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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Smallville - The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-ray)
Smallville - The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 9, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted September 11, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Background: Is there anyone out there that hasn't heard of Superman? Seriously, aside from the box office success of various movies, a number of television series over the years, the popular series of comic books that started 70 years ago (you heard me correctly!), and other marketed materials, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would not have some understanding of the fictional character, albeit maybe not as much as a reformed comic geek such as myself. The character of Superman began on the pages of Action Comics #1 way back in 1938 as created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. As the years passed, the story evolved and became more complex but the basics always stayed the same; a baby sent from a technologically advanced race in another galaxy lands in a farm via spaceship; the last of his kind. As the years progress, his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, raise him with the kind of good old fashion values we here much about and they discover that he possesses abilities far beyond those of mortal man. By the 1960's, Superman had been so elevated by DC Comics in terms of abilities that he could fly faster than the speed of light, travel in time, move planets, and was immune to all but two things; magic and kryptonite, a mineral that followed the spaceship from his home planet. His super powers were derived from a combination of being from a larger planet and the effects our yellow sun had on his unique physiology, the specifics not germane to the dynamic of the character for most points of discussion. Several attempts to downsize his abilities later, television created the latest version of the so-called Man of Steel with Smallville; a show that largely returned to the roots of the character with Tom Welling playing Clark Kent, a young man discovering his growing powers in his hometown as he faces a series of increasingly serious threats to him, his family, his friends, and ultimately the human race. Now comes Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season in the high definition blu-ray format, a modest upgrade in visual elements though far from what a fan like me would expect given the increased cost, but worthy of consideration if you can get past the thematic short fallings of the season.

Series: Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season continued where the previous season had left off, an artificially created version of Clark derived from a sample of his blood (as taken over by a Phantom Zone beastie), replete with all his powers though with a few unique weaknesses as well. This imperfect version of himself is morally bankrupt but driven by similar human needs, not totally unlike Clark under the influence of red kryptonite being the best way to describe his mannerisms. Lex nearly dies but is saved by a mysterious blond hotty, Chloe sacrifices herself for Lois, and the season starts off with the proverbial "bang" as a result. Season Five had introduced Milton Fine (James Marsters) as an artificial construct too, a sentient computer with a variety of abilities that we soon realized was a villain called Brainiac and served General Zod in a scheme to remake Earth in the image of now destroyed Krypton to rule. Well, he is back and having been previously stripped of his powers, he seeks out the one being that can restore him to his former glory, providing another thread by which a Kryptonian living on Earth for many generations is brought into play. Sadly, that aspect of the character is dropped far too quickly and Brainiac himself is underutilized as the creators switched gears to emphasize Kara (babe Laura Vandervoort), Clark's Kryptonian cousin to appease the soap opera fans the series had picked up. The freak of the week dynamic long gone (except for the occasional episode), the arcs then showed an abundance of Kara in tight clothing, skimpy clothing, and even alluding to no clothing a few times in what must have been planned ratings boosters.

The overall plot suffering from these excesses, the seventh season showed Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) in diminished capacities, Lex surviving yet another tragedy in a poorly conceived moment that allowed him to take a bullet to his head (at point blank range) but survive due to the special gift instituted in a longstanding member of the cast. Cute moments with guest stars were few and far between, such as the return of Pete Ross (Sam Jones III) as a wannabe hero (again!), Dr. Curtis Knox (Dean Cain from the last television series on the subject) as a long lived predator experimenting on meteor freaks, and Helen Slater as Lara along with Christopher Heyerdahl as Zor-El bringing a slice of home life back to the erstwhile hero Clark. In short, the smaller arcs detracted a lot from the character building the show has long needed, the now-departed creators (Alfred Gough and Miles Millar) using an endless stream of potentially interesting characters on parade rather than address some of the shortcomings the series had as a result of boxing Clark into a corner too often. Major characters were killed off or sent away since their contracts were up (only Tom Welling and Allison Mack are said to be returning for any significant amount of episodes and Mack was nearly a casualty too), the new guys presumably about to launch season eight with less baggage to revitalize the series.

The time travel paradoxes, issues with Kara having to learn more about humanity firsthand (while already grasping the fundamentals of most of her powers better than Clark who grew up learning them), and another bout of Clark's powers fueling another character were simplistic. The Green Arrow (Justin Hartley as Oliver Queen) material showed some promise even with the horribly weak introduction of the Black Canary (Alaina Kalanj) in Siren, Clark being impersonated, and a youthful Lex trapped inside the mind of his older, meaner self sucked nearly as much as Kara losing her memory. The big thread of the season (at least according to the promotions last season) was the secret society called Veritas and Lex finally discovering what he had been searching for were all handled so unevenly that even as huge a fan of Superman as I am ended up rating this season as a Rent It (and I had long ago accepted the idiocy of the teen angst-ridden Clark focusing so much on his love life so that speaks volumes). Ultimately, the coming season has a chance to pare down the worst abuses to the characters since the beginning and the show having already jumped the shark (repeatedly), could salvage it with a bit more Lois Lane (Erica Durance) and Clark Kent going where they need to go. The lack of any Luthors (and their relations) might be just what is needed too, heresy considering how Rosenbaum practically held the show together for so long, and maybe a focus on substance over style will work a lot better (at least I hope so) this year. Here's a look at the episodes and airdates, noting the Blu-Ray release boxed set kept them in the same order, unlike some series' releases these days:

1) Bizarro (9/27/2006)
2) Kara (10/4/2006)
3) Fierce (10/11/2006)
4) Cure (10/18/2006)
5) Action (10/25/2006)
6) Lara (11/1/2006)
7) Wrath (11/8/2006)
8) Blue (11/15/2006)
9) Gemini (12/13/2006)
10) Persona (1/31/2007)
11) Siren (2/7/2007)
12) Fracture (2/14/2007)
13) Hero (3/13/2007)
14) Traveler (3/20/2007)
15) Veritas (3/27/2007)
16) Descent (4/17/2007)
17) Sleeper (4/24/2007)
18) Apocalypse (5/1/2007)
19) Quest (5/8/2007)
20) Artic (5/15/2007)

Picture: Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-Ray) was presented on three dual layered discs using a 1080p resolution and encoded in the VC-1 codec with the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio preserved. Having watched the series from the first episode and picking up the boxed sets over time (both standard definition, HD-DVD, and Blu-Ray where available), I was a little put off by the amounts of grain and soft focus this season had on display. The resolution was better than it aired on broadcast television but not by nearly as much as it should have been, the average video bitrate hovering in the upper teens (typically around the 17.4 Mbps mark though admittedly varying substantially), making it an expensive upgrade for those of you considering the far more expensive high definition version. There was some edge enhancement and moiré too, the black sections showing some issues as well some minor variations in fleshtones that came off as unexplainable. The special effects were similarly less than expected in terms of the upgrade, perhaps the Black Canary's voice effect being the only visually cool looking upgrade as the other effects looked like they were the victims not of a super villain but budget cuts (some of them making a few of the weaker effects on Heroes look superior by comparison). As I watch more Blu-Ray movies and television series, my ability to compare relative strengths and weaknesses grows so as much as I wanted this one to look superb, it was merely an incremental upgrade compared to how good it should have looked (and even though I'm a fan of the series, I'm not going to mislead you as others likely will when their reviews go live). My biggest pet peeve other than the minimal nature of the visual upgrade was how all the chapters were not directly accessible, the menu allowing the viewer to access the extras directly but not the episodes (at least as far as I could find using the menu buttons).

Sound: The audio was presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround in English with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. This was another area where the improvement over the broadcast was distinctive but modest, some separation between the channels noticed in the action sequences and the dynamic range elevated enough to notice but hardly in a state of the art manner. Rather than go with a lossless track, a 640 Kbps track was employed, plenty of room to really shine but not utilized as effectively as could be (and yes, a lossless track would have probably been overkill for the show but just as compressing the video less might have required a fourth disc, folks rightfully expect a company as mighty as Warner to kick ass compared to their competition, even if it costs a marginal amount more). The standard 48 kHz sampling rate was present too, the majority of vocals coming from the center channel as expected. The aural headspace of the show was nothing you would use to impress friends but for a modest television show on a third tier network, the balance between the music, vocals, special effects, and ambient noises was competently handled.

Extras: While most television shows on DVD have offered minimal extras and very few such series have come out on Blu-Ray, this was one of those times that some value was added by their inclusion. The first to mention was a small, 16 page booklet outlining the episodes and features of the triple disc set. While some of the descriptions were full of spoilers, they were brief enough to merit a favorable nod (other companies need to consider this kind of extra too). There was a note from series creators Miles Millar and Alfred Gough dated May 2008 (from Nashville, Tennessee no less!) that began as a cheerleading bit but thanked a lot of people and ended up explaining how they would not be returning for the future of the show. All due respect to the pair aside (for making it happen), I'd be lying if I said that they dropped the ball in increasing amounts over the years so some fresh blood might help restore the show to a better place (or get it out of its misery once and for all). On the discs, there were also some appealing extras, the creative duo joined by writers Kelly Souders & Brian Peterson in a commentary track for Siren (I think made well before their departure was finalized given their comments) where the quartet discussed the characters in the episode more than broader issues with the series. There was also an audio commentary by John Glover (Lionel Luthor), director Todd Slavin, and executive producer Ken Horton on Persona that was a bit fluffy in terms of content but worth listening to if you want to find out about some of the things going on behind the scenes. There appeared to be lots of very short (though rarely revealing) deleted scenes this time, including some for Cure, Kara, Fierce, Wrath, Action, Siren, Persona, Gemini, Traveler, Hero, Fracture, Sleeper, Descent, and Veritas. The featurettes were decent though with a special on Kara called Supergirl: The Last Daughter of Krypton showing her debut in comics through the movie and later generations (hence the skimpy outfits and sexual poses amounting to being styled on a Penthouse magazine dynamic) with Vandervoort and Helen Slater giving clips as well as some comic book production people (including the big guy at DC Comics!). There was a similar feature on Jimmy Olson called Jimmy on Jimmy where four actors that have played the cub reporter in movies or TV were present (Aaron Ashmore, Sam Huntington, Jack Larson, and Marc McClure). There was a digital comic book called Smallville: Legends that told a full story based on the characters, and a set of short animated bit on Kara's past on her home world called The Chronicles of Krypton that was cute (much the same way as the old Clone Wars cartoons from cable worked for the Star Wars universe). There is allegedly an Easter Egg or two to be found for those willing to spend the time and patience, and in all, I was happy that although the leads were not involved in several commentaries, at least it wasn't a bare bones release.

Final Thoughts: Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season continued the adventures of Clark Kent before he became known as Superman, doing so by way of Beverly Hills 90210 in terms of teen angst, and moving very slowly as if evolving the characters would jeopardize the franchise unnecessarily. Frankly, the way so many characters with great potential have been brought up only to be discarded prematurely, the way so many promising stories were tossed aside (or dropped altogether), and the limitless potential of familiar characters held back in recent seasons has made the show a guilty pleasure for me but I hold on for better times. This high definition, extras laden boxed set of three discs is as good as you will find at this writing though so check it out as watching the show in a couple of sittings did make it better than as a weekly experience (marginally) so give this one a look if you've been following it to this point but don't kill the messenger if it fails to live up to expectations.

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