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Smallville: The Complete Eighth Season

(2009) ** 1/2 Unrated
1012 min. The CW. Director: Tom Welling. Cast: Tom Welling.

/content/films/3524/3.jpgWith the defection of series developers Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and star player Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor), Smallville in its eighth year faced questions about the series' longevity, and not without good reason. Even in the experienced hands of old-hand executive producers Brian Peterson, Kelly Souders, Todd Slavkin, and Darren Swimmer, the show would have to invent new conflicts on a par with the legendary Clark-Lex tangle, and convincingly prolong the notion that a mature Tom Welling isn't quite ready to be Superman just yet.

Surprisingly, Season Eight handles these internal crises quite well. The series maintains a consistent level of quality, and the infusion of fresh characters—and promotion of others—was a blessing in disguise for a series falling into a rut. By this stage of the game, Clark Kent (Welling) is still living on the Kent farm in Smallville and commuting to Metropolis (because in this TV version of the Superman saga, they're amazingly close together). In Metropolis, Clark works at the Daily Planet, alongside Lois Lane (Erica Durance) and Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore) while protecting his secret identity and keeping his friends out of harm's way. In most respects, we've moved past Superboy to Superman, even first love Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) has skipped town to have her own life, though the character returns for a five-episode midseason arc. Stalwart Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) is still buzzing around Metropolis, holding down the fort at the nonprofit Isis Foundation. And though Clark has yet to don a cape or a Krypstonian "S" logo, he has begun changing in a phone booth to wow the city folk as "the Red-Blue Blur."

/content/films/3524/1.jpgThough Michael Rosenbaum largely took Lex out of the picture, the character remains a  presence and is, at various points, depicted in the guise of other actors (disfigured shadowy Lex, boy Lex in flashbacks). He also works through new CEO of LuthorCorp, "more deceptive than Lex ever was": Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman), a sort of high-kicking dragon lady who also functions as Clark and Lois' new editor-in-chief. (Shouldn't Perry White have settled into that job by now? I guess Michael McKean's too busy...) Epochal Superman villain Doomsday also shows up, in a cleverly reimagined form. Like Clark, Davis Bloome (Sam Witwer of Battlestar Galactica) is an alien in humanoid form who's obliged to hide his powers. Unfortunately, his destiny—which he's none to eager to embrace—is to destroy the world, just as Clark's destiny is to save it. Complicating matters in time-tested Smallville fashion, Chloe has agreed to marry Jimmy but finds herself attracted to Davis, even more so when he needs saving.

The show's final Season Eight regular is Justin Hartley as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, and with the trend at the multiplex, the show has never been more willing to cultivate a superhero team vibe. Besides Green Arrow (whose modified origin is dramatized in the episode "Toxic") and return appearances by Supergirl-to-be Kara (Laura Vandervoort), John Jones/the Martian Manhunter (Phil Morris), Aquaman (Alan Ritchson), Black Canary (Alaina Huffman), and Impulse—a.k.a. Flash—(Kyle Gallner), plenty of other characters from the DC Universe turn up: Plastique (Jessica Parker Kennedy), Maxima (Charlotte Sullivan), Zatanna (Serinda Swan), Winslow Schott/The Toyman (Chris Gauthier), and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Cosmic Boy (Ryan Kennedy), Saturn Girl (Alexz Johnson) and Lightning Lad (Calum Worthy). The latter trio show up in the very special episode "Legion," with a witty script supplied by DC Comics star Geoff Johns. "No tights, no flights?" Lightning Lad asks. "So far he's nothing like the Man of Steel."

/content/films/3524/2.jpgSeason Eight still relies quite a bit on previously established Smallville formulas, such as the "meteor freak of the week" and secret-identities revealed and then promptly yanked from memory. And like most genre TV series, Smallville isn't immune from the impulse to do pastiches of hit movies (naked riffs on Saw and Cloverfield) for a borrowed effect. Though Smallville has morphed into something awfully close to The New Adventures of Lois and Clark, it continues to be an entertaining and occasionally poignant pastime for Superman fans (the season closer takes an unexpected turn—partly with a story cheat—that no doubt set eyes rolling and watering at the same time). As the series nears the decade mark, its core actors still look good, and they've wisely wrangled directing gigs: Welling, who has directed for the show before, helms "Injustice," and Mack makes her Writers Strike-delayed debut with "Power." With General Zod poised to step up his game in Season Nine, Smallville just may continue to beat the odds.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 4

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 8/25/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Smallville looks more vibrant than ever on hi-def Blu-ray in The Complete Eighth Season, with all 22 episodes spread over 4 discs. Colors pop right off the screen, and detail is excellent. Contrast is perfect, with well-resolved blacks and considerable depth. Ceratinly, the show looks a darn sight better than in its broadcast, and for home theater junkies, the Blu-ray continues to trounce its standard-def DVD counterpart. On the other hand, those same junkies will bemoan that audio comes "only" in Dolby Digital 5.1 and not in a lossless format. An upgrade here would be sweet, but even though the series doesn't lay out the greatest surround dynamics, these mixes get the job done with well-calibrated balance and clarity of dialogue and effects.

The Complete Eighth Season has a number of cool bonus features, all in high definition on Blu-ray (hooray!).

Most episodes have Deleted Scenes (HD), and two have commentary tracks: you'll find commentary on "Identity" with director Mairzee Almas, executive producer Brian Peterson and actress Cassidy Freeman, and commentary on "Legion" with producers Darren Swimmer and Tim Scanlan, and writer Geoff Johns. The former gives more of an idea of what day-to-day life is like on the Smallville production these days, whereas the latter gets more comic-geekily into the DCU mythos and how it plays into the show—it's very cool that Johns contributes to that discussion.

"In the Director's Chair: Behind the Lens and Calling the Shots with Allison Mack" (19:14, HD) is a fairly thorough celebration of Mack as she takes on her first directing assignment. To be honest, it's mostly fluffy praise about how terrifically Mack handled the burden, but there are a few interesting comments about the episode itself and its feminist spin, and we get to see the cast and crew at work on the show. Interviewees include Mack, Cassidy Freeman, executive producer Todd Slavkin, executive producer Darren Swimmer, producer Rob Maier, assistant to executive producer Christopher Petry, assistant director Mairzee Almas, episode editor Andi Armaganian, and director of photography Glen Winter.

"Smallville's Doomsday: The Making of a Monster" (15:23, HD) is a more crucial look at the show's creative direction in Season Eight, detailing the thinking behind and the execution of the character of Davis Bloome/Doomsday. Particpating are executive producer Brian Peterson, writer Geoff Johns, executive producer Kelly Souders, Sam Witwer, producers Turi Meyer & Al Septien, and creature designer Bill Terezakis.

Fans can proceed with confidence to another season of Smallville on home video, especially impressive in Blu-ray high-definition.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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