‘Supergirl’ (1984) Blu-Ray Review – The troubled adaptation is a curious entry into the ‘Super’ franchise
In an age when audiences can find new superhero content almost everywhere they look, it’s easy to forget that these larger-than-life characters haven’t always been so well represented on screen. We recently took a look at the conclusion of the six-season series of super girl, a show that had an inconsistent run in terms of quality but brought heightened awareness and legitimacy to the character as a whole. While opinions on the series may vary, most can agree that it was a step up from the big screen dud of 1984. The film is notable for being one of the first feature films about a female superhero, but a troubled production history and weak script kept it from being fondly remembered.
Superhero movies were rare in those days, but Christopher Reeves Superman the films were loved by critics and audiences. Prior to the production of the third entry, producer Alexander Salkind announced that the super girl was happening, and she was going to make her big debut in Superman 3 before anchoring his own solo film. Those who choose to remember Superman 3 can recall that didn’t end up transpiring, and the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the feature made it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for a new “Super” movie. Could a Supergirl plotline have helped the mess that was Superman 3? This is a question to which we will never have the answer. What we do know is that a lot of pressure was put on super girl to energize the franchise, but again the writing was on the wall for quality. What started as a storyline around Supergirl saving her famous cousin became something else entirely once Christopher Reeve decided to stay away from this one. After searching for a director to finally wrap this one up, we got French filmmaker Jeannot Szwarc behind the camera, best known for Jaws 2 and Santa Claus: the movie. It doesn’t really inspire confidence.
When the film was finally released in American theaters in November 1984, after the film rights had been traded several times, it was dramatically shortened from 20 minutes to 105 minutes. This cut really didn’t sit well with anyone, and the film quickly fizzled at the box office. Rather than racking up hate, we should take a look at what went right with the movie. First of all, Helen Slater‘s lead performance is never to be decried. While the character is written to be a bit naive as she gets used to the Earth, Slater imbues Kara with an enduring sweetness and magnetism that keeps you transfixed every time she’s on screen. . When she works her way into the local girls’ school, she conveniently becomes roommates with Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy), Lois’ younger sister. The forced fan-service is a bit too much, but their dynamic is one of the best parts of the film.
As controversial as it may seem, the other pearl of this film is Faye Dunaway (Network) as Selena, a power-hungry wannabe witch who discovers true power when she encounters the otherworldly object that Kara has come to Earth to retrieve. To be clear, Selena’s storyline is very silly and harrowing, but Dunaway’s performance, unjustly nominated for a Razzie, is far from a problem. Selena’s motivations are regressive and ultimately don’t go much beyond trying to capture the heart of a dumb gardener who is more transfixed by Kara (who in this story is pretending to be a schoolgirl, but we choose to don’t dwell too much on that). Dunaway knows the gear isn’t great, and this camp queen has known since Dear Mum that entertaining the public is the number one goal. Kara is a character who needs to be somewhat stoic and light-hearted, so it’s up to Dunaway to give this movie some momentum. She’s what you need to make your friends say, “Oh my god, you gotta see super girl.” Everyone fades into the background except for Kara due to lack of enthusiasm from everyone involved.
The biggest hurdle for this movie is its script. Kara has very little to do for the majority of the film, and she’s not surrounded by any particularly interesting secondary characters. The movie is also inconsistent when it comes to what Kara knows or doesn’t know about what it means to live on Earth. Selena often cooks up issues in the background, but sometimes her plan is so far removed from Kara’s story that it feels like her own separate movie. The film’s climax is a sequence in which Selena magically controls a runaway tractor that Kara must try to stop by any means necessary. It’s a bit of a stretch, but it gives audiences a chance to see that Supergirl is just as powerful and capable as her cousin. It is characterization through action. It’s one of the few bright spots in a mostly laborious film. super girl could have been a first home run for female representation in the superhero genre, but the messy execution is a disappointment for the character.
super girl debuts on Blu-Ray with a 1080p transfer of the international version from a 2K scan of the interpository which is quite attractive. The transfer maintains the perfect amount of natural film grain, which lends itself to detailed backgrounds and garments. Optical shots can make the grain look even thicker, but that’s a symptom of the production process, not an encoding issue. The image throughout the disc is free of dirt or print damage, as well as distracting digital anomalies such as compression artifacts or banding. Skin tones look natural throughout this version. Content that unfolds in the shadows comes with deep black levels that are free from crushing. The transfer represents some of the most beautiful places in a rather amazing way. Vivid colors shoot off the screen with stunning brilliance when it comes to the costumes and elements of the production design. Warner Archive didn’t skimp on this presentation as it does the title justice.
This Blu-Ray release comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that sounds great for the story. Dialogue delivery always comes through crystal clear in the center channel. None of the sound effects or Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable score ever dominate this version’s dialogue. Kinetic footage carries good weight in the mix, and there are environmental details that are alive and well in the speakers. There does not appear to be any damage or age related wear on the track. Optional English subtitles (SDH) are available on the disc for those who need them. Overall, this is a great audio presentation that suits the hardware very well.
Disc One (Blu-Ray) – International Cup (2:04:34)
- Audio commentary: Director Jeannot Swzarc and Project Director Scott Michael Bosco provide a factual commentary track in which they discuss Jerry Goldsmith’s score, the intentional production design, casting decisions, creating the illusion of fly, practical effects and more. For as many flaws as the movie has, you can tell Swzarc is passionate about the material.
- super girl – The making of the film: A superb 50 minute vintage promotional piece presented by Faye Dunaway which includes numerous interviews with the creative personalities of the production era. There are engaging conversations with Helen Slater about her initial audition process, insights from Swzarc on her intent with the material and more.
- Trailer: The two and a half minute trailer is provided here.
Disc Two (DVD) – Director’s Cut (2:18:44)
- Director’s Cut: A standard definition version with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is provided here. This version of the film debuted on Anchor Bay’s “Limited Edition” DVD set.
super girl is a movie that probably could have been really great if it got the support and consideration it deserved. Helen Slater is truly brilliant in the lead role, but the sloppy nature of the plot which lacks meaningful ideas hampers her potential. For what we got in the end, there are definitely some entertaining moments, especially when Dunaway leans into camp. Most of the time, however, things are just a bit aimless and boring. The Warner Archive Blu-Ray packs a punch and gives fans a treat in the A/V department with some nice extras. While this one might be best suited for hardcore Superman finalists, newcomers should still check this one out to see how far we’ve come.
Supergirl (1984) can be purchased directly through the Warner Archives Amazon Store or various other online retailers.
Note: Images shown in this review do not reflect Blu-Ray image quality.
Disclaimer: Warner Archive has provided a free copy of this disc for review. All opinions expressed in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting in a theater all day watching both big-budget and indie films.