film, Santa Claus: The Movie. He also starred in the original Bedazzled and appeared in The Princess Bride. Demi Moore was originally cast as Lucy Lane, but when she turned it down after getting another part, Maureen Teefy, famous for her roles in Fame and Grease 2, was cast instead. Mia Farrow was most famous for starring in Rosemary's Baby. Simon Ward was well known for his performance as prime ministers, including Sir Winston Churchill in Young Winston and the Duke of Buckingham in the Salkind's films The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers with Faye Dunaway.

Sandra Dickinson played Trillian in the television series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and had also appeared in Superman III. She was married to Doctor Who actor Peter Davison from 1978 to 1994, and became the mother-in-law to another former Time Lord when her daughter Georgia Moffett married tenth Doctor David Tennant in December 2011.

Making of Supergirl

After the modest success of Superman III, the Salkinds decided to launch a spin-off series based on another character that they had purchased the film rights to, Supergirl. Supergirl as a character had originally appeared in initial drafts of Superman III and Ilya Salkind especially was keen on taking full advantage of their contract with Warner Brothers, which gave them the film rights to any character in the Superman universe.

Plans were originally made to have Christopher Reeve guest star in this film as Superman, appearing in two key scenes. Superman would firstly welcome Supergirl to Earth and, later in the film, would lose all his powers, needing Supergirl to save the day and rescue him. Reeve, however, was not interested in appearing, afraid of being typecast. Director Jeannot Szwarc is convinced that had Reeve appeared, Supergirl would have been a much greater success.

Although the character of Lucy Lane appeared in the film, there was never any consideration given to asking Margot Kidder to cameo as older sister Lois, causing many to speculate that she was unpopular with the Salkinds over her vocal support of Richard Donner, the director of Superman who was not asked to complete filming Superman II. Only Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen reprised his role from the other Superman films.

Like the first three Superman films, Supergirl was filmed in Pinewood Studios' 007 sound stage in England, with only background shots used in the flying sequences filmed in America. This meant that Supergirl benefited from having the same highly experienced crew who had worked on the first three Superman films as well as several James Bond films. As a result, Supergirl had the best flying sequences of any Superman film and overall the special effects in the film were of a very high standard.

The fictional town of Midvale, all constructed at Pinewood Studios, is very convincing and a stunning set, the most realistic construction of any set in a Superman film. There are, though, some sequences which lag behind the highly realistic standard. For instance, it is sadly obvious that instead of climbing a vertical cliff by the fierce maelstrom, actors Peter O'Toole and Helen Slater are lying down on a horizontal floor pretending to climb a vertical cliff. Fortunately this does not mar the enjoyment of the film.

This film was directed by Jeannot Szwarc and the Salkinds were so delighted with his work on Supergirl that they hired him to direct Santa Claus: The Movie the following year. Szwarc was, at that time, most famous for directing Jaws II, which at the time was the most successful sequel ever made.

Supergirl was entirely financed by the Salkinds. As their contract with Warner Brothers stated, Warner Brothers were the first company offered the right to release the film. They declined, however, disappointed by the below-expected success of Superman III. Instead Supergirl was released by TriStar, a small film company then owned by Coca-Cola. TriStar, after acquiring the right to release Supergirl, made a couple of strange decisions.

Firstly, instead of releasing the film in the summer, traditionally the most lucrative time for blockbusters, they chose to wait until November, despite the Salkinds' advertising campaign having been built on promising a summer release. TriStar also severely edited the film. The original Director's Cut had been 138 minutes long. TriStar, however, chose to release a 114-minute version in America (although a 124-minute version was released elsewhere). The trimming of 24 minutes, though not as harsh as the fate that would later befall Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, cut out the most graceful and spectacular sequence as well as key character-building scenes, and led to the film having a disappointing performance at the Box Office.

Review

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
– Clarke's Third Law, Arthur C Clarke.

Supergirl is a very enjoyable, fantasy fairytale that perhaps seems out of place as part of a Superhero series. The character of Kara, known as Supergirl, is far more graceful than her famous male cousin, and is brilliantly portrayed. The natural imagery the film associates with her reinforces this point, contrasting her with Superman. Although Superman has power and strength, Supergirl has elegance, grace and style. Unlike Superman's sharp, pointy star, Supergirl travels to Earth in a curved spaceship which opens like the petals of a flower, revealing the bloom inside. The opening credits show the sky and wind, rather than the harsh vacuum of space as seen in the Superman films. Supergirl predominantly flies over landscapes and natural scenes, not cities. After her first night on Earth, Supergirl is awakened by a rabbit, giving her character a Snow White innocence.

On her arrival on Earth, Supergirl is clearly delighted with her powers, so much so that she engages in a spectacular flying ballet. This is wonderful to see, and unique among travellers from Krypton to Earth. Superman grew up with his powers, and although he does admit to pride, rarely allows his abilities to affect him. General Zod accepted his powers as part of his natural destiny to rule. Ursa questions her transformation and is impressed, and Non seems pleased when he finally is able to use his laser vision. But only Supergirl reacts with pure, unadulterated, innocent pleasure. The plot of Supergirl is clearly a cross between The Wizard of Oz and Snow White1. Like the Queen in Snow White, Selena is an older, wicked witch who wishes to rule, complete with a magic mirror. Ethan is clearly intended to be Prince Charming, and is even referred to as 'Prince Ethan'. Instead of Snow White being poisoned and placed in a crystal coffin, Supergirl is sentenced to the Phantom Zone. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Kara travels over the rainbow to an unknown world, with Argo City's appearance similar to Emerald City. Ethan, Jimmy and Lucy equate to the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow, with Nigel as the Wizard and Selena as the Wicked Witch of the West who is after the Ruby slippers equivalent, the Omegahedron. Just like Dorothy, Kara learns there is no place like home.

As a modern take on Snow White2, Supergirl is quite successful. However, the film tries to be more than that, and in doing so loses its way. In an entirely unnecessary scene, the first people that Kara meets on Earth are paedophiles who wish to rape her. There is no excuse for this tasteless scene. In the making of documentary the director states that this is an important scene as it shows Kara that the grass is not always greener and contrasts Earth with her own Utopian society.

Attempted theft, rather than attempted sexual assault, could have done this with greater effect. The film crosses a line that it did not need to cross. This unpleasant image also sours later relationships in the film between adult men and schoolgirls; both Ethan's love for Linda and Jimmy Olsen's love for Lucy are subsequently tainted. The decision to show schoolgirl shower scenes and Linda putting on a bra can also be considered to be too St Trinian's at best, and these are perhaps unlikely to appear in a film made now. It could also be considered a little sexist as, after all, the audience is never shown Clark Kent getting washed or in his underwear (other than the pants Superman wears over his trousers, of course).

There are, sadly, other weaknesses to the film. When attempting to control the world, Selena is a formidable and fascinating villain. However, she spends too much of the film on trivialities. When she first sees Ethan she is dismissive of him, yet spends the rest of the film obsessing about him. Sadly, Selena trying to get Ethan to drink a love potion does not have the same air of menace as Lex Luthor attacking the world with nuclear missiles or General Zod, Ursa and Non outnumbering Superman three to one. The more that Selena's threat is reduced, the weaker the film is. Selena works wonderfully when given something solid to do, yet sadly spends her time talking about the power of shadow. That said, Selena using her magic to hit Ethan over the head with a coconut is a wonderful moment. Handsome hunky heroes should be hit on the head by coconuts in Hollywood more often.

There are also some plot strands which never seem to go anywhere. On discovering the Omegahedron, Selena gathers a party of witches to be her 'army of the night', yet they are never seen or heard from again. Shortly after, Selena announces she wishes to make everyone love her, yet other than chasing Ethan with a love potion, she makes no attempt to brainwash the general population. Photographer Jimmy Olsen of the Daily Planet appears in the film complete with his camera, yet he takes no photos and agrees not to mention Supergirl. This leads to the question what is the point of his appearance, and the further question as to whether he is really cut out for a life in journalism.

Similarly, we are never informed how Argo City survived the destruction of Krypton. The original plan to show Krypton's destruction was considered too similar to Superman, yet it leaves a large unanswered question. Other minor niggles include asking why Supergirl uses water to extinguish a petrol fire, which is potentially an extremely dangerous mix. It also seems odd that Kara spends all her free time studying maps and guides of the Chicago and fictional town of Midvale area, but later does not know what a train is, despite Chicago being an important railway hub. That, though, is a very minor matter.

Supergirl remains an enjoyable and underestimated film that benefits from a talented cast and experienced special effects crew, even if sadly the script itself often lets the film down.

American, International and Director's Version

In America, the film as originally released was 114 minutes long. This version cut out some scenes of Argo City, Kara's arrival on Earth, discovering she can crush rocks and perform the spectacular flying ballet sequence, with several scenes containing Selena, Bianca and Nigel, including Sandra Dickinson's scene, and shots in the Phantom Zone removed.

In Europe, a 124-minute version of Supergirl was released. This, now known as the 'International Edition', is the definitive version available worldwide. In 2006, the 138-minute Director's Cut was finally released on DVD, following the release of Director's Cuts of Superman and Superman II, although this was in a limited edition box set. This contains more material set in Argo City, Midvale School and the Phantom Zone, as well as Jimmy and Lucy expressing their love for each other. There is a longer ending set on Earth, with Nigel collecting the Coffer of Shadow and bumping into Sandra Dickinson's character, Ethan saying goodbye to Jimmy and Lucy, and a scene in which Selena uses the Omegahedron to cook a turkey.

As with the Salkind-produced Superman films, extended television versions of Supergirl were broadcast worldwide.

Supergirl's Powers

Supergirl's powers and abilities include:

  • Flight – she also levitates when she inhales
  • Laser vision – which she uses to make a flower bloom. She can even heat metal objects on the other side of a wall
  • Strength – she can pulverise a rock by squeezing it, bend steel bars, lift men and dodgems, and can stop a JCB
  • Super breath
  • Super kick – able to send men flying
  • Ability to instantly change costume and hair colour
  • Super fast – including running, typing and javelin throwing, similar to Clark's throwing tyres in Superman III
  • X-Ray vision
  • Mathematical computation, including sixth-dimensional equations
  • Ability to make clothes and a school bag materialise out of thin air
  • Invulnerability – so much so that a hockey ball smashes when it hits her, and she survives being stretched
  • Super hearing
  • Diagnose broken bones
  • Heavy – she cannot be picked up by Ethan
  • Ability to store electricity and survive a lightning storm
  • Ice breath
  • Ability to create a tornado by flying fast
  • Telekinesis, which she uses to open doors to exit from Selena's castle
  • Despite this, in the Phantom Zone she is mortal, cannot fly and even bleeds

Recurring Themes

  • Incompetent henchwomen – Bianca frequently says silly things throughout the film. First she is confused and believes that the mirror in her house is a television. A minute after seeing Ethan in her home, Bianca calls out 'I know that guy' when she sees him appear on the magic mirror. She later sees Supergirl, knows that the costume is familiar, but proclaims Supergirl to be a Stormdragon. Finally, after suggesting that Selena ask Nigel to help make her magic even more powerful and seeing Nigel waving a magic Burundiwand to help Selena transport Ethan into Selena's lair, she asks Selena how she did that. By magic, of course

  • Inviting the enemy into the lair and revealing the cunning plan – Selena does indeed lure Supergirl into her lair. However, the luring Supergirl into the lair is the cunning plan; Supergirl literally walks into a trap

  • Kryptonian love of Trees – Zaltar sculpts a tree in Argo City and uses the Omegahedron to give it a life-like appearance

  • Nuclear Weapons – Bianca suggests using atomic bombs in the Phantom Zone

  • Alliterative names – Linda Lee and Lucy Lane, with Lois Lane and Clark Kent mentioned

  • Crystals:

    • Argo City is a giant crystal
    • Around Argo City are orbiting crystalline lights
    • Zaltar creates a crystal tree
    • Zaltar also creates a crystal bracelet, which glows when near the Omegahedron
    • Kara creates a crystal insect
    • The Omegahedron is a spherical crystal. This is Argo City's chief power source
    • The Coffer of Shadow's bottom half has a crystal-like see-through appearance
    • The Phantom Zone is seen as a spinning crystal-like disc
    • Selena has a crystalline magical mirror
    • The tree, bracelet and insect are created using the crystal matter-wand, with the tree and insect given the illusion of life with the Omegahedron

Product Placement

Compared to the other Superman films, product placement was kept to a minimum. An advert for Airline company TWA, who had previously had billboards in the background in various Superman films including Superman III, are heard on the radio3. Impressively a full replica Popeye's restaurant, an American fast-food chicken chain, was constructed in the replica American town built in Pinewood.

Soundtrack

The music for the soundtrack was composed by Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith was a talented composer who won an Academy Award for his music for The Omen and had also written the music for several other films including Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Before John Williams composed the music for Superman, the producers had originally planned to hire Goldsmith and had even used some music from the Goldsmith-composed Capricorn One in the earliest trailers for Superman. However, he was not available when Superman was completed.

The Supergirl soundtrack remains popular and iconic. It both recalls the music for Superman yet remains distinctive and graceful in sound. Two versions of the soundtrack album have been released.

Novelisation

A novelisation of Supergirl was written by Norma Fox Mazer. At 180 pages, 32 chapters long, this was the longest novelisation of any Superman or related film. The cover was black and simply decorated with a photograph of Supergirl in front of a white background, with no other photographs.

The novel is well written and enjoyable, definitely the best Superman novelisation. It follows the plot quite closely and includes some scenes only found in the Director's Cut. The style is appealing and it is an enjoyable read, despite the frequent exclamation marks and the use of CAPITAL LETTERS to stress random words in the middle of sentences. The novel portrays Lucy as being unsure of whether she likes Linda or not and being embarrassed by her naïve nature.

Curiously, the novelisation states that Kara aged two years while travelling between Argo City and Earth, in the same way that Kal-El's journey between Krypton and Earth took three years in Superman. This is rather a curious addition, coming after it is stressed that the people of Argo City only have days to live. This would imply that all Kara's family died long before she even arrived on Earth. The director's commentary on the International version of the film specifically denies that this happened, and that the length of the journey is equivalent to what is seen on screen.

Fan Fair

  • Selena lights Nigel's cigarette with her finger in an identical fashion to how Nuclear Man later lights Lex Luthor's cigar in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

  • Selena uses her powers to cook a turkey. Superman would cook a soufflé in Superman II and a duck in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

  • The character of Supergirl would feature in episodes of Smallville, as well as in animated, cartoon form

  • Helen Slater appeared in episodes of Smallville as Lara, Superman's mother. She also later played Supergirl's adopted mother Eliza Danvers in television series Supergirl (2016).

  • Supergirl creates a tornado. Nuclear Man would later do that in a deleted scene in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

  • In the shower scene, she seems fascinated and delighted with water, as if she had never seen it before. General Zod, when he arrived on Earth in Superman II, was also amazed at the water in the lake, considering it 'a strange surface'

  • Supergirl is described as able to 'leap tall buildings in a single bound' and 'bend steel bars'. This phrase was used in the radio series, the 1941 cartoon series and the 1950s television series

The shield of the Arts and Entertainment faculty of the h2g2 University.The Christopher Reeve Era Superman Films
'Superman' - The Film | 'Superman II' - The Film | 'Superman III' - The Film
'Supergirl' - The Film | 'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace' - The Film


1Another source of inspiration was Edgar Allan Poe, particular his story A Descent Into the Maelstrom, which inspired the climactic escape from the Phantom Zone.2Another similar modern take on Snow White where the heroine crosses from a fantasy world into the modern world can be seen in the Disney film Enchanted.3Former airline Trans World Airlines had a long association with films. Hollywood mogul Howard Hughes, who had made aircraft-related films including 1930s Hell's Angels and owned RKO Pictures between 1948 and 1956, owned the airline between 1939 and 1956.

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