Superman on Television
"Smallville: The Complete Series" and "Smallville: The Final Season" DVD reviewReviewed by: Morten Hillebert Bay
A couple of months ago, this Smallville fan woke up with a permanent spit curl on his forehead. Now all he needs is to gain 125 pounds and 8 inches in height, and he will be a perfect Superman clone! I did not get properly introduce to Superman before 2010. As a relative new-comer to this whole fandom, I feel like I have to introduce myself a little bit. My name is Morten (pronounced sort of like the British would pronounce "Morton"), I am a Caucasian male, aged 18, living in Denmark, Europe. In my every day life I go to High School, and in my spare time (apart from Superman(, I sing in a choir, role-play, help out in Red Cross and finally I do low-level Karate. When I first watched Smallville I remember going into it thinking:
"This is just another TV-series, how can this possibly live up to those five theatrical movies that I have just watched."
How wrong I was. Smallville has been more than just a proper introduction to the Superman universe to me; it has been a bible to it. Some might say that thus I have a twisted view of Superman, but really Smallville is what made me take the leap of tall buildings in a single bound to other series, like Lois & Clark and The Adventures of Superboy, as well as taking the jump to the new 52, and comic books in general.
I finished watching the first nine seasons of Smallville just in time for the tenth season to begin, and by the end of the two-part "Finale", I had cried and laughed with Smallville, and it felt like I had been with the show as long as the hardcore fans who were there as the Pilot episode rolled over TV-screens all over the States that October in 2001.
And now, on to the review...
REVIEW:This review is mainly concerned about the US version of the "Smallville: The Complete Series" DVD box set as well as the recently released "Smallville: The Complete Tenth Season", specifically the extras included there.
"Smallville: The Complete Series" DVD box set comes packaged in a very sturdy card-board box, housing two hardcover "books" each containing 5 seasons on 30 discs, the second "book" also houses the two bonus discs, getting the total disc count to 62. Each of the "books" are filled with pictures from the entire run, related to the season presented on the given page. The discs are housed "within" the pages, each page hosting two discs. The discs are tightly fit, and a few scratches on the discs seem inevitable, unless of course you do as Lex Luthor would have done, and have a copy for watching and one for exhibition...
Also included in the set, is a richly illustrated episode guide and a copy of the Daily Planet. These are housed in a thin cardboard envelope with a different picture of Clark in his Smallville High varsity jacket.
A nice note to the collectors like me out there is that the discs are individually numbered from 1 to 62 and episode numbers from 1 to 218 according to their official production number (meaning that season 10's "Homecoming" is episode no. 200 and "Absolute Justice" and "Finale" are counted as two episodes each) and this adds a nice chronology that owners of the original releases will not have.
As I have reviewed the season 10 discs available in the "Complete Series" box set, I am unable to comment on the tenth season's packaging. However, I have heard complaints about the look of the case, as it breaks continuity with the look of the previous box sets.
Packaging - 5 of 5: When my set arrived the two "books" were upside down, and the envelope containing the episode guide and Daily Planet newspaper was placed after the two "books". A quick check of the paper covering the back of the box corrected this marginal error in packaging immediately. The discs of seasons 1-10 are exact copies of their original, individual releases.
The video presentation of Smallville on DVD has always been state of the art for a TV-series, and that makes the annoyance that "Smallville: The Complete Series" is only released on DVD (rather than Blu-Ray) a minimal problem for this fan. The transfer of seasons 1-9 appear to be the same as previous individual releases, but the quality of these releases are in no way low, and even the first season holds up better than some newer restorations from that period. The entire series is presented close to 1.78:1 (e.g., 16:9) in an anamorphic (matted) format. Some of the extras from earlier seasons are released in 4:3 television format, whereas the new extras are all in 16:9, though some of them are not anamorphically enhanced.
The Final Season is presented in 16:9 anamorphic format (as televised) and the picture is as clear as any cinematic presentation. The effects appear vivid and fresh. This is no less than what you would expect of a last generation DVD video.
Season 10 Video Presentation - 5 of 5:
Overall Video Presentation - 4 of 5:
Like the video presentation the audio presentation was near state-of-the-art quality for a TV-production, however the age is a bit more evident in the audio department, in that the first three seasons only have a 2.0 stereo track. The fourth and fifth season are presented with a Dolby Surround (Stereo plus one rear speaker) soundtrack, and only from the sixth season onwards are the DVDs presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack.
The overall sound mixes however, are very good, some even won the series an Emmy Award, and not even in the early seasons are there times when the lack of speakers damages the experience that is the sound design of Smallville.
The Final Season is (as the sixth season and onwards) presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack and this really helps to the cinematic scope of Smallville as compared to the shabby 2.0 TV presentation I watched earlier this year. Excellent.
Season 10 Audio Presentation - 5 of 5:
Overall Audio Presentation - 4 of 5:
And now what you've all been waiting for:
Note: This section covers the special features included in the Season 10 box set and the exclusive special features available in the Complete Series box set.
SEASON 10 SPECIAL FEATURES:
Rating - 4 of 5: Commentary on episode 197: Lazarus by Episode Writers/Producers Holly Henderson and Don Whitehead plus Allison Mack and Cassidy Freeman.
This commentary track is both informative and entertaining, right off the bat the actors have a chance to discuss their previous work over the "Previously on Smallville," and from then on the speakers talk about everything related to the episode. The commentary, unlike earlier efforts, succeeds at staying interesting and informative, while at the same time keeping a rather informal tone, that fits the people behind the microphone well, and gives us an insight into who they really are.
Rating - 3 of 5: Commentary on episode 215: Dominion by Executive Producers Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders and Episode Director Justin Hartley plus Callum Blue.
Another ensemble commentary. The most interesting thing about this commentary is hearing from first-time director Justin Hartley about his experiences as both an actor and as director, and he seems clearly relieved that he had time to record this commentary track. Otherwise, unlike the previous track, it seems like the four participants are overcrowding the audio-track somewhat, and apart from a few comments here and there Callum Blue doesn't have too much to do in this track.
Rating - 2 of 5: Unaired Scenes on Episodes; Shield, Supergirl, Abandoned, Beacon and Scion.
This is standard "deleted scenes" fare. There is nothing very interesting here, and none of the scenes seems essential or to cover some of those gabs that some would argue exist in the originally aired episode. Adding to this is the fact that many of the scenes are from episodes of almost the same theme and timeframe (e.g., Shield and Supergirl, and Beacon and Scion). Those previously mentioned scenes from "Finale" are sorely missed here.
The rest of the Season 10 specific special features are located on disc 60:
Rating - 4 of 5: Back in the Jacket: A Smallville Homecoming is a wonderful 20-minute look at the making of the 200th episode of the series "Homecoming". It covers all the essential making-of bases and especially the look at how the theme of "A Christmas Carol" was decided and how Brainiac 5 became the guide of the tour in Clark's past, present and future. The documentary includes interviews with all the important figures of the episode, including James Marsters, from whom it is always nice to hear from. I especially also liked the discussion of the great teaser with the student counselor.
Rating - 5 of 5: The Son Becomes the Father details the father-son relationships of Clark and his fathers Jor-El and Jonathan Kent, as well as Lex Luthor and his relationship with his father, Lionel Luthor. This most of all feels like a "Complete Series" extra, and could just as well have been among the exclusive in that set. However, when that has been said, it is not misplaced in the season 10 box set, and it definitely adds to feeling that you are standing with the final season of "Smallville" in your hand.
Overall an excellent package that is on level with previous Smallville releases.
COMPLETE SERIES SPECIAL FEATURES:
Note: The 100th episode documentary and the series retrospective seem to have been switched on the discs compared to the episode guide.
Rating - 4 of 5: Opening Disc 61 is Smallville's 100th Episode: Making of a Milestone; an extended version of a documentary available on Season 5's original release (also available on disc 30 of this set). Initially unclear whether this was an extended version of the episode itself or the documentary in question, this feature goes deeply into the making of this aptly named milestone in Smallville's historical run. As I have not yet found the time to watch the original documentary I have not been able to compare the two. However, as feature length film-documentaries go, this is in the high end and is covered in three parts: Preproduction, production and postproduction. The feature has no "play all" function, but this is a minor hiccup, as the entire thing is only three parts.
Rating - 4 of 5: A Decade of Comic-Con cuts together footage from the ten years of Comic-Con that had a Smallville panel. This feature is aimed at hardcore fans, and you get a feeling that all of the essential parts of these Q&A boards have been kept, while all the unimportant chatter has been cut. Oh, and cast members in nerdy t-shirts and the meeting with "Green Arrow" are great moments to be cherished.
Rating - 3 of 5: Paley Fest 2004 Event is an old interview conducted with much of the 2004 cast and crew of Smallville. For the new fan this will be interesting to watch while watching seasons 3-4, as much of what is talked about is obviously related to this time period. Still, it holds up nicely, and is worth a look. The overall quality of the recording however is disappointing however, and clearly TV-quality with apparent grain, and a camera man that apparently doesn't know the agenda of the interview, and can't zoom far enough out to view both the interviewer and the interviewee subtracts from the over-all experience.
Rating - 4 of 5: Aquaman, the pilot of that unproduced series created by Smallville Godfathers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar and starring a pre-Smallville Justin Hartley is quite good for a series that didn't get picked up. Personally, I liked the Smallville take on the character better, especially because the theme of the episodes that introduces the two "Aquamen" aren't all that different in theme.
This is also the best looking and sounding print of this episode that I've seen as of yet.
Here is to the CW picking up that Green Arrow pilot that we are hearing rumors of these days, preferably in a non-Smallville cannon, similar to this pilot.
Rating - 2 of 5: The The Adventures of Superboy pilot from 1961 is first of all an interesting first look at that second "lost pilot" that we have been "missing out on". Unfortunately, while I am happy to finally watch this pilot, it is apparent (even after watching some of the worse "The Adventure of Superman" episodes from the same period) why this series wasn't picked up. Featuring a boring cast, with the possible exception of Johnny Rockwell as a pretty suitable Clark Kent/Superboy. The forgettable plot includes robbers who receive plastic surgery to look like famous actors to steal the rare diamonds on exhibition at the Smallville theatre. A sub-plot about a Jimmy (not Jimmy Olson) who is not proud of what his father does for a living when giving an "oral essay" on class is even less interesting.
On top of this comes a sloppy presentation, which is a 4:3 picture of a 1960s TV-screen on which the episode plays. It seems like Warner couldn't be bothered to restore this piece of Superman history to a proper standard and chose the easy way out.
All in all, I'm disappointed.
Rating - 5 of 5: On Disc 62 we finally get to A Retrospective Look at the Series with Season Featurettes. This is why you'll want to lay your hard-earned income into the pockets of Warner, as well as the best reason to double-dip, which is why it is all the more annoying that I have no more to say about it than what follows:
The retrospective has interviews with most, if not all stars and guest stars from season 10, as well as many previous faces, including Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, and a happy inclusion of Sam Witwer, a long-time favorite of mine. Everyone has something important to say, and John Glover's vision of a Lionel that mocks Lex with his mane of hair and John Schneider's view on Clark as a child with special needs are lingering impressions of the amazing actors that participated in this great series. The return of Michael Rosenbaum for a few well-selected wise, albeit intelligently witty remarks gave me almost as many chills as seeing him in "Finale". Almost.
The feature is as the title implies divided into ten segments, one for each season. Once again, there is no "play all" function, but this is a minor annoyance, and does not subtract from the overall experience that is Smallville!
Rounding off the set is Secret Origin: The American History of DC Comics, a look at the evolution and history of DC comics. I had long wanted to watch this documentary, which is available in an individual release as well as other unrelated releases. I was happily surprised when this showed up on this set unannounced.
PHYSICAL SPECIAL FEATURES:
Rating - 5 of 5: The episode guide in this set is formidable. It is a small paperback in itself, and besides from simply showing which episodes are included, it gives the original (spoiler-filled) description of each episode, as well as original air date, and whether there is and audio commentary and/or unaired scenes attached.
The episode guide, like the rest of the set is printed with discs 1-62 and episodes 1-218, and also provides a quick overview of where which special features are located.
The guide is overflowing with beautiful color photos and production sketches, and in the words of on of my good friends;
"The paper is of such good quality that you just can't help yourself from wanting to rip it to shreds".
The guide opens with a written introduction from show-runners, Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders.
Rating - 5 of 5: This October 15, 2017 issue of the Daily Planet, newspaper no. 1 in Metropolis, is a quite brilliant item to round of this set. It contains articles, which not only succeed in reporting on things that, according to the time frame of the paper would be quite outdated, without making a mess of things, it also easily integrates itself into the Smallville universe. Better written than most Danish newspapers these days, it provides interesting reading for the old Smallville fan and new comic book fan alike.
Overall, this box set is one of the most magnificent things to come out in 2011, and definitely the most magnificent Superman-related piece of merchandise.
Rating - 5 of 5: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Morten Hillebert Bay
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