The longest-running sci-fi television series in North American history comes home in its entirety. Is it a set worthy of Superman? Warner Bros. brings Clark Kent’s journey from high school freshman to Man of Steel to the DVD format in a 62 disc box set. All ten seasons are represented in the exact format that is found in the individual season DVD sets, but with uniform disc art featuring Kryptonian symbols and numbering 1 through 60. Discs 61 and 62 are exclusive to the box set, containing the new special features.
Two main questions arise in determining whether or not this set is worth its lofty price tag to you this holiday season. Why DVD in the age of HD where Blu-Ray is the format of choice? And what’s on the two exclusive discs that would compel you to buy the set when there’s a high probability you’ve already purchased some or all of the individual DVD sets over the years?
The short answer to “Why DVD?” is that Warner Bros. found that the quality of the effects shots, namely in Season 1 filmed in 2001-2002, did not look up to standard to be presented in HD on Blu-Ray.
The long answer? Seasons 2-5 were broadcast in HD (as were Seasons 6-10 of course, available on Blu-Ray), but the only season of the first five released on a hi-def format previously was Season 5 in the now defunct HD DVD format. To the best of my knowledge Season 1 was not broadcast in HD on the WB during the 2001-2002 season, thus creating the problem. However, prior to the start of Season 10, all seasons of Smallville, including Season 1, were made available on iTunes in HD (720p as opposed to Blu-Ray’s 1080p video resolution). This leads me to the conclusion that in spite of Smallville being the second biggest money maker in television history for Warner Bros., they didn’t find it cost effective enough to create new Blu-Ray transfers for Seasons 1-4 (and to port over the HD transfer created for Season 5). While it is appreciated that the entire series can be viewed in HD thanks to a combination of iTunes and Blu-Ray, it is disappointing that a series that has generated so much revenue for Warner Bros. didn’t receive a top-flight technical treatment.
Question 2, and likely the most important one to most; what’s new? Disc 61 contains 2 new Smallville featurettes. The first and best is “A Decade of Comic-Con”, a new feature with cast and crew interviews and stories as well as footage from the event itself. Panel excerpts and convention footage from Seasons 3 (2003), 4 (2004), 8 (2008), 9 (2009) and 10 (2010) are shown [Season 7 (2007) is missing], including Erica Durance’s first public appearance for Smallville where she was introduced to the world as the new Lois Lane at Comic Con 2004! With touching stories, funny anecdotes and fond memories, this is the jewel of Disc 61.
The second new feature is the archival featurette “Paley Fest 2004 Event” that took place during Season 3 in March of 2004. Cast panelists are Tom Welling, Annette O’Toole and Sam Jones III. While containing some amusing and interesting stories from cast and crew at the event, it’s a tad on the dry side and only covers the first 2 plus years. Still, it’s nice to have for the first time.
The disc is rounded out by 2 previously available features and 1 new feature that has zero connection to Smallville other than the subject matter. The 100th Episode Milestone Feature (broken into 3 parts) is the extended version of the main Season 5 extra, previously available as a Best Buy exclusive bonus disc back when Season 5 was released to DVD in Fall 2006. It’s a nice complete look at the process as opposed to the more abridged version found on the Season 5 discs, but it’s something I already had. This was also the case with the Aquaman Pilot (2006) starring Justin Hartley, though here it is thankfully presented in Anamorphic Widescreen unlike the initial bonus disc offered during I believe 2007 at Best Buy with purchases of selected season sets of Smallville, where it was presented in a full frame and incorrect aspect ratio which always annoys us techno-nerds. It also was available before in this format on iTunes, and is present on the Blu-Ray of the animated film “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths”. Ultimately though I feel it was the right move to include both for completeness.
The same cannot be said for the inclusion of the 1961 unreleased Adventures of Superboy Pilot however. Presented encased in a static ‘old-time TV’ set in black & white, this 50 year-old lost item is in poor video quality and honestly, just did not interest me. I’d find that more fitting with the Superboy series of 1988-1992 if they wanted to release the unreleased seasons of that program. Jumping ahead to Disc 62 before getting to the biggest new feature, also included in this ‘doesn’t have much to do with Smallville’ section is “Secret Origin: The American Story of DC Comics”. A propoganda piece for DC Comics already previously available elsewhere, it feels like a lazy way of filling disc space.
Which brings me to what I feel was missing from archival footage and featurettes. The ABC Family one-hour special speaking with the cast in 2004. Event footage from various Jules Verne festivals in Paris over the years featuring Erica Durance, Allison Mack, Michael Rosenbaum and more. WB/CW owned network promotional trailers and interviews. Complete Comic-Con Panels. The memorable Comic-Con trailers proceeding the Panels each year during Seasons 8, 9 and 10 put together by Warner Brothers. All archival items that would’ve felt much more complete, interesting and nostalgic to this reviewer. A few of which may have cost what I’d imagine would be small rights fees at most, and not subject to the scheduling/logistical/financial/contractual wranglings that sometimes prevent all parties from participating in more extras and that perhaps keep the ever elusive post-Season 3 gag reels in the vaults.
On the more upbeat side, last but not least on Disc 62 is the complete series retrospective with a featurette on each season. Mistakenly listed on Disc 61 in the episode guide for some reason (it swaps places with the 100th episode feature listed on Disc 62 but found on Disc 61), this is a feature length documentary that sadly does not have a ‘Play All’ option, but it is very well-crafted. Season 1 runs the longest at over 20 minutes, but it also includes talk of the series as a whole. Each remaining featurette runs between 7 and 10 minutes usually, featuring new and archival interviews with cast and crew. With such a finite amount of time to talk about 10 years of television, not everyone’s favorite characters, episodes or arcs can be covered, but they do their best to be inclusive. Personally I wish that ground already covered in the new Season 10 features and at length on previous sets, particularly the whole Kent Vs. Luthor sections and the 100th episode, had been less repetitive and that we’d of gotten more focus on favorite episodes and arcs that hadn’t previously had in-depth featurettes over the years, but I digress.
Each featurette is titled via its starting off point for discussion on that season (my favorite being “Season 4: Lois” naturally!) before moving on to cover additional memorable ground from that season. If you’re looking for talk on controversial topics from the series it’s not here, save some much appreciated remorse for the Jimmy Olsen/Doomsday debacle of the Season 8 finale and well-deserved praise for Aaron Ashmore and his portrayal of Jimmy by Sam Witwer and Brian Peterson. Ultimately that’s a good thing, as this feature is an intriguing celebration of the series and its incredible accomplishments.
Speaking of an incredible accomplishment, I’ve saved what may be the best for last. The Complete Series packaging. It is quite simply the best box set I have ever seen. The sturdy and glossy box, with Clark on the front and the majestic landscape of the Kent Farm on the back, houses two coffee-table quality picture books that house the 62 DVDs. Filled with gorgeous set photography and new behind-the-scenes and episode photos, it is simply a delight. The only complaint at all with the packaging is that the discs can be a bit tough to get out of their holders, so be gentle with them.
Inside is also an envelope with Clark on it, containing a beautifully illustrated episode guide complete with production sketches. It lists all 218 episodes like the individual DVD/Blu-Ray booklets always did a wonderful job of doing but in large format, complete with a nice letter from Brian Peterson & Kelly Souders. And last but certainly not least, your very own copy of the Daily Planet! The full newspaper from the spectacular 200th episode, “Homecoming”, dated October 15, 2017. It contains all sorts of fun articles and photography that relate to the entire series run, including some confirmation of off-screen events. The biggest likely being that Lois Lane DID in fact name Superman! Complete with crossword puzzle and Cat Grant’s gossip pages, this is an absolute treat and pretty much the coolest ‘prop’ possible to include.
After writing a review of box set length, my conclusion? If you’re an avid Smallville fan, this is a must-have. If you don’t have all of the seasons and you’re not just missing one or two? This is the best way to buy them all. If you already have all of the seasons? The hefty price is hard to recommend this holiday season unless you (or someone on your Christmas list) are a hardcore Smallville fan who wants to know everything and salivates at the prospect of owning a copy of the Daily Planet. Much like the series itself, the box set isn’t perfect, but when it’s good? It’s ‘Super’! Highly Recommended for big Smallville fans and Recommended for new Smallville fans, while casual Smallville fans should instead check out Season 10 on Blu-Ray.
Smallville: The Complete Series
Format: AC-3, Box set, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.)
Number of discs: 62
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: November 29, 2011
Run Time: 11520 minutes
Complete Series Exclusive Features:
Over 5 hours of newly added special features including a 90 minute series retrospective with all-new interviews, the never-before-aired 1961 Superboy pilot, 2010 final Comic Con panel and more
Exclusive issue of the Daily Planet created by DC Comics