For comic book fans everywhere, Smallville has been kind of hit or miss. I mean, the show was designed to give us the early life of Superman and show us the road he took before he dressed up in blue and flew around with a cape. The tenth and final season will be airing later this month, but the ninth has just been released on Blu-ray and DVD. With 21 episodes on six discs, the DVD release is something fans will undoubtedly want to add to their collection.
I say it's something "fans" will want because, let's face it, this is the ninth season. Eight other seasons of character, relationship, and plot development have basically ensured that this boxed set is only for those familiar with the program. Personally I've been following the show since the beginning, and I've enjoyed it, though I must admit that things have become a bit stale.
Smallville has a way of making things drag on for far too long. The Clark and Lana drama, the building of distrust between the Luthor name and Kal-El, the meteor-freak of the week theme, the Clark embracing his Kryptonian heritage thing; these are things that have been around since the beginning of the show in 2001. When Lana stepped out of the picture for good, Lex was "murdered", and Clark finally began taking the heroics mainstream, I thought the show was really making moves to break out of its bad habit of clinging to things for too long. Unfortunately that's not really the case.
The ninth season really continues to drag things out. For instance there's a plot involving cloned Kryptonians (or Kandorians) led by General Zod that goes on for basically the whole season. They want to get their powers and be like Kal-El, but Earth's yellow sun just isn't doing it for them. There's a whole tug and war between Clark, Tess, and Zod, and the whole thing just feels nowhere near as strong or climactic as it could have been. Then there's a plotline involving a depressed Oliver Queen who drinks himself into the gutter. This could have been handled in an episode or maybe two at the most. Instead it stays for longer than its welcome.
It's these examples that stand out as the weakest elements of the season, though truly there are other little hiccups as well. Smallville is simply one of those shows that forces you to take the good and the bad together. Fortunately there's a lot of good.
The Clark and Lois angle is explored in a way that's far better than anything that ever happened with Clark's prior relationship. There's a nice bit of chemistry between the two and the writing handles the touchy moments a little tongue in cheek. The history between the two characters is already well established in comic and film, so it's nice to see the show embracing some of those roots. Even so there's a soap opera element to the whole thing at times that just makes it feel like it could have been better.
Some of the character development in this season stands out as well. In particular, I loved what they did with Chloe's character. Since the death of Jimmy, Chloe has become something of a shut-in. She's locked herself into Watch Tower and spends her day spying on the world and her heroes. She transforms the Watch Tower into a base of operations and devotes her life to doing whatever is necessary to save the world. Her character has a dark edge now and she withdraws to the point that she doesn't trust friends anymore; even Clark.
As far as the comic book side of things is concerned Clark is becoming more of a hero every day and adopts the nickname, "The Blur". It's lame, but it fits I suppose. In this season he has ditched his old red and blue and has gone with all black. There's also the Green Arrow skulking around, everybody's favorite Martian comes back for a bit, and there's an episode that features Hawkman, Dr. Fate, and flashbacks to the Flash, Green Lantern, and other heroes from DC's universe.
Peppered in between all of these elements (both the good and the bad) are formulaic monster of the week episodes as well. These are loosely connected to some of the plotlines in the show, but for the most part they are just filler and ways for the writers to stretch things out so they last for a full season. Personally I would have preferred a much tighter, sharper collection of episodes, but this late in the run I suppose that's not going to change.
If you have enjoyed Smallville up to this point then there's really no reason not to pick the ninth season up. It's easily recommended and the good still outweighs the bad. It's not the finest piece of television out there, but the comic book elements and super-powered antics are definitely crowd pleasers.
Though it doesn't offer quite as refined an image as its Blu-ray counterpart, the DVD release of Smallville's ninth season is no slouch in the looks department. The 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced aspect ratio continues to pack a punch. The picture is clean with very little film grain, colors are nicely saturated (though maybe a bit too warmly at times), and there's no compression or artifacts to complain about. Blacks are a little too strong here, though it was a purposeful move to maintain darker comic book elements. This is a sharp looking show that continues to impress.
Smallville's audio presentation comes in the form of English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1. The quality is very good and on par with something that fans would expect. The sound effects of Clark's abilities get a lot of the rear channel use along with the music, while dialogue is front-centric and doesn't offer much diversity on the soundstage. The quality of the sound is solid with dropouts or distortion. Crystal clear sound with very light immersion and some soft LFE make a track that is good, but not as great as it could have been.
For bonus features there are two audio commentaries. The episode "Kandor" receives a track with Al Septien, Turi Meyer, and Callum Blue. "Idol" features Erica Durance, Kelly Souders, and Brian Peterson. Both tracks were entertaining to listen to and provided more laughs than insight, but they are definitely worth checking out once you finish with the season. Eight episodes receive some deleted scenes, there's a featurette on Zod entitled "Kneel Before Zod" and a feature that focuses on the script to screen process for the episode "Absolute Justice".
Let's get one thing straight; Smallville is not high entertainment. It's popcorn munching campy superhero drama that succeeds at what it intends to do quite often, but is also groan worthy and painful to watch at times. This season is truly the best of both worlds. The long, drawn out storylines are unsatisfying and the first half of the season fairs the worst because of the clumsy build up. Fortunately the second half of the season is put back on track for a solid finish that saves the experience in the end. Fans that already have seasons one through eight in their collection will want to pick this one up for sure. Recommended.