Sunday, May 2, 2010

Supergirl: The Godawful Movie

All of Friday's talk about Mia Farrow and Killdozer! really made me want to watch Supergirl. So I did. And now you have to hear about it.

It was made in 1984, has a pretty good cast, and it sucks. It sucks so hard. But that doesn't stop me from enjoying it thoroughly. It's a little weird that I like it so much, but it's rooted in something deeper than my usual fondness for lame-ass shit. Do you remember that scene in Patton, where George C. Scott is walking the battlefield full of dead soldiers? Considering the ramifications of war and it's costs, he acknowledges the fact that he's a little bit crazy by saying: "I love it. God help me, I do love it so."

I often think of that scene when I'm watching Supergirl.

Now, some people think that the sign of a truly bad movie is when it reminds you of better movies, and in many cases that's true. But, in this instance, I don't actually want to watch Patton. Patton is long, and it doesn't have a Killdozer! - which are two considerable deficits.

"The only good human is a dead human!"

A lot of my fondness for the character of Supergirl comes from thinking that she was the coolest thing of all time when I was 8, 9 years old. In between Catwoman phases. I used to go to 7-Eleven and buy the Linda Danvers comics where she was fused with Matrix. And as bizarre as those comics were, they were a valued part of my childhood development. I still have #1.

I thought it was so badass that she was holding a skateboard. She was cool. Like Marty McFly and Bart Simpson.

So, okay. The film opens up with really ridiculously girlie space credits. They're all silver and reflecting pink and blue, and floating through misty clouds. They also make a notably odd kind of 'whoosh' as they fly towards you. It's like somebody stole Brian Eno's synthesizer and could only work one button. The music, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is pretty cool. I'm no musicologist. It doesn't make the movie worse so let's consider it a massive success.

Faye Dunaway gets top billing, as well she should. The part she plays was written for Dolly Parton, of all people. Dolly wasn't comfortable with the role and so declined to appear in the movie. I love 9 to 5, but whoever thought that Supergirl vs. Dolly Parton was a good idea has a truly bizarre imagination. We're lucky to have Faye Dunaway; she's really elegant and restrained in a very cartoonish role. I always feel bad that Mommy Dearest ruined her career. She's a kickass chick.

Actually, Brooke Shields was considered for the role of Supergirl in place of Helen Slater - since we're on the subject of casting. I really don't have much bad to say about Slater's overall performance, except that she acts like a complete bimbo in the Argo City scenes. But that can easily be explained away as character development. Still, it would have been something else to see Brooke Shields in the role. Oh, and Demi Moore was going to play Lucy Lane. But Maureen Teefy gives the best performance in the film, so that's no big loss. Goddamn it, if I had a time machine I'd try to get Brooke Shields that part. (And also go to the 1960 premiere of The Time Machine movie, just to be clever.)

The actual story part of the movie starts in glamorous Argo City. Where people dressed in leftover costumes from Logan's Run wander through the glorious sets leftover from Logan's Run. We meet up with Peter O'Toole, and he is wasted. He plays Zaltar, allegedly the creator of Argo City.


Within the film, Argo City is never explained. But I've kind of figured it out to the best of my ability: Argo City exists in trans-dimensional space, like the Phantom Zone. It was created by Zaltar and Zor-El, who was working under the assumption that Jor-El was right about the planet's impending doom and what-not. So, Zaltar creates the Omegahedron to anchor the residents of the city to their pocket of new existence, while Zor-El creates a lead shield on the physical surface of Krypton. The lead shield protects the residents of Argo City as Krypton's surface irradiates, and before the planet itself explodes, Zaltar completes the process of moving them into the trans-dimensional pocket. Which is why Zaltar gets to be mayor even though he's a drunken hippie. I guess it was between him and Zor-El; and from what I know about Zor-El, he sure as hell wouldn't get my vote.

Zaltar explains to Kara that Argo City runs on two things: Logos, as represented by Zor-El and Omegahedron, and Mythos - the spirit of creativity represented by Zaltar himself and the the magic wand that looks like a pirate-sword-toothpick. Since the city is in a precarious pocket of space, the inhabitants must always be in balance. Or everything will be cleaved in two by the forces of reality.

That must've been one hell of a club sandwich.

Okay, I lied. The pirate-sword-toothpick materializes trees that don't look like trees and dragonflies of destruction. It's basically a Green Lantern power ring without the bells and whistles. The Omegahedron is a pocket-sized nuclear power-plant that's used to maintain life-support for Argo City. It is also magic. But I liked mine better.

So Kara's mother, Alura, turns up to talk to Zaltar. And guess who plays her? UN Ambassador Mia Farrow! She steals Zaltar for a moment to discuss their plan to murder her husband, and Kara gets to run off and play with the pirate-sword-toothpick. Kara draws a dragonfly - which strikes me as odd. Surely they had things that weren't dragonflies back on Krypton that she would draw. Also, is it just coincidence that it looks like an earth creature? Well, whatever. It was a bad idea. The thing is just as evil as it looks.

I'd trust it.

While chit-chatting with everybody's favourite unicorn-turned-into-a-woman, Zaltar slyly takes the Omegahedron from his pocket. He rolls it over to Kara, so that she can make the demonfly come to life. According to the standard interpretation of the film, he does this because he's fond of Kara and just wants her creativity to flourish. Maybe so she can take his place as the hippie mayor of crystal town when he leaves (He's planning to leave.) Maybe because he's her biological father. Feel free to explore these motivations on your own time, since I'm only going to explain my crazy-ass theory. Get ready.

Zaltar is evil.

His plan all along was to give Kara the Omegahedron solely for her to lose it. He cursed the pirate-sword-toothpick so that the next thing it created after the white waffle tree (he was creating a white waffle tree when first we saw him) would be pure evil. Hence the demonfly. The demonfly is enchanted to send the Omegahedron to Earth through any means available to it. The fast way is to smash a weird paper window, use the truly bizarre and later completely unvisited pressure change to suck the Omegahedron into the trans-dimensional pathway and transfer it to earth. (I shudder to think of the slow way.)

Zaltar would then "gallantly" volunteer to use the binary chute to chase the power source to Earth. Hey, that's convenient! Zaltar's always wanted to go to Earth! Then, he'd kick around his new home while Argo City dies behind him. Clean break, mass murder, sweet new life, and a magical power source that will allow him to take over a back-water world full of nothing but a few billion feeble earthlings and one Superman. Who he probably would've had to fight if everything had gone according to his plan. And he would've gotten away with it, if hadn't been for that meddling Supergirl!

Instead, much as John McClane ruined everything for Hans Gruber, Kara completely fucks up the master stroke for Zaltar. The dragonfly busts through the paper window, the Omegahedron is sucked out. Zor-El shows up to give everybody shit, and Kara decides that she's going to brave the dangers of the binary chute and bring back the power source before everyone dies.

She basically hops into a bubble car and travels through "a pathway - from inner space to outer space." Which is, apparently, in a lake in Kansas. But more on that later. In the meantime, Zaltar explains much about how the binary chute works; and how even though everybody was pretty sure it would kill you like poison, it's actually quite safe. So that lends some credence to my 'Zaltar is evil' theory. Because who was the most likely to tell everybody that the binary chute would kill you? The guy who invented it. And why would he tell people something was deadly when it was not? So that he could kill them all and run away to Earth. It's pretty straightforward.

"Why is there a bottle of vermouth in here?"

Despite being assured that Kara will not die, Alura is still freaked out. She's concerned that the journey to outer space will mess up Kara's head. It's not a completely unfounded fear, but she actually comes back more awesome than when she left. So don't cry, unicorn lady. And Zor-El is just pissed off at Zaltar. I think he figured out the plan as soon as the binary chute was mentioned.

Zaltar, however, has no means of getting to Earth with his bubble car gone. So he can't just come up with some bullshit about going to get Kara back safely. With his only other option staying in Argo City, and hoping Kara comes back with his escape pod and the Omegahedron, Zaltar volunteers to be banished to the Phantom Zone. Now, I can understand if you're thinking that I'm exaggerating that a little to suit my version of the movie. But the dude straight up condemns himself to the Phantom Zone, I assure you. We all know how Kryptonian justice works, but in Argo City the mayor gets the final say. And the mayor says that the mayor has to go to the goddamned Phantom Zone.

Meanwhile, on Earth...

Peter Cook and Faye Dunaway are having a champagne picnic on a tiger skin rug. I did not make that up. Here is a photo.


They're discussing world domination, in that casual Sunday afternoon kind of way. The Impressive Clergyman suggests that the best path to world domination is invisibility, so thank god Sue Storm is on our side. He then gives us a recipe for an invisibility spell because he is a warlock. I always thought that this was a pretty good idea, having magic be the force that Supergirl fights. Faye Dunaway plays Selena, the main villain of the film, who starts out as an ambitious witch-in-training. Nigel - that's Peter Cook - is her mentor and lover, but she's just using him as a stepping stone.

Their Machiavellian picnic is suddenly interrupted, when the Omegahedron falls from the sky straight into their fondue. At least, I think it's fondue. I hope it's fondue.

What the hell are they eating?!

Selena gets to the wacky bauble before Nigel does, and it activates with her touch. It looks vaguely magical, so she tries a kooky incantation about immortality. Apparently deciding that wind machine effects mean magic, she declares her man nothing more than useless baggage and jumps in the car. Nigel wants to know how she intends to completely blow him off if it's his car and he has the keys.

She then uses the Omegahedron to start the car.

Blim. Blam.

I think shafting exes is a great use for the Omegahedron. I mean, it makes you wonder what Zaltar was going to use it for when he took over the earth. Because whatever it was, it can't top that. And it sure as hell beats supplying oxygen to a town that doesn't properly exist. It seems like an excessive waste of magic to me. Those chumps back in Argo City should build themselves a proper biodome.

When Selena started the car, she also started the radio. And we conveniently overhear a convenient news bulletin, about how Superman just happens to be light years away. Saving space hillbillies from space monsters. How convenient. I guess we don't get a cameo appearance from Christopher Reeve. The guy who starred in Superman IV. And Superman III. And decided that this movie sucked too hard to show his face in it...

Okay, the next scene is one of the ones I can't explain. And you'll notice that I have been working my ass off to explain everything. But this is one of the few aspects of the film that I've completely given up on.

Kara is still speeding between realities in her stolen bubble car. It's the standard Willy Wonka tunnel type thing, where there's shots of blood vessels and space clouds outside the windows. It's all kind of psychedelic, but certainly not psychedelic enough for this Doctor Strange fan. Anyway, we immediately move from the scenes in the bubble car, where Kara is wearing her Logan's Run outfit, to a shot of her power punching through the lake dressed as Supergirl.

So, somewhere between inner space and outer space you get a costume change. And that costume change happens to look exactly like the female version of your cousin's superhero costume. That was made out of his baby blanket.


Traditionally, in ye olde Kara Zor-El tales, her costume has a reason for looking like Big Blue's. She gets sent to Earth by her parents as Argo City crumbles. The plan is for her to find the son of Jor-El, but it's likely that he'll think she's some upstart punk and ignore her. You know how Superman is. So they give her a cape (baby blanket), like the one he had when he was put into the space-age Moses-basket capsule that brought him to us. To make sure that he'd realize that she was Kryptonian, and not another Brainiac or something.

But the movie doesn't even have this amazingly half-assed explanation, because Kara jumped in the binary chute with no prior warning. So, was there a Supergirl costume in the bubble car? If so, I have even more questions about what Zaltar was planning to do when he got to Earth...

I'm watching the International Version, which has some extra scenes that make the movie slightly better. But it also has 'The Flying Ballet', which is supposed to clear stuff up but doesn't. It's just boring as all get-out. Kara/Supergirl arrives on Earth and discovers that she can smash the rocks, bring flowers to life with her heat vision and fly. You might be thinking that having these scenes is better than just watching her shoot out of a lake and fly around Metropolis and it's many lovely suburbs. You are dead wrong, my friend.

On the one hand, I can see why cutting the scene was a bad move for the American release. It would eliminate the only acknowledgment that Supergirl knows she's a little weird. On the other hand, the ballet doesn't present the discovery with any insight. At all. It's like: "Hey, I can smash rocks. I can play with pretty flowers. I can fly. Neat!" There's no real revelation that she's different from the average Earthling, or fear, or confusion. So it's pretty much a standard conundrum in filmmaking - a scene that makes the movie confusing when it's cut, and boring when it's included.

Supergirl takes to the air, and flies over the Kansas countryside. Which looks more like California, but who'd notice except jerks like me? Maybe later we'll have a 'Vistas of Kansas' article, and I can go down to Vancouver and take pictures of Smallville. Have they ever actually gone out to Kansas to film there? I bet it's lovely country. As far as I know, it's full of sunflowers and really friendly Trekkies.

This is a real picture of real Kansas!

Quick question. If you were an evil witch and you needed a space with moody atmosphere, lots of space, removed from the general public, low rent and low maintenance, where would you live? If you did not select abandoned amusement park or abandoned carnival, you need to read more comics. Go do that now.

For the rest of you, Selena pulls her semi-stolen car up to the amusement park where she lives with her roommate, Bianca. Played by Brenda Vaccaro! She's not a UN Ambassador, but she is hella funny. I know her best from her sidesplitting performance in Zorro: The Gay Blade. Bianca is pissed off at the D.W.P, and suggests starting a coven to pay the bills.

Or you guys could get jobs? Maybe?

Selena decides to store the Omegahedron in a crazy-looking lead coffer shaped like a goat with boobs. For real. Even though I can't say the style of the box is to my liking, it's a pretty good idea. I mean, it's not like she knows a Kryptonian is looking for her flashy new gizmo; but in a post-Lex Luthor America, I would also encase all of my best stuff in lead. Particularly if it was integral to my evil plans for Kansas-wide domination.

First the nearest mid-size city - then the state!

Kara, in full Supergirl form now, flies into the city at nightfall. A dangerous time to be on the mean streets of a town with no heroes. That aren't lightyears away on a crazy space errand. I forgot to tell you, in my haste to describe his secret villainy, that Zaltar had given Kara one of those plastic bracelets you get at the old fashioned arcades. The ones where you trade the tickets for prizes, remember them? Anyway, it lights up when she gets near to the Omegahedron; and it starts flashing as she gets a little closer to the amusement park. She lands in the middle of a street, and finds herself in an unfortunate predicament. A couple of unsavory-types want to have their way with her.

A good portion of this film was paid for by the good people at A&W root beer. I think that they made a mistake, because the first time we see their logo, it's on the T-shirt of a potential rapist. That conflicts with the brand identity, in my opinion. Oh, and the scumbag in question is played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer. He was Max Headroom, for all you crazy old people who remember such things.

Damn it! Now I want root beer!

The assholes take notice of Kara's Superman-reminiscent wardrobe and berate her. One guy also tries to grab her ass, and she smacks his hand away. But, for some reason, her super-strength doesn't shatter his arm. I think it's a robot arm, and that both of these assholes are replicants. She ends up blasting one dude through a fence with her ice-breath, heating up the other dude's jackknife with her heat vision and then booting him in the nuts. With super-strength. Ouch, man - if he's not a replicant, he's going to wish to hell that he was.

Whenever she heats up the knife, I always wistfully recall Magneto. There's a guy who handles knives well. He uses his magnetism to pull it out of the chump's hand, let's it hover in the air and then slowly points it at his aggressor's throat. Traditionally. Occasionally, he stabs a guy in the heart.

Selena, who cannot control magnetic fields and is thus boring to me now, is hosting an excessive, over-the-top party. The way you only could if you were a witch living in an amusement park in 1984. There's obscure New Wave music, drinks on dry ice, a haunted house trolley and a bunch of women with enormous teased hair wearing ugly dresses. It is awesome.

She might not be Magneto, but she dresses like The Mandarin!

Nigel is one of the guests. That's right, she steals his car, calls him a loser, leaves him with a picnic basket and a tiger skin rug to carry home on foot and then invites him to a party. But that's not the weird thing. The weird thing is that he accepted the damn invitation. Conclusion? Nigel is shit at relationships.

He's all about pinning down the Omegahedron. What is it? Is it electric or magic? Is it hot or cold? Can he keep it forever? Maybe just the weekend? Come on! He gave you an afternoon of cheap champagne and questionable cheese spreads! Does that mean nothing to you, Selena?!

She tells him to go mingle with the other guests, and he decides that now would be a good time to grow a pair. Earlier, when he was walking home with his tiger skin, he saw Supergirl fly overhead. He cryptically tells Selena that her downfall will be blue and red and can fly. She gets a little cocky and decides to show off her new magic powers by lighting his cigarette with her finger. And Nigel's all: "Bitch, please. I have a storm demon trapped in a pocket mirror. Your little parlor trick is nothing to me. I'm George Spiggot!" And that is an exact quote. (No it isn't.)

But he really has a storm demon. Or is it a shadow demon? There are two demons in this movie, and they might be the same demon but it doesn't matter. The whole movie could have happened without them. And the weird thing about that? All the different, mangled cuts of this film and guess what they always leave in? The demons.

Anyway, Nigel decides to prove that he's a catch by strolling up to a blonde in hilariously giant red-framed glasses and a green frilly dress. He proceeds to put on the moves, which for him means talking about the bones of a red toad who lives in a swamp and is full of sorcery. That wasn't a joke; that's what he does. This apparently works for the blonde, and she's all ready to sex him up and hear more about his weird hobbies. I presume that she is an odd duck herself, since she's friends with at least one of the witches who live at the amusement park.

Selena gets pissed (lady, if you want to keep him around, stop treating him like shit) and uses her new magic powers to feed the blonde a scorpion. Real mature. Then she flips the poor, unassuming ditz upside down and makes her fly around the room. Nigel yells at Selena and she kicks him out, which begs the question - once more - of why the hell she invited him to this party.

Then there's a bunny!

I don't have a picture of it, because it was washing it's face and so it was moving to fast to capture a nice shot. But rest assured, it is adorable.

It's Supergirl's alarm clock. She decided to go to sleep in the woods, and I'm guessing it was because there were no truckers or A&W's there. Nice and safe. The bunny wakes her up, and we discover that the woods she decided to crash in are right next to the baseball diamond at Midvale All-Girls Private Academy for Girls. Or something. I can't remember it's proper name and I'm not looking it up.

Anyway, there's a lively baseball game in play. And there's also a nearby landscaper performing a life or death tree surgery. The landscaper is important because he drinks an enchanted beer that makes him fall in love with Linda Lee later on.

That wasn't a joke. That's what he does.

So, Supergirl notices the...

What?! Uh-oh...

Thanks to my long-winded Zaltar theory, this post is enormous. It's so big, it won't even autosave any more, let alone publish. So guess what? Multi-part Special!

Look for Part II tomorrow. Enjoy the suspense!


Carolina Dean said...

I found your blog doing some research on Supergirl. I just have to say that I effing LOVE this movie!

I read all five parts and it was so funny. I needed the laugh. Thank you.

K.J. said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it!