Superman is probably the most popular and longest-lived comic book character to ever enter popular culture. Over the years there have been numerous television and film adaptations of the character. Personally I’ve loved the Richard Donner Superman movies, as well as the television series starring George Reeves. I’ve even been quite fond of LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, although primarily during its first season. The latest small screen incarnation of The Man of Steel actually finds the character before he was even a man- depicting the teenaged years of Clark Kent when he lived in the Kansas town of Smallville.
As a television series, SMALLVILLE has managed to find an ideal mix of teen angst, romance, adventure and the early mythology of the Superman character. The show also has a slightly dark edge to it, which is what it needs to make it appealing to both a teen and adult audience. Of course, every single primary and secondary character on the show has an attractive face attached to it, which certainly isn’t hurting the ratings of this highly popular series. Now despite the pretty people that occupy SMALLVILLE, the acting is solid and the show is decidedly well written, even when it becomes a bit too reminiscent of a teen soap opera. The show even puts a slightly new spin on the tried and true Superman mythology, thus keeping the nearly seventy-year-old character fresh. Warner Home Video has issued SMALLVILLE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON ($65) on DVD in a six disc set that features all twenty-one episodes that comprise year one, along with supplemental materials.
Disc one contains the episodes Pilot, Metamorphosis, Hothead and X-Ray. Pilot starts off with a meteor shower that falls upon the town of Smallville, and then segues twelve years ahead to introduce a teenage Clark Kent (Tom Welling), who arrived on Earth in a spaceship during the afore mentioned meteor shower. During the first hour we also meet the pretty cheerleader Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), with whom Clark is infatuated, as well as Clark’s adoptive parents Martha (Annette O'Toole) and Jonathan Kent (John Schneider), plus best friends Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) and Pete Ross (Sam Jones III). The pilot episode also lays out the series’ ground rules, as well Clark’s burgeoning super powers, which enable him to save the lives of both his new friend Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and Lana’s boyfriend Whitney (Eric Johnson). Metamorphosis is sometimes aired as the second half of the SMALLVILLE pilot episode/TV movie and continues the story by explaining all the weird things that have happened in Smallville, as a result of the meteor fragments that showered down on the town. This segues into the show’s initial monster-of-the-week premise, beginning with the insect-like traits exhibited by a teen repeatedly stung by a large number of meteor irradiated bugs. Hothead is concerned with the short-tempered high school football coach, who develops Pyrokinetic abilities as a result of meteor fragments in his sauna. X-Ray finds Clark developing a new ability, one that allows him to see the true identity of a teenager who has the ability to change their appearance at will.
Disc two contains the episodes Cool, Hourglass, Craving and Jitters. Cool follows a high school jock that needs to absorb other people’s body heat after falling through the ice of a frozen lake and being exposed to meteor rocks. Hourglass tells the story of an elderly ex-convict who seeks murderous revenge after meteor rocks restore his youth. Craving finds a weight-obsessed teen needing to subsist on the body fat of others, after a crash diet of meteor-irradiated vegetables. Jitters features guest star Tony Todd as a man who begins shaking uncontrollably after being exposed to a green mist in the Smallville fertilizer plant run by Luthorcorp.
Disc three contains the episodes Rogue, Shimmer, Hug and Leech. In Rogue, Clark takes a trip to Metropolis, where a shady cop spies Clark using his super powers and begins blackmailing him. Shimmer finds Lex being threatened by an unseen individual who has distilled the secret of invisibility from meteor irradiated roses. Hug tells the story of a salesman who gains a real power of persuasion after exposure to meteor rocks, then convinces Jonathan to sell the family farm, just by shaking hands with him. In Leech, Clark finds out what it is like to be a normal human being for the first time, when a lightning strike and a piece of meteor rock transfer his super powers to someone else.
Disc four contains the episodes Kinetic, Zero, Nicodemus and Stray. Kinetic focuses on a teen gang that turn to burglary after they develop the ability to walk through walls, due to being tattooed with ink made from meteor fragments. Zero finds Lex being haunted by the ghosts of a deadly incident that happened three years prior. Nicodemus is concerned with a strange meteor irradiated flower that begins infecting the population of Smallville, all of whom start behaving erratically, then becoming violent. Stray tells the story of a mind reading youth that temporarily becomes part of the Kent family, after Martha hits him with her car.
Disc five contains the episodes Reaper, Drone, Crush and Obscura. Reaper is concerned with a young man, who is resurrected by a wristband made from meteor fragments, which imbeds itself in his body and makes his touch deadly. In Drone, Clark runs for class president, but the election is sidelined by a series of attacks on the various candidates by a swarm of meteor-mutated bees. Crush is concerned with a former Smallville High School cartoonist who looses the use of his hands in a hit and run accident, but then develops the uncanny ability to move things with his mind. In Obscura, Lana finds herself having visions after being caught in an explosion and showered with meteor rocks. Finally, Disc six offers the episode Tempest, which is a whirlwind of a season finally, where several tornadoes bear down on the town of Smallville.
Warner Home Video has made all of the episodes from SMALLVILLE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. SMALLVILLE is one of the new breed of television shows designed for high definition broadcast in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, but shown at 1.33:1 for standard definition. The DVDs represent a fusion of standard and high definition, with the episodes seeming a bit more cinematic in wide screen than they do in their 4:3 broadcast form. For the most part the episodes look very good; appearing sharp and rather well defined. Colors are vibrant and well saturated, plus the flesh tones are quite appealing. Contrast is very good for a broadcast television production. In addition, blacks are accurate and the whites crisp. Digital compression artifacts are noticeable if one goes looking for them, but they hardly call attention to themselves if one is absorbed in the episodes.
All the episodes that comprise SMALLVILLE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON come with Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtracks, which decode to standard surround. First of all, let me say I think the episodes would have sounded better if they were upgraded to 5.1, but otherwise, the sound is very good for a recent broadcast television production. The origin of the sound mix is clearly evident, especially in the pilot episode, which could have used a punchier bass channel for the meteor impacts. Music reproduction is where the track really shines, with the pop intensive track getting the full matrixed surround treatment and sporting very good fidelity. Dialogue is cleanly rendered and always completely understandable. A French language track is also offered for the episodes, as are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some supplemental features. Executive producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are on hand to provide an audio commentary for the pilot episode and (its continuation into) the second episode, while director David Nutter is on hand to offer his comments for the pilot. Disc six offers deleted scenes from the Pilot and Metamorphosis episodes, with optional commentary. A Storyboard To Screen comparison is also provided, as is an interactive tour of Smallville, plus promos for SMALLVILLE, plus the coming TARZAN series for the WB. Disc six is DVD-ROM enabled, with some other cool little features.
As a fan of SMALLVILLE, I am glad the show is making its debut on DVD. Warner has done a good job with the DVD release, with the wide screen versions of the episodes being far preferable to their 4:3 counterparts. If you are a fan, then you will want to pick up you own copy of SMALLVILLE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON on DVD.
reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied
or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.