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A Retrospective Review | 1997 STEEL Movie | Cinema Spotlight

MV5BODI1YzMxMjQtMzllYi00ZjFmLWI2MjQtNDMzNDJjZjQ4Y2UyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzc5MjA3OA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_It’s 1997, Tamogatchis are still a thing, Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” is stuck in your head, no one has really figured out how to play Pogs, and studios keep trying to make Shaquille O’Neil a movie star.  A year after the critical flop of “Kazaam”, movie-goers were being force-fed another Shaq-Attack in the form of “Steel”.  Based on the DC Comics property, “Steel” was brought to the silver screen after the hugely popular Death and Return of Superman comic storyline that had started in the Fall of 1992 and culminated in the Fall of 1993 which had introduced the new character of John Henry Irons to the DC mythology.  In the wake of Superman’s death, John Henry dons a full-body suit of armor that gives him superhuman strength, durability, and flight.  Feeling responsible for a plague of high-tech weapons that have been flooding the streets, Irons uses his new suit to clean up the streets and try to fill a void left by Superman as the hero known as Steel.

Sounds cool, right?  Like a DC Comics version of Iron Man who happens to wear a cape and Superman’s S shield on his chest.  I bet you’re thinking it’d make for a pretty great movie.  That’s what Warner Brothers thought too, so they greenlit a feature film that hit theaters on August 15, 1997, on a budget of $16 million dollars.  What may come at little to no surprise, the movie only recouped $1.7 million domestically and proved to be another critical failure for the studio after the catastrophic “Batman & Robin” which hit theaters just two months earlier that same summer.  But is the film really as bad as everyone has made it sound these last 20 years?

STORY: 

“Steel” opens in the present day as John Henry Irons (Shaquille O’Neil) performs a weapons demonstration for his commanding officers and the Department of Defense.  These new weapons supply superior firepower but reduce the risks of human casualties.  He’s joined by his friend & collaborator Susan “Sparky” Sparks (played by Annabeth Gish) as well as the shifty looking Nathaniel Burke (played by Judd Nelson).  In an effort to impress his superiors, Burke goes against John Henry’s orders and boosts the weapons to full capacity, killing multiple on-lookers and gravely wounding Sparky in the process.  After seeing the destruction his weapons can cause and the military’s refusal to abandon the program, John Henry quits and returns to his childhood home in Los Angeles.

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After the accident, Burke is court marshaled and honorably discharged.  Blaming Irons for his fate, Burke steals the weapon designs and brings them to a Los Angeles weapons dealer, partnering to distribute the next generation of super-weapons.  Once these high-tech weapons start being used on the streets, Irons takes responsibility for the destruction and enlists his uncle Joe (played by Richard Roundtree) and Sparky, who is now paralyzed from the waist down, to help him build a suit of armor to help him combat their weapons and clean up the streets.

At face value, the story itself adheres very closely to the source material of the comic books.  Looking at it objectively, the two elements missing from the comics are the presence of Superman and the fact that the story isn’t set in Metropolis.  There is a structured narrative that takes us through a beginning, middle, and end that makes sense and doesn’t leave us behind with broken plot threads that don’t make sense as other bad films do.  The core problem with the story is poor development and growth to create compelling characters and a complete lack of stimulating dialogue.  Characters are used to deliver details that take us to the next part of the story, but none of it serves to make them likable characters with unique personalities.  Everyone is essentially a talking cardboard cutout, save for Uncle Joe who provides some ever so brief moments of genuine comedy.

We’re never given anything in this film that makes us identify with John Henry Irons other than that he feels obligated to clean up the streets from these weapons.  The film never explores his internal struggles in taking on this challenge or how he’s processing all of what’s happening on an emotional level.  Some might argue that’s due to Shaq’s limited acting ability, but other characters in the film prove to give him the benefit of the doubt as none of them go beyond the clichéd façade they’ve been brought in to play either.  Sparky seems to be the only character who has any level of growth or adversity to overcome as she must learn to live with her new handicap and prove to herself that she’s still fully capable of achieving the same things she did before her injury.  Her story very much takes inspiration from Barbara Gordon’s arc in the comics and proves that we would have all probably rather seen a movie starring Sparky than Steel.

This movie is a perfect example to prove that just because you adapt the surface level elements of a character’s comic book origins correctly, doesn’t mean that you’ve made a good movie.  Where this movie plays more like a Saturday morning cartoon than a film, the comics gave the character of John Henry Irons a rich emotional depth and a great motivation to become a hero.  He wasn’t just creating this suit to combat weapons dealers but felt that he owed a debt to Superman for having saved his life and wanted to honor his sacrifice by giving the city another hero that they could believe in and know would protect them.  Instead of weighing audiences down with that “boring stuff”, instead we’re treated to 97 minutes of Shaq finger waving thugs for trying to shoot him in the crotch and running away (very slowly I might add) from the police, which happens to be the same one cop every time.  Perhaps the city of Los Angeles has had budget cuts?

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HISTORY:

When looking at this movie, it’s crucial to look at the time period it was released.  In 1997, Warner Brothers was fresh off the success of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever in 1995 and was enjoying the millions they were making in toy merchandise and sponsorships.  At the same time, DC Comics (which is owned by Time Warner) was still making big waves with a hugely popular run of comics that started with Death and Return of Superman and the Knightfall series running across all Batman titles.  Warner Brothers viewed this as a prime opportunity to bring more properties like this to the big screen that could work as established franchises and give them guaranteed hits that would sell at the box office and in toy stores.

Unfortunately, Warner Brothers had to learn the hard way that spreadsheet decisions such as this do not work.  After several years of trying to get a Death of Superman movie off the ground, Warner Brothers decided to green light “Steel” as Tim Burton commenced pre-production on the never-made “Superman Lives”.  Approached much in the same way “Batman & Robin” was, “Steel” was engineered to be geared towards kids from day one with a toy line and a likable sports star in the title role.  “Steel” writer/director Kenneth Johnson was best known for writing and directing episodes of television such as The Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Alien Nation.  This isn’t to say that television writers and directors can’t make the move to feature films, but ultimately, I feel Kenneth didn’t wholly understand the character or the world he is supposed to inhabit.  He seems to have approached this more like a “made for tv” movie and just concentrated on having a beginning, middle, and end for the narrative that kids would understand and enjoy, lacking any depth or emotional investment in the characters.

SPECIAL EFFECTS:

The ’90s were an interesting time for movies.  With computer effects starting to become more affordable and gain more of a presence, movies began to get more and more ambitious in their action sequences regardless of budget.  Produced by Joel Simon (X-Men, Wild Wild West), Leonard Armato (Kazaam), and Bruce Binkow (Kazaam), “Steel” went into production with a very limited budget of $16 million dollars, significantly less than the $125 million dollars of “Batman & Robin” or the $40 million dollars of New Line Cinema’s “Spawn” which had come out just 2 weeks before “Steel”.  Operating off such a limited budget didn’t provide the crew with many opportunities for a special effects film.

As mentioned previously, in the comics, Steel’s armor allows him to fly, have super strength, and near-invulnerability.  All abilities that were well realized and showcased in the 4 previous Christopher Reeve Superman films and 1984’s Supergirl, but even those films which had started coming out two decades earlier had bigger budgets.  So, when it comes to action and effects in “Steel”, everything is very limited.  Instead of seeing him fly, he rides a motorcycle and has a grappling hook, like Batman.  We also do not see any evidence of super strength.  The suit does provide a good amount of invulnerability to the weapons in the film, so long as you don’t shoot him in the mouth area since he has a mouth opening in his mask like Batman’s.

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Designed by Catherine Adair, the costume for Steel isn’t a far deviation from the comics but is yet another victim of the film’s limited budget.  Missing the cape, Superman “S” shield, and a level of functionality, the suit really resembles something that could’ve been made by a cosplayer in their own home instead of something made by a major studio.  Even the hammer, which in the comics is a massive weapon with a myriad of capabilities, looks like nothing more than a simple sledgehammer that for some reason fires laser beams and has a dog whistle (yeah, I’m not kidding on that last one.  Don’t believe me?  Watch the movie).

The effects of the weapons used in the film are very sufficient.  Most of the weapons are either lasers or powered-sound waves, so those are all relatively easy to make believable even for a film with a limited budget such as this one.  But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it helps save the movie.  It’s really more that it’s one of the things that are just “fine” with the movie.

The action sequences are ultimately very disappointing.  We’re not treated to any grand-scale fight sequences or fast-paced chase sequences.  Much of what John Henry does while he’s in the suit is grab thugs and lift them up, stand still in the middle of the street as they fire bullets at him, or stand still as he engages a function that turns his armor into a magnet and attaches their guns to his body.  Even in the third act, Steel spends five minutes on his back while Burke does his evil villain monologue.  We get a small handful of chase sequences, but nothing that you would equate to being in a superhero film as nothing substantial happens.

THE SCORE:

For all the bashing this movie gets on a fairly regular basis, we should give credit where credit is due.  Composer Mervyn Warren has composed some great collections of music for films like Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and The Wedding Planner.  With “Steel”, Mervyn created a very recognizable score for the film.  It uses a unique blend of an industrial-themed march with R&B motifs.

The main theme is constantly used throughout much of the film, giving the movie and the character identity.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s on the level of what we’d heard previously with other Superman family characters such as Superman or Supergirl, but it sufficiently provides a theme that is authentic to the character.  It’s heroic and honest, while industrial and hard-hitting which is who the character is in the original comics.

RECEPTION: 

When “Steel” opened nationwide on August 15, 1997, I don’t think anyone, including Warner Brothers, was very surprised by the poor reception the film received.  With a 12% Critics Score on Rotten Tomatoes, the film was in and out of theaters relatively quickly.  Given that the studio did not assist the film with an aggressive marketing campaign or even a trailer that made a clear message that this was a DC Comics character that was tangentially related to Superman, many audience members didn’t know what this movie was or that it even existed.

MV5BMTQ1MjI0Nzc5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA4NjYxNA@@._V1_People who did see the trailer instantly recognized the low-budget look to the film and were still freshly reminded of Shaq’s last film “Kazaam”.  Coming in at 1 hour 37 minutes, “Steel” was released into 1,260 theaters and was only in theaters for a couple of weeks until it was pulled out relatively quickly.  By the end of its domestic run, “Steel” only managed to recoup $1,710,972 and was pushed to VHS soon after, which would be how most kids would inevitably see the film.  In 2010, Warner Brothers issued a bare-bones DVD release through their Warner Archives Collection.  The DVD featured the original poster artwork, a lackluster description on the back, and no special features to accompany the film other than the trailer.  Even the menus weren’t given any level of identity or care.  When you pop it into your player, you’ll likely question if you’re watching a bootleg.

1.5 OUT OF 5 STARS: 

Let’s not sugarcoat this: “Steel” is a raging hot tire fire rolling down a hill that probably should not have been made, but not for the reasons that you might think.  This is by no means an unwatchable movie.  The story is competently told and offers morsels of interesting moments.  What inevitably broke this movie was a shoestring budget and an NBA athlete trying to be something other than an NBA athlete.  Growing up, I loved Shaq as a basketball player.  Again, as a BASKETBALL PLAYER, not as an actor.  Just because he can recite lines for an Icey Hot commercial doesn’t mean he can act in a feature film.  I have no doubt that this was very much an ego project that Shaq’s representation was able to convince Warner Brothers to make because Shaq is a huge Superman fan and saw this as yet another chance to do more than just dunk on a court.

It’s clear that Shaquille O’Neil was trying very hard to bring a level of enthusiasm and energy to this project and make it something special, to which I do give him credit, but as Dirty Harry Callaghan famously said: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  “Steel” is one of those movies much like “Batman & Robin” or “Super Mario Bros” where you can put it on with a couple of friends and have a good laugh with it, but if you’re looking for something beyond that, you’ll more than likely be disappointed.

On a side note, I would like to quickly add:  If you haven’t seen “Steel”, I actually recommend you do.  Not just because it’s nostalgic of the 90’s, but because it will better help remind you how far we’ve come in the genre of comic book cinema.  People are quick to complain about movies like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” or “Aquaman” not being everything they wanted them to be, but “Steel” will be a fresh reminder of what we used to have and how fortunate we are to be experiencing the level of care and quality we get in our comic book movies today.  And for the record: This movie is also nowhere as near as bad as the Halle Berry “Catwoman” movie.

RELATED: A Retrospective Review | 1984 SUPERGIRL Movie | Cinema Spotlight

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Shazam! Review | A Perfect Blend Of Humor With Heart

It’s no secret that 2019 is quickly gearing up to be one of the biggest years in blockbuster movie history.  With Captain Marvel having just released two weeks previous, and the 2019 reboot of Hellboy due out in 3 weeks with Avengers: Endgame to follow swiftly after, there’s no debate that we as moviegoers and as comic book fans are about to be washed over by a flood of new comic book movies.

Throwing their hat into the mix, DC Comics has finally brought a long-time fan-requested favorite to the big screen with “Shazam”, formerly known as Captain Marvel (but that’s a whole other story).  Starring Zachary Levi as the titular hero Shazam, the movie quickly gained the approval of fans through their trailers and TV spots, boasting a lighter tone than previous DC Comics-inspired films.  While Disney has been fortunate to enjoy consistent success across their multitude of Marvel Studios films since purchasing the rights in 2013, Warner Brothers’ DC Comics films have been extremely divisive, to say the least.  Critics and audiences alike have been disputing the merits of a darker, grittier approach to juxtapose the lighter fanfare of the Marvel movies, while others have been clamoring for something less serious and brooding with more color infused into the world they’re depicting.  “Aquaman”, which has recently enjoyed monumental global success and become the highest grossing DC Comics movie of all time, was the first to take a lighter approach to the DC characters in their shared universe and has been met positively. So, where does “Shazam” fall on the scale?

Directed by David F. Sandberg, made famous for directing horror films such as “Lights Out” and “Annabelle: Creation”, one might assume that he would follow in the darker footsteps of DC Comics directors like Zack Snyder, David Ayer, or even Tim Burton.  And in sporadic moments throughout the film, he certainly does, but how can you help yourself when dealing with sinister villains like the Seven Deadly Sins. However, Sandberg embraces the opportunity that a character like Shazam presents and showcases the fun of what would happen if a 14-year-old boy suddenly found himself with the ability to transform into a full-grown man with super strength, speed, invulnerability, and flight just by speaking a magic word.  Even though the character of Billy Batson is an orphan who has bounced across foster homes and developed a fairly large chip on his shoulder, the film doesn’t make the mistake of turning him into a bratty delinquent that audiences would have difficulty rooting for. Instead, Billy Batson is very much conveyed as a typical teenager with the same fears and insecurities that any teen would have, but must quickly learn and grow to discover the inner strength to become the hero he needs to be.  Showing this growth, both as an individual and as part of his new family, is what gets you invested in the character of Billy Batson from beginning to end.

As promoted by the director and cast alike, “Shazam” is very much that amalgam of Tom Hanks’ “BIG” meets the Christopher Reeve’s Superman, even throwing a reference to the oh-so-famous piano floor scene.  Zachary Levi brilliantly embraces his inner-child, letting us believe that he’s actually a teenager stuck in a god-like body and experience the fun of figuring out these new powers. He also embodies the modern-day expectations of a superhero by achieving the comic book accurate size and presence of this super-powered character.  Drawing further homage to “BIG” is the endearing friendship between Billy Batson and Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer. Levi and Grazer have great chemistry together, hitting the right comedic notes to continuously remind us that these are two kids who’ve found a proverbial winning lottery ticket and having as much fun as possible.  It’s their relationship that is the core backbone of the film and helps deliver on a very strong third act.

What may come to be the most criticized aspect of the film is the character of Dr. Sivanna played by Mark Strong.  This is not to say that Strong’s performance isn’t great, but he does fall into the clichés of many a comic book villain that, at this point in time, have become old-hat for most audiences.  Mark Strong brings a formidable presence to the role with his sinister look and menacing voice befitting any great comic book movie villain. I, myself, was most frequently reminded of Terence Stamp’s General Zod, again drawing a comparison to the Christopher Reeve era of Superman.  Infused with the power of the Seven Deadly Sins, Dr. Sivanna poses a legitimate threat to Billy Batson who soon learns that he’s not as invincible as he believed himself to be. Providing a polar opposite to bounce off of, Strong and Levi have fantastic moments of both verbal and physical sparring as we are treated to seeing two grown, magically superpowered men fight, all while one of them has the mindset of a teenager.

While many recent comic book films have been reprimanded by audiences for over-use of comedy to the point of feeling forced, “Shazam” does not fall into this category.  If you look at recent examples like “Thor: Ragnarok”, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”, or “Justice League”, these were films that would repeatedly undercut their more serious and dramatic moments by force-feeding a different joke every chance they had.  “Shazam” achieves that high-wire balancing act of equally distributing its comedic levity and makes it feel natural and organic, while also hitting those hard, emotional moments that make the characters very real and bring them back down to earth. The most poignant of these would be Billy’s past and his efforts to find his real parents.

Composed by Benjamin Wallfisch, the film is treated to a memorable score that perfectly captures the essence of the film.  With a bombastic use of brass and drums, the score thunders in like the lighting coming from the character. The triumphant use of horns really taps into the older era of cinema.  Again, drawing comparison back to Superman: The Movie, I was at times reminded of John Williams’ score for Superman in that you feel this operatic scale to the music that delivers well on the grandeur of the superhero it’s depicting.

Produced by New Line Cinema on a budget of $80 million dollars, “Shazam” has the lowest budget of the DC Comics shared universe films to date, but at no point does the film feel cheap or lacking.  Much like 2016’s “Deadpool”, you can see where the money is put on screen for the special effects and fight sequences, but these budget limitations clearly put Sandberg into a position where they needed to be more creative and have a stronger script and characters to support the smaller scale compared to its other DC Comics counterparts.  This isn’t to say that the action scenes are underwhelming, because there is certainly plenty to unpack and enjoy in the film, including a very entertaining fight in the climax that dials the movie up to 11, but when held up next to the epic scales of “Man of Steel” and “Aquaman”, “Shazam” does feel noticeably smaller but in all the best of ways.  Scaling things down and focusing on the characters was something that has been lacking in the DC Comics movies since 2013, and sufficiently proves that bigger isn’t always better.

4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS:  Much like “Aquaman”, “Shazam” embraces the heart and fun that comic book characters have always provided and represented. We’re given likable characters that are not only fun to watch, but leave us wanting to see more of them in the future. The movie captures the essence of the classic movies of the ’80s, letting audiences experience the fun of being a kid and wishing we could go on a similar adventure of having superpowers. While the film doesn’t break any substantial new ground in the genre of comic book movies, it succeeds in being a wholly entertaining film that delivers on the fun, excitement, and joy that we all look for in the movie-going experience. I would liken it to being an amalgam of Spider-Man: Homecoming meets BIG, meets Superman.  This is certainly fun that everyone can enjoy and should not be written off as “just more comic book schlock I can skip”. Oh….. and be sure to stay through the end credits as you will NOT be disappointed with who pops in!

RELATED: A Retrospective Review | 1984 SUPERGIRL Movie | Cinema Spotlight

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A Retrospective Review | 1984 SUPERGIRL Movie | Cinema Spotlight

Captain Marvel has hit theaters, bringing not only the next installment in what has become a decade long franchise, but also the first solo film outing for a female comic book character in their shared universe.  Many audiences and critics alike have been quick to draw comparisons between it and 2017’s smash hit “Wonder Woman”, most likely because people perceive a competition between the two colossal comic book publishing giants:  DC Comics and Marvel Comics.

But what about the OG solo female superhero movie “Supergirl”?  Written off by many as a box office and critical failure, Supergirl flew into theaters on November 21, 1984.  Produced on a budget of $35 million dollars by the Salkinds (yes, the same Salkinds who produced the Christopher Reeve Superman films), the movie only recouped $14 million domestically in the United States with no reliable information on what was made overseas.  But what made this film such a failure? And is it really as bad as most people make it out to be?

STORY:

The film opens on Argo City, a Kryptonian survival colony hidden in a secret dimension in inner-space.  It’s here we first meet Kara Zor-El/Supergirl played by Helen Slater in her debut film role. She is joined by her parents Alura (played by Mia Farrow) and Zor-El (played by Simon Ward).  It’s here that we also meet Kara’s teacher and mentor Zaltar (played by Peter O’Toole). It’s here that he explains how their city is able to sustain itself through the power of the Omega Hedron, a small spherical device of unlimited power and abilities.  While experimenting with the device, Kara unintentionally punctures a hole in the dome protecting their city, sending the Omega Hedron hurtling out into outer-space. Taking responsibilities for her actions, Kara hijacks a space ship and goes out into the void to retrieve the device against her parents’ wishes.

Soon we find that the Omega Hedron has crash landed on earth (because of course, it did) and it is found by Selena, a woman desperate to achieve world domination through magic & the dark arts.  Selena (played by Faye Dunaway) is aided in harnessing the power of the device by her friend Bianca (played by Brenda Vaccaro) and mentor Nigel (played by Peter Cook). In her quest to achieve her nefarious goals, Selena must gain the love and soul of a young landscaper named Ethan (played by Hart Bochner).  Supergirl must find a way to combat these three rogues and retrieve the Omega Hedron before Argo City dies.

At first glance, the story sounds very straight forward, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t more than a few elements of the story that ultimately don’t make any sense.  Riddled with plot holes and questionable character motivations, “Supergirl” struggles to tell a coherent plot to drive the narrative of the story. At various points throughout the film, you see Supergirl encounter a possessed bulldozer, she’s attacked by the weather, and Selena manages to summon an entire mountain to appear out of nowhere along with black-clad storm troopers on motorcycles to enslave the town of Midvale.  And what causes of these bizarre events? The McGuffin that is the Omega Hedron. From the onset, there are no definitive rules put in place to dictate what this device can and cannot do, so what inevitably ends up happening is that the Omega Hedron performs whatever outlandish task the writer and director needed it to do in order to create conflicts for Supergirl and get her to the next part of the story. Without an established set of rules, the movie quickly runs off the rails because your audience is more preoccupied with asking how something is happening instead of being invested in the characters or action that they’re watching.

The story clearly takes inspiration from the classic fairy tale-type stories:  a beautiful princess is separated from her family and must defeat 3 evil witches, all while trying to capture the love of her noble and handsome prince.  Add to this the presence of magic which creates fantastical elements such as love potions that were more than likely added into the script to gain the attraction of younger female audiences instead of young boys.

HISTORY:  

But how could a giant studio like Warner Brothers let something like this happen?  To understand that, you have to know the history behind this pre-production of this film.  Made in 1984, “Supergirl” was made just one year after “Superman III” had hit theaters and was originally planned to be a tie-in film that would be related to the movies starring Christopher Reeve.  This would create a strong launching point for the character of Supergirl to start from and provide an interesting story for Superman to participate in as he would be meeting his Kryptonian cousin. Unfortunately, Superman III would grossly underperform its predecessors in the Summer of 1983 and Christopher Reeve quickly developed cold feet in pursuing his part in “Supergirl” further.

With Christopher Reeve now off the project, director Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2, Santa Claus: The Movie) and writer David Odell (Masters of the Universe, The Dark Crystal) were immediately tasked with ejecting all of Superman’s scenes out of the story.  This proved challenging, given the short time before production was set to start and the fact that 70% of the story focused on Superman finding his cousin, training her to use her powers, and then becoming ill from Selena’s magic and Supergirl needing to save him and the Omega Hedron.  The script ultimately went through 5 rewrites before production started and would continue to get touch-ups while production was going on.

Once production started, Szwarc and Odell had reduced Superman’s presence to him only being mentioned in a radio announcement having left earth to negotiate a peace treaty on another planet several lightyears away and the shot of a Superman poster in Lucy Lane’s bedroom.  At this point, the only returning character from the Superman film franchise was Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen who appears in the third act as a love interest for Lucy Lane, Lois Lane’s younger sister and Kara’s roommate at school. 

The loss of Christopher Reeve as Superman meant losing more than just the built-in fan base, but also meant that instead of having a character building second act where Supergirl meets her cousin and is trained how to control and use her powers by him, she instead decades out of nowhere to enroll in an all-girls boarding school, leaving the audience to ask “Why is she going to school instead of looking for the Omega Hedron to save her people?!”  It’s clearly meant to help Kara develop as a character, but it’s a decision that ultimately doesn’t make any sense for the character given the stakes she is battling against. There are several more instances like this throughout the course of the film that were quite clearly rushed decisions that were made by Szwarc and Odell to just have a finished script that they could shoot and meet the release date for the movie.

SPECIAL EFFECTS:  

With the Salkinds producing the film and a strong $35 million-dollar budget behind them, they were able to utilize the same effects team who had worked on the previous Superman films.  “Supergirl” greatly benefits from the experience of this effects crew, utilizing techniques such as practical wire work, front & rear projection, blue screen, matte paintings, and miniature models.  All of these techniques were very polished by the time “Supergirl” went into production, so her flying sequences are among the best we have ever seen from this time period, some scenes even rivaling flying shots filmed for Superman: The Movie or Superman II & III.  The effects used for her heat vision, x-ray vision, and super hearing are also well executed. This was the strongest benefit for the film as all of these practices had now become mastered crafts by the effects teams since they’d been developing and perfecting these techniques with Superman since 1978.  If you are a fan of that era of special effects, then there is certainly a lot here to enjoy, especially her flying scenes done through craned wire work. Helen Slater trained vigorously to be physically fit enough to do those sequences herself and the level of grace and fluidity they were able to achieve truly creates the illusion of flight, perhaps even more so than effects used today in 2019.

THE SCORE:  

When everyone thinks of Superman, the first thing they hear is John Williams’ theme.  It’s THAT iconic. So, the Salkinds and Warner Brothers knew they had to get something on par to create a musical identity for “Supergirl”.  Jerry Goldsmith achieved worldwide recognition for his work on such films as Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He was originally hired by Richard Donner to compose the score for Superman: The Movie but was unfortunately made unavailable due to commitments on another project, thus John Williams was hired and the rest is history.

Jerry Goldsmith conducts a very heroic and bombastic score for the film, learning from what John Williams did with Superman and composing an opening march theme that would be the core motif used in the other tracks throughout the score.  The music excellently captures the punchier beats in the action cues but also hits those quieter pieces in the more emotional scenes. He doesn’t make what might be an obvious mistake by making it overly feminine or dainty because the movie’s main character is a girl.  Instead, Jerry makes a score that is befitting a hero and brings that epic scale and bombastic presence to the theme. It’s also very catchy (yes, it’s still stuck in this writer’s head as he types).

RECEPTION:  

As production drew to a close on “Supergirl”, Warner Brothers had financed the production of the film but decided not to put up the additional financing to distribute the film.  This created yet another challenge for the film that would ultimately be resolved by TriStar Pictures, but also create another obstacle. While TriStar bought the distribution rights to the movie, they thought the runtime was too long and felt that by editing it down to its bare nuts & bolts would better their chances to get more people into theaters to see the film.  What was originally planned as a 2 hour and 18-minute film, was now trimmed down to 1 hour and 45 minutes for the US release. Once this version started receiving negative backlash, a slightly longer cut was produced for Europe and Asia at 2 hours and 4 minutes, and is referred to as the International Cut.

“Supergirl” only recouped $14 million dollars in its domestic box office release and currently has a 10% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes.  Many critics point the finger of blame at the weak plot and bizarre plot threads that seemingly come out of nowhere, part of which was due to the restricted run time inflicted upon it.

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In 2006, the original print was found in the Warner Brothers archive labeled “Do Not Use” and was the original 2 hour, 18-minute Director’s Cut.  Anchor Bay released this version of the film in 2006 as a limited edition release to coincide with the release of Superman Returns.

Most recently, “Supergirl” was remastered and given a Blu-ray release by the Warner Archive Collection after WB purchased back the distribution rights.  The 1080p Blu-ray copy of the film is of the International Cut but includes a second disc which features the Director’s Cut on DVD and also the 1984 “Making Of” documentary.  

2.5 out of 5 Stars:  

This movie is broken, there’s no denying that.  But therein lies part of its charm. You can see that it is very competently shot, boasting beautiful production design and cinematography that is on par with the Christopher Reeve Superman films and the cast of actors are quite likable in the roles they play.  The effects are very well executed, even perfecting some of the flying techniques used in the previous Superman films. Where the movie falls apart is the story and it’s overly rushed editing. Lacking the sense of verisimilitude that Donner’s Superman movie brought to the character, “Supergirl” sadly falls into the mistake of thinking “this is a film for kids” and doesn’t try to bring a sense of reality or competent reasoning for what is happening.  Given more time to breathe and perhaps being able to utilize the character of Superman, this film could have been a lot better. I would say if you’re a fan of the Christopher Reeve era of Superman, then “Supergirl” is certainly worth a viewing, especially now that it is available on Blu-ray. But I would say that you have to go into it with the right mindset and know that what you’re about to watch is a cartoon. If you look at it through nostalgic eyes, it’s a movie you can have a lot of fun with, if not at least a laugh.  For the record: It’s nowhere near as bad as the Halle Berry “Catwoman” movie.

Related: New 52 Supergirl Volume 1: Last Daughter of Krypton | Comic Book Spotlight

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