Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a superpowered teenager in Smallville: The Complete Series! At long last, the fan-favorite super-drama about the early years of Clark Kent and his best friend and worst enemy Lex Luthor comes to Blu-ray. All ten seasons stack into 40 Blu-ray discs with two extra DVDs for legacy bonus features. The first season is upscaled from the original SD broadcast masters, but as the show progresses things look a whole lot better in full 1080p. Each episode is also blessed with impressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mixes. Tack on hours upon hours of bonus features - this is the collection fans have been waiting for. Highly Recommended.
In 1989 a meteor shower changed the tiny farm community of Smallville - and the world - forever. Nestled amongst the meteors was a small space capsule containing the last child survivor of a distant dying planet. Jonathan and Martha Kent (John Schneider and Annette O’Toole) pluck the boy from the rubble and adopt him as their own. Now in his tumultuous teen years, Clark Kent (Tom Welling) must navigate the difficulties of high school life while keeping the secret of his powers from his crush Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), his best friend Pete (Same Jones III), the school news hound Chloe (Allison Mack), and his new friend, mega millionaire Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum).
Smallville was one of those shows that was just right for its era. Comic Book movies and shows weren’t the major franchise money machines they are today - the last couple Batman movies saw to that. 2000’s X-Men was still considered a bit of a fluke. Blade was a modest success but the sequel hadn't come out yet. Outside of animation, there wasn’t a lot to compete with. A show aimed at teens about the early life of Superman was a smart shot to take to appeal to a wide audience instead of the Wednesday New Comic Day club of dedicated fans. As a longtime comic reader, I didn’t jump right away. The show just looked like Dawson’s Creek with Superman. It took most of the first season before someone finally made me watch the pilot episode. And I was hooked… for a few seasons at least.
As I grew from being a cynical naysayer into a fan, Smallville also exposed some inherent flaws with its concept. Under the guidance of showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel’s iconic creation wouldn’t be slipping into a cape, tights, and outside underwear and flying around saving the world. This was the origin story, the journey Clark must take to learn his origins as a Kryptonian, his true name Kal-El, and discover his powers a season at a time. That was fine entertainment for a few seasons, but the longer they took delaying the inevitable the more frustrating the show became. Fans wanted to see that moment where Clark rips open his shirt exposing that bright red family crest. It took 2018 episodes but it did finally happen.
When the show is good, it’s fantastic. Thankfully even during the bumpy later seasons, there’s enough good material worth tuning in for. The Zod storyline and the revamping of his relationship with Jor-El kept the series working. New heroes were being introduced and soon enough Clark was a member of the new Justice Society. There were bold new takes and strategic homages to key stories and moments in the classic films. As great as these elements were to appeal to the core fans, there was something else that set this show above all other Superman shows before.
Hands down, the best aspect of the show was and always will be the relationship between Clark and Lex. As fans, we know how this was ultimately going to go down, but seeing how that relationship started was a story we’d never seen before in the comics or on film. That brotherly dynamic between Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum is what made their drift from friends to enemies so dynamic and ultimately tragic. When Rosenbaum left the show, a big chunk of the heart and soul left too. Thankfully they figured out a way to right the ship for a fitting conclusion.
Another key element of this show was the relationships between children and their parents. Jonathan and Martha Kent work to direct their adopted son onto the right path while Lionel Luthor treats Lex more as an employee he’ll eventually have to leave his legacy to and not actually like the son he is. It made for good family drama nestled in with all of the superpowered shenanigans. John Schneider and Annette O’Toole made the perfect Ma and Pa Kent that set a high bar for anyone to follow. John Glover seems to have made it a niche role to be the jerk parent in a DC film or television property - but he does it with so much charm he's always welcome.
Did this one go a few seasons too many? Probably. But that’s true for just about every show that gets past Season Four or Five in my book. My biggest issue was if Warner Bros. had any forethought, Smallville could have been the perfect lead-in to a new film franchise. While I’ll defend Superman Returns as a valiant attempt to recapture the old-school magic of Christopher Reeve, it wasn’t everything it could have or should have been. I often wonder what would have happened if we had a good and proper Tom Welling-fronted Superman film instead of five more seasons of being teased with the idea that he may or may not put on the classic costume. By the time the show started introducing new heroes like Flash and Oliver Queen, Dr Fate, Zod, or the Kandor storyline, it wasn’t “Smallville” anymore. It’d grown beyond the confines of those first seasons and I always thought movies would have been the better arena to explore the character.
At the end of the day, Smallville rests as one of the best live-action superhero shows ever made. Bumpy, sure, but with over 200 episodes there are far more great adventures than duds. Given recent events, the show’s legacy is sadly tied to a tortuous human-trafficking sex cult. Chloe? Who would have thought? Hopefully, newcomers to the show are able to look past that sadness when viewing the show and separate the work from the conduct of one particular cast member.
It’s wild to believe it’s been 20 years already. I was just starting college when this show came out and was married with a career by the time it ended. Now I have a kid who curls up with me when I watch an old episode just like I did with my Dad and Star Trek reruns! Revisiting the show I’m glad to see that it still holds up nicely and it isn’t just a long expensive nostalgia dip. If they can find a smart way to bring the show back beyond a coy cameo in another series' crossover event, I'd be down to give it a try.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Smallville: The Complete Series finally comes to Blu-ray in a massive 40-disc Blu-ray set with two additional DVDs of archival bonus features. Also included is a Digital Code for the entire series. All episodes of each season occupy four BD-50 discs. I’m very grateful that Warner Brothers didn’t skimp on the packaging. Each season’s discs are housed in an individual hard 4-disc keep case with individual trays and are not stacked one on top of the other or slipped into paper envelops. Well, the two DVDs are in a paper envelop so don't monkey-finger those getting them out. But the main discs are nice and safe! The seasons are then housed in a heavystock cardboard case with a paper slipcover holding everything together. To ease your hunting, I found the Digital Code in the Season One case. Each disc opens directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Note - My review set came with two Disc 25: Season 7 Disc One instead of a Disc 26: Season 7 Disc Two. Hopefully not a widespread issue, I’ve reached out to our contacts at Warner Bros. about it just in case and hope to acquire a replacement. They haven't heard any other incidents of this so someone out there has my Disc 26!
Every episode of Smallville: The Complete Series arrives with a MPEG-4 AVC/1080p 1.78:1 transfer. That’s right, even the later seasons that were previously available on Blu-ray are no longer stuck in the muck of VC-1, so we’re not getting simple repackages of past discs!
Now, some may have hoped that WB would have gone full Star Trek: The Next Generation and recut and redid the visual effects for the first season, but that’s not the case for Smallville. I imagine an undertaking like that would have been extremely expensive given the number of effects. As such - the upscaled image for the first season only offers nominal improvements over the old DVD. I was able to request several seasons from my local library for some disc flipping comparisons. The pilot episode is the roughest of the lot, the visual effects weren’t ready for HD scrutiny and are quite blocky and pixelated. Medium/wide shots are 50/50 either they look great or they’re very rough around the edges. Close-ups are where you’re likely to see the most improvement upscaled over the DVDs. But even that’s dependent if there are any digital effects in play.
The nice thing to report is as the series goes along, the show looks better and better. Season One is the roughest, but by the time we get to Season Two the budget for visual effects improved, production values improved and I believe this was the season where the show was actually finished and locked in full HD. By the time we get to Season Four, Smallville is looking very good with much stronger details and black levels giving the image a stronger sense of depth and dimension. The image could appear a little noisy in places or have some compression artifacts and ringing around tight patterns, but far better than Season One and nothing too overly distracting. I'm chalking those artifacts up to squeezing roughly six to seven episodes to each disc. I imagine if they'd done five discs to a season instead of four and let those bitrates breathe it'd look even better.
Now for the later seasons that already hit Blu-ray years ago, namely Season Six through Nine - these have been given a bit of an overhaul with an AVC remaster, but not a huge one. I only borrowed them from Netflix years ago, but I remember the ringing, image flatness, and persistent macroblocking in black levels that would crop up. It's partly why I never sprung for them as they were coming out. Digging through a few episodes for each season those issues have been largely mitigated. I didn’t spot unsightly microblocking, image depth looks natural, some slight ringing still endures - but really that seems to edge around heavy visual effects shots. In fact, heavy visual effects scenes have a pretty startling low bitrate - down into the low 15-18mbps range. When there aren’t heavy visual effects, the image evens out and pops right back up to a nice robust 25mbps range with some 30mbps peaks.
Part of my Pandemic Binging was digging back through Smallville on Hulu because it’d been ten years since I watched it. After going back through some of my favorite episodes for a bit of A-B comparison, the disc presentations easily beat the HD streaming presentations. Especially Season Three onward. I felt like more lifelike details were coming into the frame, black levels got closer to achieving that desired inky quality, and the image had a better sense of three-dimensional depth throughout. Colors also popped with richer reds and blues. Overall this set looks great. The first season could probably look better, but that would require a ground-up rebuild of every episode and that’d depend if elements even exist at all let alone redoing all of that digital work. Other than that there's really nothing to complain about
Season One - 3/5
Season Two through Ten - 4/5
The good news for the audio department is every episode comes packed with a strong DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. Action sequences pick up a big boost compared to the Dolby Digital tracks on the old DVDs. Surround effects are much more robust moving about the channels nicely. The meteor shower in the opening season is a big kick. For the quieter conversational sequences - namely, anytime Clark is brooding in his barn loft at least once an episode - the mix feels a bit more front-loaded with only slight side-channel action. Packed school hallways or city scenes in Metropolis are nice and active, but again much of the focus for these mixes is making sure dialog pops so again, more front/center heavy with little flourishes in the surrounds.
Again since there are 218 episodes I wasn’t able to watch all through each one but sampled through each season and I didn’t notice any serious issues with levels or dialog clarity. As for an improvement over the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that were used for the old Blu-rays, again it’s been almost ten years since I looked at those, but compared to the surround tracks on Hulu I definitely give these DTS tracks the edge. There’s more weight to the elements, the dialog was stronger, I didn’t feel like I needed my rig turned up as high, and I felt like there was more activity in the subs for big action moments or explosions.
Considering this a complete series set - Smallville: The Complete Series offers a ton of bonus features to pick through. This is enough material to keep hardcore fans busy for quite some time. Because the making-of materials and deleted scenes are all port overs and still in SD, the most lasting extras are the audio commentaries. They’re all informative and engaging but the best ones feature the cast alongside various producers, writers, or directors.
Bonus DVD 1
Bonus DVD 2
Smallville: The Complete Series pulls together ten years of Clark Kent defining his place as the hero we know he’ll become. There are certainly some bumpy seasons and it probably could have come to a close earlier in its run, Smallville is at the very least an entertaining show. Compared to some of the later DC-themed superhero shows, it was far more consistent and overall solid viewing. There are some shows still on the CW that have long past overstayed their welcome with half as many seasons. Tom Welling was the Clark Kent of a generation with Michael Rosenbaum delivering what has become a defining characterization of Lex Luthor. Any actor who has to shave their head has a tough act to follow.
Warner Brothers delivers Smallville: The Complete Series to Blu-ray in a splendid 42-disc set - 40 Blu-rays for the series with 2 DVD discs of additional archival bonus features. The show was on a rough visual start for Season One but by Season Two and Three with improved budgets and full HD, the show looks terrific. Even the seasons that already made it to Blu-ray earned an upgrade in the A/V department with a new video encoding and sporting robust DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mixes. Cap it off with hours of extra features and you have an essential set for fans to feature on their shelf. Highly Recommended.