Teenage Kara has lived all her life in peaceful Argo City, with her doting parents Alura and Zor-El. A small group of Kryptonian survivors has built a society upon an asteroid that was once part of their planet, and which now exists in “Inner Space” following Krypton’s destruction. Kara enjoys spending time with her mentor Zaltar, Argo City’s founder and an artist with a penchant for ignoring the oddly strict rules – like “borrowing” a key power source of Argo City called an Omegahedron. When Kara loses the Omegahedron, dooming the city’s inhabitants to a suddenly impending death, she impulsively climbs into Zaltar’s spaceship and follows the power orb as it breaks through the dimensional barrier into Outer Space.
Kara’s pursuit leads her to Earth, a strange planet where the friendly and not so friendly inhabitants give her frequent cause to flex her new superpowers while attempting to locate Argo City’s missing power source. Her arrival is just in time, for her cousin Superman is on a peacekeeping mission light years away, and there is no one to stop a determined sorceress with plans for world domination. Only the newly minted Supergirl can stop the magic-fueled megalomaniacal Selena and return in time to save the Kryptonian survivors.
After starring in DC comics for 25 years, Supergirl was launched to the big screen in 1984. The movie introduces her origins and tells of her “first great adventure” on Earth. SUPERGIRL is an heartfelt mid-1980’s fantasy-adventure for young audiences* with special effects on par (or better, in the flying sequences) with the SUPERMAN movies. The story sees Supergirl come to Earth in a quest to save her world, rather than to escape its impending destruction. This results in a self-enclosed story in which Supergirl’s goal is to return home, and save Earth along the way. This differs from the comics, where she adopts Earth as her new home and grows to adulthood while maintaining an active human identity.
While the Superman movies had a winking self-awareness which connected with the adult audience members, Supergirl and her nemesis, Selena, play their parts straight, with all the earnestness of youth. The movie is more fantasy oriented than the Superman movies and has some of the supernatural feel of Supergirl’s early 1970’s stories. It is campy and weird and best suited to young audiences who won’t question the often bizarre story and cheesy dialogue, but there are some scenes that mar this experience (below). The “international ” version is preferable to the extended “director’s cut” for these reasons.
Content warning: there is a scene when Supergirl first lands on Earth at night where she is approached by two leering truckers, one of whom flips up her skirt, in what is clearly a prelude to sexual assault. Supergirl quickly sends them flying, but the rapey vibe is distressing and inexcusable. According to the director’s audio commentary, this scene is intended to teach Supergirl that she can’t just “go around” openly in her Supergirl costume. (?!!!) There is also a deleted scene on the Director’s Cut where the drunken dorm monitor makes a sexist comment about Supergirl’s miniskirt.
The standalone SUPERGIRL movie offers us a very different view of the Super mythos and presents a picture of what a young girl might do if suddenly granted superpowers. As she samples the new-found delights that Earth offers and tests out her new superpowers, young Kara comes of age and rises to the challenge at hand by facing her own inner fears before defeating her external foes. The film is best seen in the context of 1980s fantasy-adventure films and should not be judged on how it fits into the world established by the Superman films, because it mostly doesn’t.
The score is a wonderfully inspired production by Jerry Goldsmith. In North America the movie never enjoyed the same commercial success as the first two Superman movies, due to the studio demanding cuts that resulted in a heavily edited 105-minute version. The home video release restores the full 124-minute version shown internationally. The movie was popular overseas, especially in Japan, where a laserdisc release came out before the movie even debuted in North America.
You can view an early version of the screenplay by David Odell at The Internet Movie Script Database. The script underwent numerous rewrites before reaching the final version seen in the film.
Behind the Scenes Articles
- Director Interview with Jeannot Szwarc
- Producer Interview with Ilya Salkind
- Behind the Making of the SUPERGIRL DVD
- Superman Cinema: Supergirl – background information on the different versions, analysis of the music, behind the scenes, and cinematography [archived from supermancinema.net/supergirl/supergirl.htm]