Superman on Television
"Smallville: The Complete Series" DVD ReviewReviewed by: Marc Pritchard
Isn't life delightful? See, I'd sort of screwed up - not in an especially major way (because, well, no one got hurt), but I'd neglected to follow-through on a commitment I'd made to the Superman Homepage last summer to fill in a gap around reviews of good old Lois & Clark - reviews that didn't exist around here for either of seasons three or four.
Now bear with me: I have to tell you all of this in order to say something else. I was fresh off of writing for the Homepage about the final few episodes of Smallville (including a series retrospective) and felt full of associated momentum and loads of anticipation for where Superman was maybe headed in the months ahead - what with Flashpoint just starting and the then-still-pending "New 52" from DC. And maybe that was the problem: going back to Lois & Clark kind of killed all of that. I got all up-to-date watching to the end of season two and just couldn't go any further.
Sort of like the first time around. (Heh)
It didn't help that work got unprecedentedly busy, but the fact remains that whatever it was about Smallville that compelled me to watch it almost unendingly for the first several months after I belatedly discovered it is simply absent in Lois & Clark. A lot of it is Dean Cain - the man just isn't, to my observation, a credible Superman. And that's important, given how annoyed I was over the Smallville decision not to film Tom Welling in a suit for the finale - because I still think that's all they were trying to avoid: Tom looked unconvincing in the costume and somebody didn't want those images emblazoned in the zeitgeist.
(I mean, if that were so, I'd sympathize. A bit. Not enough not to be annoyed, I don't think, because I still just can't accept the official justification that the show was always about not Superman but Clark. There's a word for that and its name is equivocator. But I'd appreciate the nakedness of the honesty. It's no wonder, after all, that pretty much every movie based on the big guns of super-heroes since at least Burton's Batman have avoided literal tights for costumes.
They look stupid on real people.)
But anyway, life's delightful. I'd let too much time elapse without getting back to Steve, self-delusionally clinging to the preposterous notion that eventually I'd push through the Lois & Clark barrier and get that done, and had decided that it would now be downright rude to contact him without not merely a start on the reviews but a complete set of them for those final two seasons of L&C. Anything less, I told myself, would be uncivilized, or something.
I take it as a credit to his being positively steeped in Superman that it was Steve who made the next move, asking early in December not at all about Lois & Clark (reviews of which had anyway by then begun coming in from Rob Ó Conchúir, who looks to be doing a fine job) but about the Smallville Complete Series DVD set and did I want to receive the press kit and review the package for him?
That right there, folks, is a Superman move. Total understanding and forgiveness, and it needed to be acknowledged. Thanks, Steve.
Now let's get to it.
It's worth noting that my personal favorite "complete edition" DVD set of anything is the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition. Not only do the literally-extended film cuts do a much greater service to the books than their cinematic counterparts, but the documentary and other special feature content is, to my mind, second to none. Beyond the raw analogue to the books' Appendices, those six discs of features are not only deep and thorough but entirely consistent in tone and structure across the three individual films. I've watched the WETA Workshop segments in particular more times than I can count.
Compared to that, this Smallville set falls short. But, I'm pleased to say, not hugely so. At least, not for me personally.
And not for you, either, if, like me, you do not own any of the individual season DVD sets of Smallville. And that's important (in terms especially of my biases and whatnot) because, of the 62 discs in the Complete Series box, only two of them are actually exclusive to that box. All of the other 60 are quite literally the very same discs you'll find in the seasonal sets, just with new labels. I think it'd be a bummer not to be sure about that until after you'd made the purchase, if you already had the season sets.
That all said, the Complete Series set does have the undeniable virtue of being packaged very well and efficiently. The book-style disc cases - top-loaders holding four discs to a "page," two to a side - are smart and convenient and feature an internal mechanism in each slot that offers a bit of temporary resistance when inserting discs into them, in turn providing the satisfying assurance that the discs are indeed safe. Spread across two such books (one blue-spined, the other surprisingly-not-red-but-brown), each of the 62 discs is easy to access not only individually but also in general. What's more, they'll take up much less space on your shelf or in the moving box or wherever you store/display/put this sort of thing in your home.
Also included in the box (it's a proper slipcase, really), tucked in to a kind of dossier, is a semi-gloss Episode Guide that catalogues the contents of all 62 discs and a special Daily Planet newspaper, featuring stories that revisit some of the series' main story arcs and complications. The Planet stuff is almost useless intellectually - it might be more engaging to an over-educated and serious old curmudgeon like me if it was actually written in news-style, but sadly it seems the popular confusion between news and editorial content in daily newspapers gets no relief here (see the wrap-up stuff in Straczynski's Earth One for more of this sadness). However, secure in the dossier with the Episode Guide, it serves the distinctly necessary function of filling out the slipcase.
In fact, that's really the only problem I can see with the packaging on this thing - if you lose the dossier or its contents, the books will no longer fit snugly into the slipcase, rendering it useless. Sure, in a situation like that you could stuff some non-Complete Series DVD stuff in there, but you know as well as I do that it just wouldn't be the same.
Then again, it could be better. Who am I to pre-judge your heartfelt substitutions?
I won't bother to go into any detail on the content of the first 60 discs - the season set duplicates. You can get details on their contents elsewhere and anyway that would take far too long. I will say that I was disappointed that all of those discs were simply duplicates, right down to the menus and everything. I can't say I was exactly surprised by this, of course, and the disappointment dissipated pretty quickly given that I don't, as mentioned, have any of those discs and haven't before seen all of the special content on them. Standardized menus would have been a strong and relatively simple update, but c'est la vie.
The exclusive stuff, however, warrants discussion.
On the whole, it's reasonably good. Unlike the gold standard Lord of the Rings features, it has no rhyme or reason to it other than to be "special." Luckily, most of it is. In fact, of the bunch, I'd say only the Adventures of Superboy pilot and the "Making of a Milestone" documentary underwhelm.
Adventures of Superboy disappoints for two reasons: (1) for being the worst Aw, shucks kind of stuff I've ever seen and (2) for the fact that most of the screen is taken up by the illustrated image of one of those really old school, wood-encased floor-model 4:3 televisions, so that what arises is the wholly post-modern experience of peering over the screen of your laptop, taking notes (if you're preparing a review and taking notes), at the screen of your widescreen television on which is a static cartoon of a completely obsolete television, as though to remind you that the almost-completely-unwatchable Superboy production being shown thereon comes from a time before widescreen and subtlety in filmed acting.
"Making of a Milestone" is just an extended version of the Season 5 DVD set's not-quite-identically-but-close-enough-that-it-might-as-well-be-identically-titled feature. Didn't even finish it the second time around. Been there, etc.
(And you and I both could do without the bizarre capitalization in the Episode Guide's description, also expanded from Season 5's much simpler "Creating the Episode Reckoning" to "Chronicling the Creation of the Episode Reckoning - with More Material Than the Version Released in the Season 5 Set"...you actually long for a few exclamation points lined up at the end of that...- but then again I'm dealing here with a press package whose included press release refers to series star Erica Durance as Eric, so maybe grammar is the least of anyone's problem.)
But, so, yeah. Everything else is either great or at worst passable.
The "Decade of Comic-Con" and "Paley Fest 2004" segments contain lots of great moments with the cast and crew in public. This stuff is never very deep or probing, but it's nice to see the actors interacting with each other and the fans as themselves instead of their characters.
The Aquaman pilot was surprisingly compelling, but then again I have always appreciated Ving Rhames' work. What struck me as most noteworthy, in context, about this bit of storytelling is that it does in 40 or whatever minutes what it took Smallville ten years to do - get the hero on board. By the end of this pilot, Aquaman has not only come basically to terms with his nature but is ready to submit to a trainer's will. This is surely what Smallville would have done had it been called Superman - and all other indicators suggest that the stories probably would have been identical but with different characters and environments. Were Millar & Gough behind Wonder Woman and is this the story they were trying to write over there? Inquiring minds want not to have to think about it.
The season by season documentaries on the final disc are expertly produced and strike a reasonable balance between self-congratulation and self-criticism in terms of the included commentary. Using the classic alternation between episode excerpts and clips of interview footage with cast and crew, this stuff doesn't exactly answer the questions most burning in the back of my mind since the series ended but does meet practical expectations. That's not to say I find all that convincing the explanation in the Season 8 segment ("Reinvention") that they killed Jimmy in order to correct the mythos-derived discrepancy in his age in comparison to pre-Superman Clark, in light of all the other discrepancies the show seemed only too happy to perpetrate. (So that, even if you say them backwards, they won't go away. Ahem.)
But couple that with the revealed decision to have Aaron Ashmore play the "real" Jimmy Olsen in the finale's coda so that he, Aaron Ashmore, would be forever recognizable in the zeitgeist as the "real" Jimmy Olsen and you surely can't help but writhe in discomfort at the costs paid by art to business.
Finally, Secret Origin: The Americas Story of DC Comics documentary is so good I've already watched it twice. But I've got a broad enough interest in comic books generally - and come to Smallville more from that interest, and obviously Superman's centrality to it, than anything - to appreciate that one anyway. It's also available elsewhere, and no doubt much more inexpensively than in this set. But do yourself a favor and check it out one way or another, even if you don't buy the Smallville Complete Series DVDs.
If we were a rich man...
So, it's like this: If I already had all or even just a good proportion of the seasonal DVD sets of Smallville, I would have no trouble passing this over as a purchase. However, anyone who's been thinking of buying the DVDs would do very well not to buy the individual seasons and opt for the Complete Series instead. I don't see much point in those who already have the seasonal discs also buying this set, but then I don't really see the point in neckties (even though, truth be told, I own a few nice ones) so I'll have to leave that call up to you.
Because we like to think in numbers around here, let's go for a rating:
Rating - 4.75 of 5: Not much in life, however delightful, is perfect. Besides, even if I'd had to pay for this thing, I think I'd be happy with it. Over to you, dear market, for the final word.
Back to the "Smallville: Episode Reviews" Contents page.