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Smallville is a bizarre entry in the Superman franchise. Having grown up with the man-of-steel my whole life with Christopher Reeve’s films and Dean Cain’s television series, I was looking forward to seeing how the story of Clark Kent growing up would be told. Although I must say that before seeing this second season I had only seen the first few episodes from season one and am also unfamiliar with the comic books on which the character was originally based.

Smallville: The Complete Second Season
The Series
Thanks to a short, but highly informative “previously on Smallville” clip, it is easy to pick up what is happening without having seen the previous season. You only have to know who the characters are and the clip does the rest. From what is shown, reporter Roger Nixon (Tom O’Brien) now has video evidence of Clark’s power, and intends to expose his secret to the entire world. We also see that Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) is having some issues with his father Lionel (John Glover), and was placed in a situation where he could leave his father to die. This leads into clips showing that Smallville is about to play host to a series or tornados. Before the season premiere kicks off, we see Jonathon Kent (John Schneider) chase Nixon out into the storm to get the tape of his son back and we gather that the first season ended with Lana Lag’s (Kristen Kruek) truck being sucked up in a twister and Clark diving in after it.

This is one of those premieres which starts with a bang as a riveting sequence where Clark rescues Lana from the horrific storm before her truck is torn to shreds, and it takes place before the opening titles have even started. This leads Lana to suspect that Clark may be more than human. It is also the highlight of the episode as the rest is mostly about the search for Mr. Kent, who is now trapped in a basement underground with villainous reporter Nixon. It is too inconvenient that they are surrounded in lead so Clark won’t be able to see them with his X-Ray vision, which he acquired in the previous season (one of the few episodes I did see). Although fans would have loved to see the cliff-hanger resolved there is still plenty more in this season.

Smallville has always been slightly puzzling. The first season, to its credit, established the show and what it was all about quite well, but the changes that have been made are hard to swallow for a fan of previous Superman outings. One thing that really is a mystery is why Lex Luthor and Clark Kent even know each other at this stage of their lives. What’s worse is that they become the best of friends. Although it puts a fun spin on things to come with a whole ‘childhood friends become deadly enemies’ theme emerging, but it is hard to get over the fact that the villain in this version lives in Smallville and is friends with Clark. Season two looked like it may just make things worse early on when Clark is made Best Man at Lex’s wedding. Things do get heated later on though when the Superman mystery deepens and Lex begins to suspect Clark is involved. Although the Lex character is now going into more villainous territory, it is still hard to swallow that he is present at this stage of Clark’s life.

(Late Season Spoilers in this paragraph) For a fan of the original Superman, the way Krypton is portrayed in this series may be upsetting. People who saw the caring and loving Marlon Brando as Jor-El may be shocked to know that in this season, Jor-El seems to have sent his only son Kal-El to Earth with intents of him using his powers to become ruler of the planet. However, hearing Terrence Stamp (Villain General Zod from first two Superman films) as the new evil Jor-El is a decent surprise. Although some may enjoy this new twist, fans of the original films may find it upsetting to see (or rather hear) this new Jor-El.

Despite some unwelcome changes to the story, there is some appeal in the development of Clark Kent into Superman as well as famous Superman occurrences. The episode Fire contains some very good scenes about Clark developing his heat vision. The episode Red also is important to the Superman story as it is Clark’s first encounter with the Red Kryptonite, which for those who don’t know turns him evil. Best of all, however, are hints in the episodes Vortex and Rosetta towards Clark’s ability to fly that he does not possess just yet. Clark growing up into Superman and learning about his powers is the most appealing, if not the only appealing part of this show.

Smallville: The Complete Second Season
The best episode by far in this season that deserves special mention is the Rosetta episode. For fans of Reeve’s Superman this is the episode you have been waiting for. Not only does Clark begin to learn about his Krypton origins, but he also leans some of the most important stuff from astronomer Virgil Swann, played by none other than Christopher Reeve in an amazing special guest appearance. As old Superman teaching the new, this is fantastic. But it was a true clincher when pieces from the original music score played over Reeve’s scenes. For Reeve’s appearance and the part he plays in Clark’s learning, Rosetta is the best episode in the season. Fans may also like little references such as Clark’s little home in the barn, which is almost a prelude to the Fortress of Solitude. There are also subtle little hints to the ‘S’ costume and being called “Man of Steel.” As mentioned, Terrence Stamp’s voice as Superman’s father Jor-El is used in the season finale Exodus.

Tom Welling just does not have the build to be Clark Kent properly, meaning that he looks far too much like a football player, rather than someone who will one day be a mild-mannered reporter. However, he does have the facial features which let him get away with it. His performance of Clark isn’t bad but it is a tad uneven, meaning sometimes he comes across perfectly, others not convincing at all. He shows some of his best when he is playing evil in Red. Kristen Kruek is very pretty and plays Lana with a sweetness so becoming of the character. Lex Luthor’s part in this story is new so Michael Rosenbaum could have done almost anything and gotten away with it. He does seem to have his heart in it, to his credit. Supporting actors Sam Jones and Allison Mack as Clark’s best friends do very well, in particular Jones as the friend who knows the truth. Also very fitting is John Schneider as Clark’s father. He both looks and feels right as a fatherly figure to Clark. Annette O’Toole (who fans will notice as Lana from Superman III) does well, but looks like less of a parental figure next to Schneider.

It has to be asked why the Superman franchise needed to be changed so much. Was there really anything wrong with it? Clearly including Lex Luthor this early in the story as a friend to Clark is a mistake that really just doesn’t feel right. The best part about Lex in this show is his descent into evil. The new twist on Clark’s father Jor-El is also an unwelcome change. Also dragging down the show is a series of unremarkable villains such as a woman who lures others with pheromones, clones and a crooked FBI agent. The only real appeal here is seeing the development of Clark’s powers which only occurs in a few episodes. One has to wonder if there is enough material in Clark’s youth to sustain a series much further. This whole show would have perhaps worked better as a mini-series or telemovie.

Video
Each episode is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. For a television series, it looks very nice. From chaotic tornado scenes to lush farm shots, the colours are vibrant and perfectly saturated. There is little if any interference from grain, pixilation or any artefacts at all and skin tones are perfect. There is some very nice shadow detail in some episodes, however if someone is wearing a suit or black coat in the darker scenes, it seems they just blend into the background at times. Other than that, it’s a beautiful transfer.

Smallville: The Complete Second Season
Audio
A Dolby 2.0 Stereo track in English is provided for this release. For a show like this the loss of a Surround track may seem like a let down, but this is still a very respectable track. Dialogue is always clear and in synch as well as being well balanced over loud scenes such as the twisters. There are no clicks or dropouts. Each episode also features tracks from most of today’s hottest artists which sound great as background music. Very satisfying for a Stereo track.

Extras
A decent set of extras has been provided for this release, starting with a collection of commentaries on discs one and four. The first is a commentary by Executive Producers Alfred Gough and Miles Miller with Writer Consulting Producer Jeph Loeb on the episode Red. It is a very good commentary as they are always talking with a few silent moments to hear key lines so they can talk about them. Throughout the commentary they talk about the different styles of Kryptonite and the effects it had on Superman, their different plot ideas which didn’t make it into the script, the acting challenges for Tom Welling in particular, the very deliberate colouring and costuming and even stunt cycle riders (apparently Tom Welling can’t ride a motorcycle). They even talk about how the line “Anyone else?” is used in every commercial ever made for that episode and how it’s one of the highest rated. A very good commentary packed with info.

Disc four is also home to an excellent commentary. This time Miller and Gough talk about the Rosetta episode. The duo discuss how they had been wanting to use Christopher Reeve since the beginning and how they were just waiting for the perfect role to come along for him. They also touch on Clark’s spiritual journey, different shots and how they worked, the family dynamics between Clark and his parents, how remarkable Mr Reeve was and the Kryptonian language. And believe it or not, there is even more! Another great fact-packed Commentary that fans will eat up.

Disc six is home to two featurettes. The first is Faster than a Speeding Bullet, a ten-minute featurette on various effects in the show ranging from blue and green screens, computer animation and the actual running parts, hence the title. It’s pretty good but you have to really want to know how it was done to be fully interested.

The second featurette is far better. Christopher Reeve: The Man of Steel is a Behind-The-Scenes look at the Rosetta episode featuring interviews with Reeve about the Superman universe and how he was very impressed with what they had done with the show so far. It also covers some of the history of the character from Reeve himself who apparently knows everything there is to know about Superman. There are also some flattering interviews with cast and crew alike. This is a fantastic featurette that is even more meaningful now that Reeve has passed on.

Smallville: The Complete Second Season
The Chloe Articles is a little cheap feature that appears to have been done for DVD. It is Allison Mack’s character going on film and chasing stories about strange phenomena as a result of the meteor shower that brought Clark to Smallville. It’s a pretty passable feature that is only enjoyable if you really love the character. Finishing off the package are a set of deleted scenes for the episodes Dichotic, Prodigal, Fever and Exodus. Each is on the same disc as the episode. There is also a long gag reel that only really provides a few little chuckles.  DVD-ROM features are also available.

Overall a good set of extras, but more Commentaries and perhaps more interviews with the cast and on-set footage would have been nice.

Overall
Whether or not you will enjoy this show really depends on if you can accept the changes that have been made to the classic Superman story. If you can you will probably have a great time. If not, you will have a hard time ignoring them and it will make the show hard for you to watch, although the development of Clark’s powers may hold some appeal. The DVD release is well presented with good audio and video transfers and a very nice collection of extras, which is sure to make the fans happy.


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