Smallville: The Final Season [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (29th January 2012).
The Show

To bastardize a phrase: this is how the series ends; this is how the series ends—not with a bang, but a whimper. They say all good things eventually come to an end (or is that, “to those who wait?”—I forget, although its equally apt), but that’s true of bad things too. And ten years on, “Smallville” is certainly more bad than good. And I’m glad, quite frankly, that it’s over.

“Inspired by Superman” is really all you need to know—this wasn’t a series of the legendary Man of Steel, at least not while he was flying around in cape. And for a time, that was fine. “Smallville” worked as a prequel of sorts. An occasionally interesting reinvention on a classic character, updated with a youthful vigor and plotting based around angst-y high school antics. It also worked because Clark Kent (Tom Welling), the boy who would become Superman, but wasn’t yet, seemed human, or at least a lot less of the infallible alien God on Earth, whose only undoing is a green (or sometimes red) hued meteorite, than he’d been for most of the character’s lifetime. But, eventually, at least to me, as time went on—as “Smallville” survived the death of the network on which it aired and was a tent pole for the reborn CW network which rose from the ashes of WB, even living through a showrunner change in the process—the tale told began to grow old. Soon, Clark Kent was no longer the boy from Smallville. He was in college, and then, what’d’ya know, by season eight he was in Metropolis, working for Perry White (Michael McKean) alongside leggy Lois Lane (Erica Durance), as a reporter for “The Daily Planet”. He was Superman, but he wasn’t. And so the show had to spin its wheels and devolved into a sleepy primetime soap opera that was awful.

As I wrote in my review of season nine:

In the decade that “Smallville”—which has followed the exploits of a young Clark as he navigated through high school and then college, in the years before he would finally throw on the tights and cape—has been on the air, I’ve steadily maintained a like/hate/really hate relationship with it. As they always have, the cast provides solid performances. Welling is a damn good Kent; the remaining cast—Allison Mack as Clark’s closest friend Chloe Sullivan, Erica Durance as the lovely Lois Lane, Justin Hartley as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow and Cassidy Freeman as the Lex Luthor replacement, Tess Mercer—prove to be adept at their jobs, even if the plots and dialogue that they often get saddled with tries it’s hardest to make that an impossible task. Where the show falls apart—where the series has always fallen apart—is within its scripts, written around those damn repetitive, derivative plots that are steeped in melodrama and soap opera. You can almost pinpoint exactly what formula an episode is going to fit into these days before the opening titles, because some 200 episodes in, the show is now just on autopilot.

So, “Smallville” became Metropolis without the title change, and everyone knew that Clark would become Superman. But the story was stagnant—sluggish, inert, not going anywhere until Clark started wearing the tights and the cape. But that wasn’t going to happen, and it doesn’t happen until the tail end of this tenth and final season, because “Smallville” wasn’t a Richard Donner movie. No yellow, blue and red to be found; at least, not really. Clark was simply The Blur, a super hero, but not Superman. Executive producers Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson—taking over for the long-departed Miles Millar several seasons ago—kept the series going, allowing it to reach the 200-episode hallmark and bound on. But it was, and perhaps had never been, a well-oiled machine as it chugged along. Spewing sparks, and steam as it sputtered down the track of primetime rail, a hazy gauze like mist invading most of the heavily filtered scenes spawned in its wake, the “Smallville” machine was messy, and it’s creators mad. Yes, occasionally, the series had bits of brilliance—usually grand ideas, which never really in the long run, amounted to near as much the concept promised. And in season ten, that’s still largely true. Although better than the increasingly incoherent and frustratingly flat, if not occasionally outright offensive, season nine, ten is, as a final season of a long-running show, kind of a disappointment. Even if, for the first time ever, a “Smallville” season finale—also the series finale—delivered everything fans would want and more.

Although an amalgamative hybrid of Gordon Godfrey (Michael Daingerfield) and a reborn Lionel Luthor (John Glover)—aka Darkseid—is the villain around which the writers form their season-spanning arc—as was usual for the show; season nine was built on the pretense of Zod (Callum Blue)—season ten is really mostly about Clark realizing his destiny. And for that, the series is a little better. Several episodes simply cast off the soap-ish overtones and dive head first into heady themes: largely Clark’s struggle to find the balance between the human he learned to become—the things his dad, Jonathan Kent (John Schneider), taught him—and the alien abilities inborn into him—inherited from his father, Kal-El. But to what end? Clark becomes “Superman”. He gets together with Lois. One day, he’ll be wearing glasses and jumping into telephone booths to cast of his suit and tie, don the spandex, and take to the sky? Well, yes, actually, to all those things. And that’s fine, but so what? Did this series just spend ten years twiddling its thumbs to give everyone the ending—or, more accurately, beginning—that we already knew was coming? That we’ve already seen? I guess so. And that makes for some disappointing TV, especially because Sounder’s and Peterson can’t even fully commit to it, lapsing back into soap opera between the endgame-focused episodes (a whole subplot in season ten involves a rather messy handling of a twin-clone-love-child of Lex and Clark named Alexander, also known as Conner Kent (Lucas Grabeel), lapsing into some mind-numbing daytime soap leaps of logic).

As the final 22 episodes of the series, there should be something bigger at work throughout season ten, with not a moment wasted; but that’s simply not true of “Smallville’s” final push. Familiar plots are re-treaded; set ups seen from a mile away. Even some of the good episodes—like “Homecoming”, a series send up, with its heart in the right place, as a fantastic frenzy of fan-pleasing past-and-future glimpsery—seem mediocre in hindsight. Sure, it fits into the over-arching theme of season ten: the destiny and the future. But “Homecoming” is also just basically a flashy clip show.

“Smallville” is so bad at times that I can copy and paste some of my criticisms from season nine here and they’re still valid (which is exactly why I’m doing it):

I understand that they’re staples of the comics and movies, but do we really need three episodes this season in which one of the main plots is that Lois gets kidnapped, or so many of the stories based around Clark a) losing his powers, or b) going insane because of some variety of Kryptonite? The answer is unquestionably yes, because Supes/Clark is only vulnerable to a select few things (just Lois’ feminine ways and that green-and-sometimes-red space rock basically), but that doesn’t do viewers any good. Diversions into standalone episodes that rely on C-and-D-list DC heroes and villains, or no villain at all cheapen the show. I think it’s safe to say, “Smallville” is now thoroughly scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to supporting DC characters, and mostly by choice.”

All 22-episodes from the tenth and final season are included on 4 discs. The two-part finale is presented as a single 84-minutes feature here on Blu-ray. Typical of a Warner release, the simplistic menu offers up either a “play all” option or the choice to view a singular episode; not-so-typically, the various discs are linked via a dynamic index so the “play all” option actually acts as a rudimentary “season play” like feature. The episodes are:

- “Lazarus”—The words of Jor-El, the stunning secret of Cadmus Labs, a visit from Jonathan Kent—all portend an imminent ordeal for the man who will become Superman. But for now, Clark Kent is just a man with super abilities and he must needs to come to grips with the immediacy of the moment: Lois’ fiery doom!

- “Shield”—Heroes… or vigilantes? Cat Grant (Keri Lynn Pratt), Clark’s new desk mate while Lois is away, is among those who have negative opinions about secret superheroes. No worries though: The Blur will rescue her all the same—a rescue that gives The Suicide Squad a way of tracking the hero.

- “Supergirl”—Radio shock jock Gordon Godfrey channels a mysterious dark force, while Kara (Laura Vandervoort) returns to take on a task that Jor-El believes Kal-El will never be able to handle. Also, Oliver Queen, refusing to hide in the shadows any longer, makes a bold announcement to the world.

- “Homecoming”—It’s a blast from the past when Clark recalls old times as he and Lois attend their five-year reunion at Smallville High. Blast from the future: a reformed Brainiac 5 (James Marsters) time-travels from the 31st century to show Clark the heroic tomorrow he can embrace.

- “Isis”—After a mythically empowered relic transforms Lois into the might goddess Isis, rookie reporter Cat Grant sets out to reveal that super-powered Lois is… The Blur. Later, Clark makes a confession about his alter ego to Lois. Her response: “What took you so long?” (Funny: I found myself wondering this about a lot of things “Smallville”-related for two seasons now; also this episode is mystifyingly stupid and derivative of several older episodes from earlier seasons).

- “Harvest”—A meteor-rock religious cult hold two captives: one to sacrifice, the other too weakened by Kryptonite to do anything about it. Tess Mercer, meanwhile, may be captive for her good intentions, because Alexander is rapidly growing older, more mysterious, and more powerful.

- “Ambush”—Thanksgiving Day is such a relaxed, convivial time for family and friendship… not! Lois’ father, General Sam Lane (Michael Ironside), drops in unexpectedly for the holiday and clashes with Clark over the issue of super hero vigilantes. Also, Tess proves to be an able overseer for Watchtower.

- “Abandoned”—Connections to the past explain much about the present…and could shape the future. Tess meets the mysterious Granny Goodness (Christine Willes). Lois receives a video made by her mother before she died. And Clark has an inspiring encounter with Jor-El and Lara.

- “Patriot”—Oliver registers under the Vigilante Registration Act, and his fears are immediately realized: the act aims to identify, detain and destroy super heroes. But help is on the way for incarcerated Oliver, via Aquaman (Alan Ritchson), his wife Mera (Elena Satine) and Clark, with a big assist from Lois Lane.

- “Luthor”—He’s not Clark Kent. He’s Clark Luthor, and he’s a killer! While Clark Kent copes with his accidental arrival in a topsy-turvy parallel universe, Clark Luthor, a murderous and powerful look-alike from that world, takes his place in Metropolis.

- “Icarus”—Green Arrow intervenes in a mugging, and anti-super hero bystanders attack him. In the aftermath, the heroes go underground. Yet there’s still work to do. Meanwhile, Lois is held captive by a hero-hater named Slade (Michael Hogan), and Hawkman (Michael Shanks) joins Clark in the attempt to rescue her.

- “Collateral”—After the VRA traps them in a virtual reality so that their real-world powers can be destroyed, Clark and the other heroes must rely on the help of the person they trust least: Chloe, who had earlier abandoned them without explanation.

- “Beacon”—Martha Kent (Annette O’Toole) is targeted by an assassin at an anti-VRA rally, doppelganger Lionel claims Luthorcorp, and Alexander resurfaces with a vengeance, but videos supporting The Blur—submitted by real-life “Smallville” fans—give a discouraged Clark reason to hope.

- “Masquerade”—Clark and Oliver rescue Chloe from Desaad (Steve Byers) and the darkness, but the victory comes with a price for Oliver. Clark comes to realize that his true alter ego isn’t The Blur: it’s Clark Kent.

- “Fortune”—They’ll never forget the night they can’t remember. After Lois and Clark’s bachelorette and bachelor parties, everyone woozily scrambles to uncover what happened, and why Clark woke up with a lemur on his chest and Lois can’t find her engagement ring.

- “Scion”—Clark leans that clone Conner, aka Alexander, has his DNA and begins to mentor him. But will his lessons in might and right override the youth’s darker side? Tess and Lois uncover the flaw in Lionel 2.0’s cover-up.

- “Kent”—Give me back my man! Lois turns to Emil (Alessandro Juliani) for help after Clark Luthor traps Clark Kent in an alternate reality. There, the real Clark faces an angry and violent Jonathan Kent. Meanwhile, the evil alternative teams up with Lionel and has a Luthor-to-Luthor talk with Tess, trying to intimidate her into allegiance.

- “Booster”—Pompous Booster Gold (Eric Martsolf) arrives from the future, performing bogus heroics and launching media events to win praise as the greatest super hero. His actions inadvertently bring the ravaging Blue Beetle (Jaren Brandt Bartlett) to life, and only an act of genuine greatness can stop him.

- “Dominion”—Okay, who opened the portal to the Phantom Zone? Clark and Oliver enter the Phantom Zone to investigate and are forced to battle each other in a sweltering arena of gladiatorial combat overlorded by wrathful Zod.

- “Prophecy”—Jor-El gives Lois possession of Clark’s powers for few hours. The hours may prove costly: she falls under the mind control of the Toyman (Chris Gauthier) and is sent on a mission to kill The Blur. (I’m pretty sure half this episode already happened in season nine; or maybe it was season eight. Maybe it was both. Either way, it ends up being ridiculous retarded and a definite disappointment for a penultimate adventure, slopping anticipatory lead up dead in it’s tracks).

- “Finale, Parts 1 & 2”—Will Lois walk down the isle? Will Clark stand up to Darkseid? A familiar Luthor—yep, that one—resurfaces, as do several others from Clark’s past. But a hero in an outfit of red, blue and yellow also emerges. Look up, citizens of Metropolis. And long may the legend be told. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s Superman—purveyor of truth, justice, and the American way. And he gets three-quarters of a decent double-sized episode (with about another ¼ devoted to archival clips), yay!

Video

The switch to AVC MPEG-4 has smoothed out a lot of the compression problems (but not all) from earlier “Smallville” releases, but otherwise Warner’s 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps high definition transfer of season ten is as solid, if stylistically imperfect, as ever. Wearing its pulpy comic book origins proudly on its sleeves, the series is peppered with scenes where contrast runs hot and whites tend to bloom out of control far too often. Traces of aliasing, banding and edge enhancement also persist, leaving certain shots uncertainly rendered. But, on the plus side, the show’s unusual style does wonders for color—especially bold primaries—which are vibrant and bright, often bordering on complete over-saturation (although, as always, reds never actually bleed). The image has nice pop, surprising depth, and enough high def detail to consistently provide pleasing textures.

Since season eight, “Smallville” has been shot digitally in high definition with the Panavision Genesis, and as a result the image is entirely grain free—devoid of even the tiniest hint of celluloid ever entering into the production chain. The clean textures of HD video fit the show well, but like many a Superman film before it, “Smallville’s” HD video-based image is often curiously softer, particularly during the Fortress scenes, than one might expect. The occasional hazy glow to the picture is no doubt a side effect of post-production filters used to mask the show’s low-grade CG special effects; a wise decision. The filters, and subsequent general softness, keep the show from looking entirely cheap and TV-ish during its most vulnerable moments. But, at the same time the filtering can betray the production, casting an unattractive haze over everything. Unfortunately, this means “Smallville” isn’t a perfect, razor sharp presentation on Blu-ray—although it can be at all times, when the photography isn’t so filtered—and even if the look is entirely intended, it’s still distracting and makes the show less visually impressive than some of its contemporaries.

All creative decisions aside, this blu-ray release still isn’t without fault. Edge enhancement inflicts several scenes in several episodes, with noticeable halos around objects from artificial sharpening. I also noticed a few minutes of banding sprinkled throughout the season too. Make no mistake, the Blu-ray obliterates the 1080i CW-HD broadcast, offering a far more stable image than the airings could ever hope to provide, and I have to assume that by default the discs also make waste of their DVD counterparts, but there is no mistaking—no matter how could “Smallville” looks some of the time—the softness from the gauzy cinematography is damning at times. And it makes the series season ten look a lot older than it really should.

Audio

It only took four years, but Warner is finally releasing TV shows with lossless DTS-HD MA soundtracks. Too bad that half of “Smallville” has already been released on Blu-ray with its sound in Dolby Digital, and that the other half (seasons one-five) likely won’t ever get released on the format at all. Oh well, at least “Smallville” gets an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for its tenth and final release, a fitting send off, which sounds, in a word, awesome. Rumbling, ear blistering bombast with strong, near-Earth shaking LFE, generous use of the rear speakers, with great subtle panning and a wide casting of music and effects. Almost every episode has some sort of action, but even in the quiet moments the mixes deliver, with dialogue that is crisp and satisfying. “Smallville: The Final Season” is an excellent, if maybe even marvelous (is that okay to say in a DC property), aural experience. Each episode also includes Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 surround dubs and optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Extras

“Smallville” limps over the finish line with a supplemental package that would be weak for a normal season, let alone the final season of a network tent pole that ran for a decade. The 4-disc set contains two audio commentaries, two featurettes, several worthless unaired deleted and alternate scenes, and a music video. It should be noted that each one of the four discs is also equipped with Warner Bros. BD-LIVE, although, at this time no exclusive content pertaining to the actual series is available for download. All video based content in encoded in HD, although some of it appears to be up-converted.

DISC ONE:

Two episodes on disc one have deleted scenes:

- “Shield” (1080p, 36 seconds)—Lois packs her bags.
- “Supergirl” (1080p, 9 seconds)—a crow foretells a death.

Oddly, although encoded in high definition, the deleted scenes are presented window-boxed with time codes on the bottom of the frame. Earlier seasons presented the cuts in proper, full screen, mostly finished-quality. These don’t even have the proper color timing. Why did Warner drop the ball for season 10? Oh well, the scenes are as skippable as ever; even if they were properly encoded, they still wouldn’t be worth watching.

The first audio commentary appears, appropriately, on the first episode on disc one episode, “Lazarus”, with writer/producers Holly Henderson and Don Whitehead, and actors Allison Mack and Cassidy Freeman. They talk about the season premiere of the “final season”, noting references to the comics, touching on production woes, and discussing the characters and acting process. Amiable and listenable, this is a pretty solid track.

DISC TWO:

Disc two includes a deleted scene from “Abandoned” (1080p, 1 minute 49 seconds). Clark and Tess have a long talk about the orphanage, Granny and Tess’ past.

DISC THREE:

Two episodes on disc three have deleted scenes:

- “Beacon” (1080p, 3 minutes 2 seconds)—Tess worries about Clark’s disappearance. Chloe talks to Lionel via videoconference and Lionel and Clark Luthor have words.
- “Scion” (1080p, 1 minute 30 seconds)—Tess talks to a doctor about Alexander’s condition. Clark and Alexander talk in the Kent barn.

DISC FOUR:

Disc four includes two featurettes, a music video and the final audio commentary, not on the finale, but another lesser episode.

“Back in the Jacket: A Smallville Homecoming” (1080p, 19 minutes 44 seconds) is a featurette with executive producers Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders, director’s David Nutter and Jeannot Szwarc and other members of the cast and crew. It’s a surprisingly solid piece, as much about the making of the episode series’ 200th episode, “Homecoming”, as it is a neatly presented retrospective on the series itself. Fitting, as that’s sort of the theme of “Homecoming” in a nutshell.

“The Son Becomes the Father” (1080p, 16 minutes 51 seconds) is the lesser of the two featurettes offered on season 10. Several professors of psychology talk viewers through a discussion of psychobabble—some sort of deterministic logic to Lex and Clark’s parallel upbringing and how Lionel’s son became an evil a**hole and Jor-El and Jonathan Kent’s, a super-heroic man of steel. Michael Rosenbaum, John Glover, Tom Welling, John Schneider and others also appear to talk about the characters and their relationships.

A music video (1080i, 3 minutes 32 seconds) for “How Do We Do” by Swank, feat. Cassidy Freeman, Justin Hartley and Alessandro Juliani, has also been included. Like the deleted scenes, this is oddly window-boxed and clearly up-converted from a sub-HD source.

The audio commentary on “Dominion” with executive producers Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders, actor/episode director Justin Hartley and actor Callum Blue is another decent track helped along by an affable delivery and a stead flow of information. But, really, I have to say—this is a strange episode to have commentary on when the two-part finale is left completely neglected. I’d have gladly exchanged either this commentary, or the one on disc one, for a feature-length track (with Welling would’ve been even better) on the double-episode finale.

Packaging

“Smallville: The Final Season” comes to Blu-ray in a thicker Elite style case that houses 4 dual layer BD-50's (and a booklet). This is further covered by an outer slip-box made of cardboard, which slides sideways over the Blu-ray keepcase case. Like most Warner Blu-ray product, the tenth season of “Smallville” is region free.

Overall

Over. Done. Finito. “Smallville” ends with season ten, and it final run of 22 episodes are as inconsistent as ever. Although the overall arc is better handled than I expected, the show is still quite questionable at times. And I’m glad its over. The Blu-ray is a real mixed bag: the lossless audio is amazing, but the stylized video has issues (although mostly looks good) and the extras are surprisingly slim for a series celebrating last season. In the end, its worth it for fans, but, unless you’ve been following with hate in your heart (sort of like me) no one else should even consider renting “Smallville: The Final Season”.

The Show: C+ Video: B Audio: A Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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