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Smallville: The Complete Series

Warner Bros. // Unrated // November 29, 2011
List Price: $339.88 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted December 1, 2011 | E-mail the Author

The Show:


218 episodes.  A bun-numbing 154+ hours.  It's the entire 10 seasons of Smallville, the most successful TV adaptation of a comic franchise ever, and the longest running SF show in North American history.  Just in time for the holidays, Warner Brothers releases this deluxe edition of the popular show in an absolutely gorgeous set.  With 62 discs containing in two beautiful hardcover picture books along with ample extra material (including the unaired pilot to a proposed Superboy TV series from 1961) this is a set that will make fans eyes light up when they see it.


Most people who are interested in this set will probably be familiar with the show and the concept, so I'll try to make the description of the show relatively brief.  In October of 1989 there was a meteor storm that struck Smallville Kansas, doing a lot of damage to the town, killing several people (including the parents of Lana Lang) and depositing a spaceship with a small, naked boy into the middle of a corn field.  He's found by an infertile couple, Jonathan (John Schneider) and Martha Kent (Annette O'Toole who, ironicall, played Lana Lang in Superman III), who manage to adopt him (how they actually accomplished that is a storyline in the early seasons) and name him Clark.


Years later, the young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) is a student at Smallville High School and has become quite remarkable.  He's very fast and incredibly strong though he hides these facts from everyone except his parents.  The only weakness he has is to 'meteor rocks' the stones that fell from the sky along with his space ship.  They remove his powers, make him as weak as a kitten, and cause him great pain. 


The show is part adventure show, part teen drama.  As the show opens Clark is infatuated with Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) who is dating the football team's star quarterback, and is pals with budding reporter Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) who has a secret crush on the hunky Clark.  Other members of the Smallville community include Clark's best friend Pete Ross (Sam Jones III) and Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), the son of a very powerful leader of industry.  Lex arrives to manage one of his father's companies and decides he likes Smallville and stays.  After Clark saves his life the two become friends, though Lex isn't really sure how Clark was able to pull him from his wrecked Porsche after he hit Clark with it and they both plunged into a river.


The earlier seasons, especially the first, make it look like just a monster-of-the-week show, but it would be wrong to write it off so quickly.  Even in the earliest episodes where the writers were still getting the feel of the characters they came to life in a satisfying way.  Viewers quickly came to identify with the citizens of Smallville and that's why the show was so successful, not because of the super-heroics.  As a matter of fact,the focus of the show is not on Clark's super deeds, and approaching the story in this manner was a stroke of genius.  Instead, the program revolves around Clark as a teenager.  He has all of the problems that teens have growning into adulthood, in his case it's complicated by the fact that he's an alien with extrodinary powers.  And that is a major complication.  He needs to keep his powers a secret (this point is made clearly when another kid with abilities is trapped in a research lab and experimented on) but he also feels a responsibility to use them to help people.  Clark isn't just a younger version of Superman, he's a teenager.  He has some super powers, but others are just emerging.  He has to deal with how to control his abilities, especially the ones that are just starting to show themselves.  One of my favorite sequences is when he discovers that he has heat vision.  In a wonderful metaphor for something all teen boys experience, he can't control when powerful rays will shoot from his eyes, and it always happens when he's horny (which for a teenage boy is all the time).  He has to work and practice to get the hang of using his heat vision; it's not something that just comes naturally to him.  (This part is done very tastefully too, and is family-friendly.)



Another thing I really enjoyed about the show is that they also let time pass.  When the series starts Clark is in high school, but he moves on to early adulthood after season four.  I was really glad they did that.  Who wants to watch a 30-year-old sophomore?

While many of the episodes are excellent, this program does have more duds than I would have cared for.  There are some stories that leave you wondering 'what were they thinking?!?'  When Lana turns into a vampire is particularly awful and the episode where a kid who is magnetic uses his power to brainwash Lana left me scratching my head.  What?  How'd that work?  Don't' get me wrong, there are many more good installments than bad ones, but the ratio of good to bad episodes is a bit lower than in the very best TV shows.



I believe that the key to enjoying Smallville is to approach it as its own show and don't worry about how it fits in with comic book continuity.  Yes, it's fun when Perry White or Lois Lane make an appearance, and knowing that Clark and Lex will one day be mortal enemies makes some of the episodes bitter-sweet, but if you continually try to fit the show into the comic, or get irritated when the scripts contradict something that's been established for years in the Superman mythos, you won't enjoy the program nearly as much as you should.


The acting is very good across the board.  Tom Welling does a wonderful job as the teen of steel.  It's not an easy role, having to be convincingly meek in one scene and then heroic in the next, but Welling pulls it off wonderfully.  The one person who steals the most scenes however is John Schneider.  He's fantastic as Jonathan Kent.  Jonathon is a father that's firm but fair and obviously loves his son.  He has a Midwest wholesomeness that really makes his character interesting whenever he's on the screen.


There is one thing that I absolutely hate about the show.  One little item that makes me cringe whenever I think about it:  the theme song.  The beginning credits roll to "Save Me" by Remy Zero and it's awful on several levels.  The way they edited the song (it was originally on one of their albums) is poor.  It starts with the singer screaming "Somebody saaaaaaaaaavvvvve meeeeeeee!" which is really jarring when it first comes on.  In addition the alternate rock tune doesn't fit in with the style and feeling of the rest of the show at all.  Luckily there's a chapter stop right after the song ends, so you can easily skip it.


The DVD:


This set is really impressive.  The ten seasons arrive on an eye-popping 60 DVDs with two more reserved for extras.  Warners could have stopped there, but they didn't.  The 62 discs are housed in a pair of picture books.  Each page volume holds five seasons in pages which are illustrated with images from the show.  The pages are thick and sturdy too.  The only flaw is that the discs slide into pockets at the top of each page.  That can lead to scratching and wasn't the wisest choice.  Still the books look awesome, and they come in a thick slipcase that looks great on a shelf.


That's not all.  In addition to the copious extras on the discs, there is a pouch that contains an illustrated episode guide.  This book contains not only the episode titles, but a synopsis and key to where you'll find it in the set.  Measuring 11.25 X 7.75 inches, it's a nice size and the back cover includes a great shot from the final episode.


Also included is an edition of the Daily Planet newspaper.  This was much better than I was expecting.  This stapled, 16-page edition is filled with articles relating to the series.  The headline is "Superman Saves the Day" (naturally) and includes articles by Lois Lane, Cat Grant and other characters from the mythos.  There's a bit on LexCorp in the business section, superhero fashions by Cat Grant, and even comics and a crossword puzzle.  It's a very fun bonus item.   


Finally, these are all DVDs and there isn't a Blu-ray version available, nor is one scheduled.  This is going to irk a lot of fans, and if the comments on Amazon are any indication a lot of them are waiting for the HD version to arrive.  After all, seasons 2 and up were shot with HD cameras (if the IMDB is to be believed) and they've released season 6-10 on Blu-ray (and season six on HD DVD).  Why wouldn't they put out a Blu-ray version of this set?  While I have no inside information, my guess is that that a Blu-ray set isn't going to be released any time soon.  If they were going to put out a high definition Smallville collection, they would have done it at the same time as the SD DVD set.  This is so pricey it's not realistic to think that many people would double-dip later, and they'll certainly miss out on Blu-ray sales.


So what about a hybrid release?  Season 1-5 on DVD and 6-10 on Blu-ray?  While I would have loved to see that, I imagine that WB decided to forego that option because it would confuse Joe Six-pack.  No matter how you labeled the set, someone would be angry that seasons 1-5 weren't on Blu-ray, or that it didn't include both Blu-rays and DVDs for seasons 6-10.  It's simply easier to put it out the way that they did. 


So why not just make a Blu-ray collection?  Again, I'm just speculating here, but I believe that the post-production special effects from the early seasons were created in SD.  It's much cheaper to do it that way, but it means they'd look pretty bad in 1080p.  And while Star Trek has such a huge following that has lasted decades, Smallville doesn't have that type of track record yet, and WB probably doesn't want to invest the money to upgrade the SFX on a show that hasn't proven itself yet.  If I were a gambling man, I'd wager that this is the best we're going to get.




Normally I'd start out this section with mentioning which audio format the series is presented in, but it's not quite that easy with this collection.  Like Clark Kent himself, the series grows and gets more abilities as it ages.  The program starts out with a nice stereo mix.  In season four it progresses to a Dolby Surround Sound audio track.  Finally, in season six it matures to a DD 5.1 mix.  Looking back, I'm a little surprised at how long it took the show to embrace DD 5.1, but even the earlier seasons sound good.  Overall I was happy with the show's audio.  There's a good amount of *umph* during the action scenes, especially in the 5.1 seasons, and they made use of the full sound stage.  Even the first seasons had some nice sonic imaging, having the sound of Clark running at high speeds pan across the front and things that that.  The dialog was always clean and clear and the special audio effects and incidental music were mixed at an appropriate level.




Happily, the video is constant through these 10 seasons:  1:78:1 anamorphically enhanced.  The image looks pretty good in general too, for a DVD set.  The lines are tight and the level of detail is good.  I was pleased with the colors too.  While I didn't watch every episode before writing this review, I didn't notice anything that stuck out as being a major flaw.




This set includes all of the extras that came with the single season sets, and there are two new discs full of some cool extras.  So what do fans get?  More than 28 hours worth of bonus material in total.  The discs with the shows contain a wealth of material including  21 commentary tracks, unaired scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes ( I especially enjoyed Jimmy on Jimmy where past Jimmy Olsen actors met with Smallville's Olsen), digital comic books, and more.


The new stuff included only with this set should please fans too.  First off is Smallville's 100th Episode:  Making of a Milestone.  This featurette runs over an hour and looks at the making of one of the episode, naturally.  Next up are a pair of fun extras, A Decade of Comic-Con where 10 years of panels at the convention are condensed into 13 minutes (though it could have been longer, I really appreciated that they cut out a lot of the more boring parts) and Paley Fest 2004, a 24-miute interview with the cast and crew from that event.



The things I was really excited to see are also on this disc.  Aquaman is the 2006 pilot to a proposed series about the sea-dweller isn't a great, but it certainly isn't bad and the show could have been really interesting.  It's too bad it wasn't picked up. 

There's also a pilot from 1961 to The Adventures of Superboy staring John Rockwell.  The image quality on this piece is pretty bad, and they even framed it with an old TV so that the picture would be smaller and the defects less notable.  The show has that 60's Sci-Fi charm and is a lot of fun.


The next bonus disc includes a feature-length retrospective that looks at the entire series.  Broken up by season, the whole is quite an extraordinary look back at the show, chronicling the major storylines and talking to the cast about their roles.  It was interest to hear John Schneider (Jonathan Kent) talk about how he approached the role, looking at Clark as a special needs child, which he really was.  It's a nice tribute to the program (and they wisely skipped over some of the more silly storylines.)


The bonus contents are wrapped up with Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, an hour-and-a-half docu that looks at the history of the comic book company.  It's been released before (both as a stand-alone DVD and in the Batman Beyond Complete Series set) but it's nice to have it here.


Final Thoughts:


This is a great set that collects every episode of an enjoyable show.  I really liked the way that Clark Kent grew over these 10 seasons and this impressive collection does the show justice.  Not only do you get 218 episodes and some great bonuses, but it comes in a very eye-catching package.  Highly Recommended.


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Highly Recommended

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