Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s…. well, Clark Kent. When Smallville was first developed for television, the showrunners made a few conscious decisions that have, for the most part, been kept for the show’s first 8 seasons. There was a strict “no flights, no tights” rule that was in effect for anyone hoping to pen an adventure for the show. Everyone knows we’re talking about Superman here, but the term is avoided like a deadly disease. All of the familiar places and names are firmly in place, but make no mistake. This is the world before Superman began to make his presence known to the world.
For those of you who have been living under a rock since the 1930’s, Smallville was the Kansas farm town where young Kal-El’s space ship from the dying planet Krypton crash landed. He was discovered by Jonathan (Schneider) and Martha (O’Toole) Kent and raised as their adopted son. The series began with Clark’s high school years. Clark always had a crush on neighbor Lana Lang (Kreuk). In a nod to the 1978 film, Martha is played by Annette O’Toole, who played Lana in that second film. Clark’s high school friends include Chloe Sullivan (Mack) who is somewhat of a computer whiz and ace school paper reporter. Clark also befriends local billionaire son Lex Luthor (Rosenbaum) after saving his life. In these early seasons the characters would slowly build towards the eventual hero/villain relationship that Luthor and Superman would share. Lex Luthor’s father Lionel Luthor (Glover) would go from being a bad guy to a good guy and back again as the show progressed. Much of these early episodes dealt with Clark discovering his powers as he matured. Eventually all but the flight ability would surface. The show also took on a freak of the week aspect at times. It seems that while Kryptonite robs Clark of his power, it has created mutant powers in many humans who have encountered it over the years. Clark and Chloe would spend many a season tracking down and stopping these “meteor freaks”.
Tom Welling plays Clark, and he does an outstanding job. He has one of the best ranges of emotions without having to truly emote all that much. He’s a gifted subtle actor. Just the kind of person needed to play the duality of Clark Kent. It’s obvious that the Christopher Reeves films had a huge influence on the series. Welling looks more than a little bit like Reeves and could easily pass as a younger version of the same persona. There are other nods. The voice of Superman’s father Jor-El is played by Terrance Stamp, who was the powerful Kryptonian Zod in the first two films. The structure of the Fortress Of Solitude is also nearly identical to the film version of the Superman hideaway.
Now we enter season 8, and big changes came to Smallville. The first of these changes happened behind the scenes. The creators of the show and its guiding force for the first 7 years left to find other things to do. Al Gough and Miles Millar were the main creative forces behind the show. The new team consists of Brian Peterson, Kelly Souders, Todd Slavkin, and Darren Swimmer.
On camera there would be tons of changes. With Lionel Luthor dead, John Glover leaves the series as a regular. For me, it’s a huge loss. I’ve loved Glover since his turn as the Devil in the short-lived Brimstone series. Kristen Kreuk’s Lana would leave for most of the season. The character does return for a short story arc, but she is no longer a series regular. Clark’s cousin and the future Supergirl also leaves the show, meaning a goodbye to the attractive Laura Vandervoort. Again we’ll see her for a short return. But the biggest loss to the series comes because actor Michael Rosenbaum decided to leave the show. And while Lex Luthor’s presence is still very much a part of this season, the character does appear, albeit briefly, but not fully visible and not likely Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum and Tom Welling had such a great chemistry together that it was very much the glue that held this show together. The series would not have been able to survive this loss had it been earlier in its run. Also missing for season 8 is O’Toole as Martha Kent. She’s away being a Senator and is nowhere to be found.
With the loss of so many players and characters, there must certainly be some new faces. While not new, Justin Hartley joins the cast as a full on regular playing Oliver Queen, better known to comic fans as The Green Arrow. There’s certainly an even stronger push toward a young Justice League here. Also joining the cast is Cassidy Freeman as Tess Mercer. Tess is taking over Luthorcorp in Lex’s absence. She gets a pretty rich back story here and is not a character from the comics. It’s likely the name was an homage to Lex’s secretary in the first films and some of the comics, Miss Teschmacher. She’s just as strong willed as Lex and just as eager to discover Clark’s secret. The biggest addition has to be Sam Witwer as paramedic Davis Bloome. More importantly, Davis is also the infamous Doomsday, the villain who eventually kills Superman. It’s a slowly building story arc that expands from the previous season’s Braniac story line.
Beyond the cast, there are other big changes in store for fans. Clark is finally working at The Daily Planet with Lois (Durance) and Jimmy (Ashmore). Chloe and Jimmy are getting married. Lana returns to get a supercharge courtesy of an old Lex project. Clark has finally embraced his destiny and begins to patrol the streets of Metropolis. He’s known as the Red-Blue Blur based on an out of focus picture that Jimmy takes of him saving Lois.
Smallville is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image is brought to you from a VC-1 codec. Kudos to Warner for correcting a huge error in the previous Blu-ray release. They were squeezing 7 episodes plus bonus material on one disc. The bit rate was barely above DVD specs. What a difference just one more disc makes. One less episode on each and all bonus material pushed to the fourth disc which only has 4 episodes. Thanks you, Warner. Now we get something more worthy of this show. Colors are brilliant, particularly the primary tones. Of course, that means wonderful blues, reds, and yellows. Contrast is better than average, and black levels are good. What you come to high definition for is the detail, and you get it here. In fact one of the downsides is that the Doomsday creature actually looks pretty fake with this level of detail. Most of the time it only heightens the experience.
Smallville’s audio is presented in a disappointing standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 track. It’s likely identical to the DVD release. I’m not sure why there was no uncompressed audio provided, but the series certainly would have benefited from the inclusion. Instead we have a very mundane presentation which has to depict some rather incredible images. It falls flat for a Blu-ray release. Certainly dialog comes throw just fine. There is some rather aggressive use of surrounds on rare occasions. What really suffers here is your sub. Very disappointing, indeed.
There are a few Audio Commentaries on selected episodes.
There is a huge annoyance I need to point out here. The discs are not very well organized at all. First of all there is no main menu. After whatever startup screens there are, it goes directly to the first episode of the disc. Now, you can access the other episodes and bonus features through a pop up menu. A big warning here. Once the last episode has played, the disc goes into a 6 minute section of FBI warnings. 6 minutes you ask? Yes. The warning is provided in nearly 40 different languages. You can’t menu out of it. Your only recourse is to step through all 40 warnings. I get trapped here every time before I can get to the disc’s extras. Does Warner really think this is necessary?
Deleted Scenes: Many of the episodes have deleted scenes available on the same disc as the episode.
In The Director’s Chair – Allison Mack: (19:14) HD It’s common these days for shows that have long runs that the actors want a shot to direct episodes. Allison Mack gets her chance in the 8th season. This is a good behind the scenes look at her efforts. She seems on the ball and looks to have had a load of fun. Most of the cast and crew provided support and encouragement. Tom Welling, however, is conspicuously absent with any kind words.
Smallville’s Doomsday – The Making Of A Monster: (15:23) HD This feature begins with a little comic history of the character. It’s mostly about the suit, which I honestly didn’t find that impressive.
My final score drops the major rating based on the bad audio and the forced 6 minutes of FBI warnings.
Everyone knows Superman. He is a part of our modern mythology much as the residents of Mt. Olympus were for the Greeks. Like those tragic characters, there is a wonderful mythology that’s been built up from 80 years in the comics, movies, serials, television shows, and cartoons. Smallville does not always do a great job of keeping to that mythology. There are certainly a lot of elements that just don’t fit. You know what? It doesn’t seem to matter. We all know the story in one form or another, and it’s changed somewhat even in the comics over the years. In fact, even our Greek gods of history were not told with consistent stories over their reign in literature. This is solid entertainment with just enough familiarity to make us feel comfortable from the start. If you haven’t checked this show out, you need to end your holdout and join the rest of us on a true hero’s quest. “Because everybody needs a hero now and again.”