Before comic book adaptations had earned Hollywood’s respect and television ventures like ‘Heroes’ had stormed the Nielsen block, the WB took a well-calculated risk on a television series that focused on the teenage years of the once-and-future Superman, Clark Kent. More than a simplistic teen drama, less syrupy than the WB’s heavy-hitter, ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ and fully determined to reinvent a seemingly sacrosanct comicbook icon, ‘Smallville’ became a legitimate hit for a network that didn’t have many to speak of. Of course, I could barrel through a detailed outline of the various ‘Smallville’ developments that led to its success, but I think it’s safe to assume most people reading a review of a television show’s seventh season are fairly familiar with the series as a whole.
After surviving his Phantom Zone imprisonment, a tyrant named Zod, and the emergence of a powerful doppelganger named Bizarro, Clark (Tom Welling) struggles to help his newly-arrived biological cousin, Kara (Laura Vandervoot), adjust to life on Earth. At the same time, new heroes like Black Canary (Alaina Huffman) arrive on the scene, familiar villains like Braniac (James Marsters) continue to plot Clark’s demise, and the still-evolving hero must deal with the effects of some unsettling Kryptonian technologies. Meanwhile, Lex (Michael Rosenbaum) finally begins to unravel the mysteries of the Veritas Group, a secret society that counted his father as a member. It all comes to a head in a climactic showdown in the Fortress of Solitude that, for better or worse, sets the stage for the series’ eighth season.
Overcoming villain-of-the-week monotony and teen-pop melodrama has been a constant hurdle for ‘Smallville’ over the years, but, in spite of a few staggering contrivances and plot holes that rear their head this season, the show’s creators do a decent job navigating previous pitfalls. They even make it clear that they have plenty of other stories to tell when it comes to Clark’s maturation. New additions -- Kara in particular -- and new revelations work well with the series’ established tones and themes. Old favorites like Bizarro, Green Arrow (Justin Hartley), and the ever-mounting Justice League return for some exciting, superpowered romps. Best of all, regulars like Lex finally get to chew some scenery and present a real threat to Supes and his BFFs. The best episodes this season really work to expand the mythos and add subtlety to the main characters.
Sadly, the seventh season’s best episodes make the more questionable entries a chore to sit through. Honestly, it feels as if many of the stories were haphazardly strewn together under an extremely tight deadline. A variety of subplots are initially intriguing, but are then inexplicably and abruptly cut off before they gain suitable dramatic weight. Likewise, the seeds of crucial character reactions and psychological hang-ups are planted in vital episodes, only to be abandoned before they bear any fruit. Worst of all, many of the season’s subplots are so ludicrous that they’ll probably leave you shaking your head in disbelief. You can blame the clumsy climaxes and fumbled arcs on the writer’s strike but, at the end of the day, bad writing is bad writing regardless of extenuating circumstances. Since the series is well into its final act, you would think its creators would be more invested in the big picture instead of meandering characters, pointless tangents, and disposable, low-level baddies.
Ultimately, much of the seventh season struck me as arbitrary. Too many Justice League mainstays are still nowhere to be found, minor characters are sometimes given more attention than the leads, and too many episodes are aimless and derivative. Five or six hours worth of solid material scattered across nearly two-dozen episodes does not deliver a rewarding experience. With key series regulars stepping away from the show’s eighth (and possibly final) season, the ‘Smallville’ creative team will need to work overtime to make sure the show goes out in style.
(‘Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season’ features all twenty broadcast episodes: ‘Bizarro,’ ‘Kara,’ ‘Fierce,’ ‘Cure,’ ‘Action,’ ‘Lara,’ ‘Wrath,’ ‘Blue,’ ‘Gemini,’ ‘Persona,’ ‘Siren,’ ‘Fracture,’ ‘Hero,’ ‘Traveler,’ ‘Veritas,’ ‘Descent,’ ‘Sleeper,’ ‘Apocalypse,’ ‘Quest,’ and ‘Arctic.’)
‘Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season’s 1080p/VC-1 transfer features a strong image that should please fans of the series. The color palette remains the standout star of the video presentation, rendering bold reds, vibrant blues, and chilling purples with ease. Contrast is also an impressive aspect of the release, providing viewers with consistently deep black levels and a respectable amount of image depth. Detail tends to soften every now and then, but still offers a notable upgrade from the DVD with sharper edges, more refined textures, and an obvious boost in clarity.
Alas, there are a few major distractions. Aside from the usual consistency issues most television productions share, this BD release is haunted by pervasive artifacting and light banding that intermittently invade the picture. Neither issue ruins the presentation per se, but they do make particular shots look too similar to those on an HD broadcast -- whether it has to do with the fact that up to seven episodes are crammed on each disc in this three-disc release is up for debate. Regardless of the cause, I do think ‘Smallville’ could look a bit better if the transfer was given more attention and the episodes more room to breathe.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track featured on ‘Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season’ has the same overall quality as the series’ previous high-def releases, but in a land flowing with DTS HD MA and TrueHD honey, it irks me that we’re still seeing barebones audio packages appear on prominent releases.
For what it’s worth, dialogue is intelligible and well prioritized, the surrounds have plenty of action to handle, and LFE supports explosions and power blasts relatively well. Unfortunately, the soundfield is a bit flat (the rear speakers are largely silent until chaos erupts on screen), the front channels dominate the mix, and directionality is imprecise at times. I’m tempted to reevaluate and rescore previous seasons for consistency’s sake, but that’s a slippery slope that would force me to return to more than a hundred other reviews.
My disappointment remains. Warner is habitually slapping tired Dolby Digital tracks on their discs instead of giving fans the lossless mixes they deserve. While it may not be as damning for a television show like ‘Smallville,’ there’s no excuse to toss a barebones track at people when better options are so readily available. Suffice to say, if you’re satisfied with the DD tracks on previous ‘Smallville’ BD releases, you’ll be satisfied with this one. Me? I guess I’m just a grumpy early adopter who expects more for my high-def buck.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season’ ports over all of the special features from the DVD and presents them in standard definition. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of extensive content but this season at least provides fans with a pair of competent commentary tracks.
’Smallville’s seventh outing feels a lot like ‘Heroes: Season 2’ -- key players are benched too often, several storylines lead nowhere, and the episodes are painfully hit or miss. When the show focuses on the central plot, ‘Smallville’ achieves a familiar momentum, however, when it focuses on paper-thin comicbook contrivances and bland mini-villains, it falls apart. Sadly, the Blu-ray edition doesn’t fare much better. With a strong but problematic video transfer, nothing more than a standard Dolby Digital audio track, and an underwhelming supplemental package, there isn’t a lot to justify the set’s cost. Uber-fans and completists will be moderately pleased with the results, but casual viewers will find this release to be fairly disappointing.