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Warner Home Video presents
Smallville: The Complete Third Season (2003-2004)

Jonathan: What did Jor-El do to you?
Clark: He made sure I'd never forget who my real father is.

- John Schneider, Tom Welling

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: April 08, 2005

Stars: Tom Welling, Kristin Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum, Allison Mack
Other Stars: Sam Jones III, John Glover, Annette O'Toole, John Schneider, Ian Somerhalder
Director: Various

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language, sexuality, action violence)
Run Time: Approx. 956 min.
Release Date: November 16, 2004
UPC: 085393972127
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-A-B B-

DVD Review

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer fled the WB network for UPN, the suits were eager to find a similarly hip show and hold their audience. Superman, albeit a teenage version, turned out to be the inheritor of the Slayer's mantle, and for four years now, fans have watched Clark Kent (Tom Welling) mature into his otherworldly powers under the guidance of Jonathan (John Schneider) and Martha (Annette O'Toole) Kent. The setup— super-powered deal fights villains but can't always overcome teen angst—owes a rather sizeable debt to Buffy, but Clark's adventures, though lots of fun, aren't nearly as satisfying.

With Clark in high school and producers' edict "no tights, no flights," these aren't exactly the adventures of Superboy. Instead, we watch Clark go through all the struggles of a normal teenager while coming to grips with his superpowers, his place in the world, and his ultimate destiny. Smallville has never been quite the show the premise suggests, however. Sure, Clark may question whether his Kryptonian parents sent him to Earth to save humanity or to conquer it, but he only does so in isolated scenes, when it is important to the plot of a specific episode. For the most part, the future man of steel hasn't changed a bit since the first season—revelations and betrayals that would cause a major upheaval in real life are one episode events on Smallville, and the emphasis is on standalone episodes (usually dealing with a "kryptofreak of the week," a teenager given strange powers by the glowing meteor rocks that crashed to earth along with Clark's spaceship) rather than any coherent story arc.

Most of the problems are exemplified in exceedingly stupid installments like Velocity, in which it is revealed that Clark's supposed best friend Pete (Sam Jones III), the only one outside his family who knows of his Kryptonian past, has gotten himself wrapped up in an illegal drag racing ring that tools around in rice rockets supercharged with "meteor rock" fuel (eye roll, eye roll, eye roll). When Pete gets in trouble and Clark asks what he was thinking, his friend responds that Clark is pulling away, they aren't close, blah blah, yet we've never seen any indication of such discord in the past. By the end of the episode, Clark and Pete are involved in a car accident that leaves one driver dead, and their friendship in ruins, and that might be a big deal if there was ever any fallout, but no, by the next week, the two are once again best pals and secret alien code word buddies forever. I don't want to spoil anything that happens in future seasons, but at this point in year four, Clark could probably kill all of his friends' pets and no one would hold it against him. Heck, he could probably even kill their parents, and the next week's episode would be all about the time members of the track team snorted powdered kryptonite in order to run faster (Dear Smallville writers: do not steal my idea).

That's not to say there isn't a story arc, it's just very poorly developed, and, frankly, a little stupid. With little to no comic book reference for Clark's younger days, the writers have tried to hash together their own version of his origin story. Some elements really work—including Clarks bond with future supervillain Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), who at this point is a young businessman trying to overthrow his dangerous, sociopath father, magnificent bastard Lionel Luthor (John Glover). Most everything else is very, very wrong, including a bunch of baloney about Kryptonians having visited Earth centuries ago and these Indian caves with strange alien carvings covering the walls and a section of wall that provides access to some kind of phantom zone. An inordinate amount of episodes also focus on a tepid unrequited romance between Clark and pretty, pretty princess Lana (Kristin Kreuk), despite the fact that they have no chemistry, when it would be much more interesting for him to fall for the brainy, charismatic cub reporter Chloe Sullivan (adorable Allison Mack). But at least Chloe gets a halfway decent story this year when, crushed by Clark's rejection, she sells her soul to the devil and agrees to spy on him for the ever curious Luthor family. Lana is stuck with some rubbish about dark and brooding new character Adam Knight (Lost's Ian Somerhalder), whom many fans initially thought might be Bruce Wayne, but that would have been cool.

If you ignore the lame attempts at serial storytelling, though, and just go episode by episode, the show is usually pretty entertaining from a lowest common denominator standpoint. Most of the actors are likeable and charismatic, dialogue is occasionally clever, and there are always amusingly obvious special effects to look forward to (the producers love their slow motion CGI shots, let me tell you). All the standalones can be frustrating to those who find story arcs more rewarding (me) and appreciate character development (also me), but they work well enough considering the show's often unintentionally campy qualities, even if they tend to blend together (wait, the one where Clark was under the influence of red kryptonite was last season, right? Yes, and this season, and, incidentally, Season Four as well, but that one isn't on DVD yet). And of course, there's always the fluke, an episode that totally works, and this year has a few of those, too.

Among the good I count Perry, which introduces Perry White (played by Annette O'Toole's husband Michael McKean), Clark Kent's future boss at The Daily Planet. Yet when we meet him, he's an alcoholic failure slumming for a paranormal TV show that picks up on the sent of weirdness it Smallville and finds it comes off of Clark in cartoonish, squiggly line waves. Shattered deals with Lex's supposed insanity, which seems to be a result of something his father did to try to keep him quiet about a dark secret from the past. Clark goes blind but develops his super hearing in Whisper. Chloe becomes the target of violent attacks after a mysterious force makes her friends turn violently against her (Lana and Chloe catfight alert!). In Crisis, Clark gets a job at a teen crisis line and gets a call for help from Lana—from the future. Christopher Reeve makes his final appearance as the Krypton expert Dr. Swann in Legacy, while suddenly, no one is physically able to lie to Chloe in Truth (good thing these episodes all have a reset button!).

My personal non-favorites include Slumber, which has Clark teleporting into a troubled girl's head to try and save her from the evil dream version of her father (it feels like a warmed over Buffy plot; not a surprise since writer Drew Z. Greenberg worked on that show for several years); the two-parter that opens the season, though that's mostly because it has to wrap up the lame finale of the year prior; the lame Asylum, in which lame former kryptofreaks put in the crazy house bust out to lamely menace Clark and Lex; and Extinction, in which a kid whose family was hurt by one of Smallville's resident weirdos decides to start shooting anyone who exhibits special powers (and for some reason, he decides to use kryptonite bullets, because that makes sense); and, most of all, Relic, a sweeps stunt that posits Jor-El (Superman's father) came to Earth long before Clark only to fall in love with Lana's mother or something, with past versions of the lovers played by their present day counterparts.

Despite a bravura four-way cliffhanger, the season finale, Covenant, is too wrapped up in the stupid business of the Indian caves and Jonathan Kent's deal with Jor-El (Superman's father) following the events of the Season Two closer. Yes, Jor-El is supposed to be dead, but it's too complicated and boring to explain (particularly when you know how it all turns out in Season Four). Nothing ever matters on this show, but at least it's fun while it lasts.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Presented in widescreen, Smallville looks very nice on DVD. Colors are strong and saturated, blacks and detail are both generally good, though the image looks a little grainy. Some shots exhibit some minor aliasing, but nothing distracting. Among the best when it comes to TV on DVD transfers.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereono


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in stereo, and though the mix sounds good, it seems odd that it isn't in at least DD 2.0. Dialogue and music are presented strongly in the front channels, while sound effects feature good stereo separation between the left and right mains.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 132 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by executive producers Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Greg Beeman, and Ken Horton and actor Michael Rosenbaum on Exile and Memoria, actors Allison Mack and John Glover and director James Marshall on Truth
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Picture Disc
6 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. The Chloe Chronicles: Vol. II web-isodes
  2. Gag reel
Extras Review: From season to season, Smallville's DVD extras keep getting better. The jewel of the collection this time around is the 22-minute Producing Smallville: The Heroes Behind the Camera documentary on Disc 5, which provides a good look at what it takes to get an episode prepped and filmed in just over a week. A lot of attention is given to the costume and production designers, as well as the writers and directors. Fans of the series will no doubt find it informative (and check the extras section on Disc 6 for an amusing Easter egg of deleted interview footage).

Next up are a trio of audio commentaries: executive producers Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Greg Beeman, and Ken Horton and actor Michael Rosenbaum on Exile and Memoria, and actors Allison Mack and John Glover and director James Marshall on Truth. All three are fast-moving and entertaining, with a lot of information about character and story development, along with good natured chatter about some of the moments that don't work. A little self-congratulatory at times, perhaps, these commentaries are still, again, worth a listen for fans.

Discs 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 include deleted scenes for the episodes Exile, Slumber, Shattered, Velocity, Obsession, Resurrection, Crisis, Memoria, Talisman, and Forsaken. Disc 6 also includes a gag reel and The Chloe Chronicles: Vol. II, a nine-part story featuring Chloe investigating shadowy goings-on in Metropolis that mixes live footage and comic book drawings; the "web-isodes" originally appeared weekly on the series' official website.

I continue to appreciate Warner's inclusion of nice booklets that provide chapter listings and episode summaries.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Smallville has always had the potential to be more than dumb fun, but it hasn't yet fulfilled it, and considering we're now in Season Four, it probably isn't going to happen. Season Three isn't as strong as the first two, but despite the muddled story arcs, freak-of-the-week formula, and unchanging characters, it's still an entertaining take on the Superman mythos.

 


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