Warner Bros. // 2003 // 950 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // December 15th, 2004
Clark (to his dad): "The only life I'm interested in saving is yours."
Mr. Kent: "You do. You save my life every day that you're with us. We wouldn't trade that for a single moment without you."
Now that we are into the fourth season of Smallville, I remain amazed at how the creators of this show can take a universe that is known so thoroughly by so many people, completely turn it on its ear, and yet delight us all the same. With solid casting, excellent production values, and inventive storytelling, this series manages to re-envision the Superman mythos for a modern audience and expertly set up the circumstances for the type of adult Superman that was personified in the 1978 classic Superman starring Mr. Supe himself, Christopher Reeve.
This series has something for almost everyone, even fans of the comic-book Clark Kent. The in-jokes and foreshadowing that are worked into everyday conversations are there mostly for fans who can catch them. They aren't so obvious that the average viewer would think it sounds weird, and sometimes they are so subtle you have to listen carefully to recognize them, but they're there. For instance, in the episode "Perry," which introduces Perry White (Michael McKean), White says, "He's hiding something, Chief" to the Sheriff, and she snaps, "Don't call me Chief!"
Smallville retells the epic story of Superman, known on his home world of Krypton as Kal-El and on his adopted world of Earth as Clark, as a teenager growing up in Smallville, Kansas, under the loving care of parents Johnathan and Martha Kent. The Kents adopted him and protected his identity, hiding his ship and anything that could identify him as an extraterrestrial. Clark has only revealed his abilities to his best friend Pete, protecting his secret from the other people who are close to him: Chloe and even Lana, the girl he loves. In an interesting twist that has provided an intriguing dynamic on the show, Clark is very close with Lex Luthor, who is everyone's favorite supervillain in the comic book. Lex's father, Lionel Luthor, provides enough villainy to go around, even engineering the mental corruption of his own son this season in order to protect his own interests.
The core characters in Smallville all have intertwining story arcs that carry them to different places during the course of the season.
Clark (Tom Welling): At the end of Season Two, Clark disappears into his dark alter ego with the help of red kryptonite. He flees to Metropolis and takes up a life of crime. Eventually, he is freed from the red kryptonite by his father, and upon his return to Smallville he is forced to deal with the alienation of his friends, including his abandoned relationship with Lana, and his Kryptonian destiny. Clark finds out a lot more about his family history in this season, including an interesting connection with Johnathan's father, Hiram. One way or another, Clark will be isolated or outright separated from all of his friends this year, leaving him utterly alone and more vulnerable than ever to the machinations of Jor-El's will.
Johnathan Kent (John Schneider): Distraught at losing Clark and forced out of their family farm, he goes to the caves for answers. Jor-El gives him the ability to challenge Clark on even terms, but the price for that assistance may have devastating effects over the long term. Johnathan will be the guiding force for the family to rebuild their lives, but his own destiny in Season Three will put all of that at risk again, and at a very real and personal cost to Clark.
Martha Kent (Annette O'Toole): Always the heart of the family and the glue that holds them together, Mrs. Kent has to watch the two men she loves most in this world slip away from her slowly but surely: Clark, because he is becoming a man, making his own decisions, and dealing with the consequences, and her husband because he would do anything to protect Clark from Jor-El, including keeping his own wife in the dark about their arrangements.
Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk): After getting together with Clark and then losing him just as quickly in the previous season, Lana is hurt and unsure of how to proceed. Despite her feelings for Clark, she knows that he is keeping a significant secret from her, and his need to push her away doesn't help. After a serious accident, she realizes that being around Clark is more dangerous than she has ever let herself believe. This is the season where she takes decisive action and starts to carve out her own path.
Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack): Although she is reporting for the Daily Planet now, she is still under the thumb of Lionel Luthor. If she doesn't deliver the goods on Clark, she puts both herself and her father at risk, since he works at Luthorcorp. Her cliffhanger this season is about as volatile as it gets.
Pete Ross (Samuel L. Jones): Living with the knowledge of Clark's secret is taking a daily toll on Pete. He has to think about every conversation, watch every word. He even becomes a target when Lionel Luthor finds out that he may know more than he is letting on. His parents are divorcing, and his mother is moving to Wichita to take a promotion. His knowledge also leads him to exploit Clark's abilities when he suddenly finds himself $20,000 in debt to his street-racing sponsor. He know he has to make a change -- if not for himself, at least for Clark.
Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum): Lex goes through some extreme highs and lows this season. He is stranded on a desert island, the victim of a gold-digging wife who thinks he's dead, but makes it back to civilization and tries to get a fresh start. Unfortunately, when he starts investigating his family history, he uncovers a secret that causes his father to pack him off to a psychiatric ward for shock therapy that will erase his memory. Eventually, Lex decides to take on his father directly, hitting him where it hurts.
Lionel Luthor (John Glover): The elder Luthor is a man obsessed with finding out what Clark Kent may be hiding. He is convinced there is something going on at the Kent farm and in the Smallville caves, and he wants to know what it is, no matter who he steps on.
Notable guest appearances by Rutger Hauer as Metropolis crime boss Morgan Edge, Terrence Stamp providing the voice of Jor-El, Christopher Reeve as cave researcher Dr. Virgil Swann, and Michael McKean as burned-out journalist (and pre–Daily Planet bigwig) Perry White also brightened the Season Three storyscape.
Sprinkled throughout the six discs in this volume are an impressive array of extras:
* Commentary on "Exile" with actor Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) and executive producers Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Greg Beeman, and Ken Horton.
* Commentary on "Truth" with director James Marshall and actors Allison Mack (Chloe) and John Glover (Lionel Luthor).
* Commentary on "Memoria" with executive producers Al Gough, Miles Millar, Greg Beeman, and Ken Horton, and actor Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor).
* "Producing Smallville: The Heroes Behind the Camera" featurette: explores various behind-the-scenes subjects such as the proper way to make Lex Luthor look bald, creative re-use of set pieces, how they do some of Clark's super-powered abilities, planning episode sets and props, and cast and crew stories. This featurette contains some mild spoiler scenes from the later episodes,
* The Chloe Chronicles Vol II: features Allison Mack (Chloe), Samuel L. Jones (Pete), and even a brief appearance by John Glover (Lionel Luthor). These "webisodes" originally appeared as a weekly serial on the Internet, and conclude a series of adventures that follow Chloe and Pete as they investigate a mystery surrounding the disapperance of Earl Jenkins (Tony Todd, from the Season One episode "Jitters"). There is also a reprint of an online comic book that tells part of the Chloe story and also has a brief "extra scene" from when Lex is in the asylum and daydreams that Clark will come to his rescue.
* Gag reel: featuring actors cutting up and flubbing takes. Fans of Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) will get the biggest bang for their buck out of this gag reel, which includes several outtakes from his scenes.
* Additional scenes: "Exile," "Slumber," "Shattered," "Velocity," "Obsession," "Resurrection," "Crisis," "Memoria," "Talisman," "Forsaken"
* Disc Five hidden feature: Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) has some fun interviewing Steve Oben, wardrobe set supervisor.
Season Three is all about living with the consequences of your actions. Clark returns home and must confront the friends he left behind. Chloe finds out that she can, indeed, go too far across the line of decent journalism. Pete makes the wrong enemies, Lex puts his trust in the wrong man, and Johnathan Kent makes a terrible choice. Characters wrestle with their inner demons as often as they are confronted by external dangers and challenges.
Even with this dark turn in the storyline, there are still some "wall of weird" episodes, such as the boy who can manipulate magnetic fields and wants to run away with Lana Lang, and the teleporting girl who discovers Clark's secret when they are trapped in a broken elevator. In keeping with the theme of dealing with consequences, the episode "Extinction" deals with a non-enhanced teen who is waging a war on anyone mutated by kryptonite after his father is killed by Tina Greer.
A good part of the appeal of this series is the way that it can take its time telling the Superman origin story. Clark's powers manifest discretely, often in response to a particular stimulus or change. For instance, in the episode "Whisper," he develops his super-hearing ability after temporarily losing his eyesight, and we get to see him hone the ability, refining until he can selectively pick out noises and conversations at will. Also, his heat vision is more precise the more he uses it, to the point that he can now emit short bursts of heat or long, intense rays. It's interesting to see how these abilities evolve and are used on the show. We're growing with Clark, and so we feel like we know him more intimately.
Another thing Smallville does right is taking the Superman universe seriously. These are real people that we can relate to and believe in -- they just happen to be doing supernatural things. The characters have been realistically updated for the new century, as well. Because Clark will eventually go have a career at the Daily Planet, journalism and the power of the pen are large concepts in the Superman universe, which is in keeping with the decade that the comic originated in. However, in this age of 24-hour news networks, to say that newspapers are as powerful today as they were then would be ridiculous. Therefore, the main focus is on the school paper, The Torch. For a high school campus, the newspaper is a big deal. It works, and by extension breaking news in The Daily Planet works, too. It's a great setup that pays off well.
This season was also notable for the excellent way it would end episodes with cliffhangers that dovetailed smoothly into next week's installment. It may sound gimmicky on paper, but characters would be poised doing certain dangerous activities that would lead into future episodes, or even have a resolution a little further down the line. Earlier seasons tended to involve more encapsulated episode stories, with no continuing arcs to future installments. Not so good if you have to wait a week to find out if so-and-so will live or not, but great if you want a tightly paced, gripping drama.
Perhaps the expansive feel of Smallville comes from the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen release, which gives the series a cinematic presence that most television shows don't have. The video transfer is also stunning, with a clear print that has virtually no problems or defects. This is a very colorful series, with bright, primary colors being used for the all-American Clark, cold blues for the sinister Lionel Luthor, warm sunny tones for the Kents, and so on. All of these rich colors are deep and gorgeous in this print. Sound transfer is equally fresh and makes good use of stereo for big explosions and other sound effects.
As detailed above, there is a large amount of extras with this release. The episode commentaries are reliably thorough and detailed, with a lot of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and production information. In general, actors are upbeat and enthusiastic about their roles, and Michael Rosenbaum in particular seems to have a great time at pretty much whatever he does. Listening to him doing impressions of the crew is hilarious. I really enjoyed the production featurette, but I felt it only scratched the surface of what fans would like to see about the show. I could watch an entire featurette on just creating the kryptonite effects, for example. There were several deleted scenes, which fill in some interesting information for each of the episodes, including a completely scrapped storyline involving the FBI tapping Lana's phone at the Talon in order to get information on Lex. The gag reel is predictably fun, especially a part involving a friendly horse who seems to nudge poor Kristin Kreuk on cue in every take. Finally, The Chloe Chronicles is a web import that was shot on video and uses still comic book panels to fill in the scenes involving any new sets or characters that would be too expensive to bring in just for this short series. Although the chronicles continue from the Season Two boxed set, they are easy enough to pick up if you haven't seen the first batch and are an enjoyable extension to the Smallville universe, particularly if you are a fan of Chloe or Pete. I love the appearance by John Glover toward the end -- it's great that each of the actors takes these extras seriously and cares enough to stay in character and give a good performance even though they will be released straight to the low-res world of the Internet.
About the only moment of genuine "huh?" I experienced was when an FBI team forced its way into the Kent home and absolutely ransacked the place, throwing things around without a care in the world. Afterward, it looked as if a petite tornado had set down in their living room. Do these things actually happen? It seems unlikely...there is no need for investigators, crooked or no, to destroy property that they are searching. It seemed unnecessarily heavy-handed, designed to add drama and tension, but only distracting in its over-the-top intensity.
Another minor pet peeve: extremely hot chicks in nontraditional roles for Lex Luthor to meet and be betrayed by. Extremely hot computer chick in "Delete" is just the latest. Is it possible for Lex to meet a nice girl who doesn't work for his father and doesn't want to screw him over in some way? She can be hot, just not evil or crazy.
Smallville kicks ass, and it looks really good while it does so.
No, no -- put the kryptonite away...Smallville is free to go!
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 950 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary on Three Episodes by Cast and Crew
* "Producing Smallville: The Heroes Behind the Camera" Featurette
* The Chloe Chronicles Vol. II
* Interactive Comic Book
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* DVD-ROM Link to Website
* Smallville Ledger (Official Site)
* Official Site