Smallville: The Complete Series — 20th Anniversary Edition

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/19/21:
Warner;
Sci-Fi Action;
$154.99 DVD (62 discs), $179.99 Blu-ray (42 discs — 40 BD + 2 DVD);
Not rated.
Stars Tom Welling, Allison Mack, Kristin Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum, John Glover, Erica Durance, Annette O’Toole, John Schneider, Justin Hartley, Sam Jones, Cassidy Freeman, Aaron Ashmore, Eric Johnson, Laura Vandervoort, Callum Blue, Jensen Ackles, Sam Witwer, Terence Stamp, James Marsters, Michael McKean, Ian Somerhalder, Jane Seymour, Brian Austin Green, Pam Grier, Helen Slater, Michael Ironside, Julian Sands, Tori Spelling, Rutger Hauer, Margot Kidder, Christopher Reeve.

Running from 2001 to 2011, first on the WB network and then CW, “Smallville” depicted the early years of Clark Kent before he became Superman.

Set in the fictional title town in Kansas where young Clark famously grew up, the show begins with Smallville being hit by a meteor shower, the remnants of the destroyed planet Krypton. Among the debris is the craft carrying the baby Kal-El, who is discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent (John Schneider and Annette O’Toole) and raised as their son with solid midwestern American values.

As the years go by, Clark (Tom Welling) discovers his true self as his alien abilities blossom, setting him along the path toward his destiny.

To give Clark something to do in between the milestone events that edge him closer to becoming Superman, the show hit upon the clever conceit that the meteorites that crashed into Smallville would unleash cosmic radiation upon those near where it crashed. For Clark, the surviving chunks would become Kryptonite, the substance any casual pop culture fan knows is Superman’s weakness. However, the humans affected would gain strange abilities of their own, lending the show a monster-of-the-week format as high schooler Clark and his pals, most notably Chloe (Allison Mack), would deal with the strange cases that arose. This underpinning of the show’s mythology gave it a strong “Superboy” by way of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” vibe. The show also attempted to stay somewhat grounded in reality with its famous “no tights, no flights” rule, meaning it tried to stay away from cheesy costumes and fanciful superpowers (though it would backtrack on that a bit in the later years when the original creative team behind the show had left).

As something of a proto-Arrowverse, the show would also introduce several elements from Superman and the greater DC Comics lore into the show. In later seasons, Clark would encounter other young superheroes, teaming up with them to form an early version of the Justice League. Among them was the Green Arrow (Justin Hartley), whose popularity would inspire giving the character his own show, though “Arrow” was a reboot and not a spinoff.

Other friends of the teenage Clark included his first love, Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), and a younger Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), who was mostly interested in stopping the evil schemes of his father, Lionel (John Glover), while developing an evil streak of his own. Eventually Clark would also meet Chloe’s cousin Lois Lane (Erica Durance), long before she ever became an ace reporter, giving the show a chance to tell that story, too.

The series was often fun to watch and offered some clever takes on the Superman mythology. Later seasons would involve long story arcs involving more-traditional Superman villains such as Zod or Doomsday, and introduce characters such as Supergirl (Laura Vandervoort). However, the show seemed to be running in place it last few seasons as it kept putting off the moment Clark would actually become Superman, which was clearly the natural endpoint, resulting in a show that crawled to the finish line having stayed on a air a few seasons more than it probably should. This longevity forced producers to awkwardly cram in comic book elements from Superman’s adult adventures while retconning other plot developments that deviated from the lore (such as Lex dying after season seven when Rosenbaum left the show).

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The show was heavily influenced by the look and feel of the Richard Donner Superman movie, using its design for the Fortress of Solitude as a palace of ice, while sprinkling in John Williams’ iconic theme music when appropriate.

“Smallville” was also known for its extensive Easter Eggs of earlier adaptations of the source material, most notably in the form of its extensive roster of guest stars (a tradition carried on in the Arrowverse). Christopher Reeve, the movie Superman of the 1970s and 1980s, made a well-received guest appearance as a scientist who uncovers facts about Clark’s Kryptonian heritage, while Margot Kidder made a cameo as one of his colleagues (Durance’s Lois, it should be noted, takes a lot of influence from Kidder’s version). Helen Slater, who played Supergirl in the 1984 movie, play’s Kal-El’s Kryptonian mother, Lara (and she would go on to play Supergirl’s adopted mother in the “Supergirl” TV series). Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father, would be voiced by Terence Stamp, who played the evil General Zod in the Reeve films. Annette O’Toole had played Lana Lang in Superman III.

Amy Adams, who would go on to play Lois Lane in Man of Steel, guest starred in an early episode as one of the meteor freaks of the week.

One episode in season five even features a “Dukes of Hazzard” reunion, brining on Tom Wopat as an old friend of Schneider’s Jonathan.

Ultimately “Smallville” lasted for 10 seasons and 217 episodes, establishing the record as the longest-running genre series (surpassing “Stargate SG-1” by three episodes, but later eclipsed by “Supernatural,” which lasted 15 years and 320 episodes).

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A complete-series DVD was released back in 2011, after all the seasons had been released individually on DVD, while seasons six through 10 had also been released individually on Blu-ray. Thus, the complete-series Blu-ray collection marks the Blu-ray debuts for seasons one through five (though season five had been released on HD DVD, as was season six).

The series was filmed with HD in mind from the start, so the early episodes look great in HD. However, some visual effects were completed in standard-definition, and those scenes have been upscaled, as have the first few seasons of the opening credits that weren’t originally completed in high-def either.

The discs come housed with each season in its own Blu-ray case packed into a nice slipcover. The box art for each season are rather Spartan, however, offering some season-specific images and a list of episodes and bonus features, but not indicating which episodes and extras are on which disc.

Those extras, carried over from the previous DVDs, include a smattering of deleted scenes, episode commentaries and featurettes. Some episodes have extended cuts, such as the pilot. While the extended version of the first episode does have a nice commentary from the show’s creators, it is presented as upscaled SD rather than the noticeably better quality of the HD print of the broadcast version.

The complete-series set also includes the two DVDs of extras previously released in the deluxe 2011 complete-series DVD set, including a series retrospective, a look a the 100th episode, and pilot episodes from proposed “Superboy” and “Aquaman” series that were never picked up.

However, there don’t seem to be any new extras, which is a shame given it’s been 10 years since “Smallville” ended and there is no shortage of retrospective material on the Internet. Michael Rosenbaum’s “Inside of You” podcast is a good source for a lot of discussions with the cast, though those might be a bit candid for an official studio release, given how much of the discussions relate to Allison Mack’s criminal troubles related to the NXIVM sex cult.

Heck, they even had a reunion panel at DC Fandome that could easily have been pre-recorded in time to include in the set. (The 20-minute clip can be found on YouTube.)

They also could have included the “Smallville” segment of the Arrowvere’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” 2019 crossover that brought Welling and Durance back as Clark and Lois to get a peek at what they had been up to since the show ended (even though the finale featured a flash-forward). So to see that, fans will have to pick up any of the Arrowverse seasons featuring the “Crisis” bonus disc.

Nobody

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 6/22/21;
Universal;
Action;
Box Office $26.1 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 DVD, $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and bloody images, language throughout and brief drug use.
Stars Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Ironside, Colin Salmon.

Bob Odenkirk makes for a likable but unlikely action star in Nobody as an unassuming family man pushed to the limit.

Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) seems like a typical suburban husband and father stuck in the daily routines of his boring job. However, the monotony masks a deep-seeded rage that lingers from a mysterious past that he thought he left behind but always suspected would catch up to him.

After he interrupts burglars robbing his house, he puts his skills to use tracking them down hoping to recover his daughter’s kitty-cat bracelet. This sets off a chain of events in which Hutch’s frustration boils to the surface, drawing him into a confrontation with a deadly Russian gangster as he seeks any excuse to unleash his repressed fury.

As a man with a dangerous past trying to live a normal life but drawn back to a world of violence, Hutch shares a lot of traits with John Wick, which shouldn’t come as much surprise given that the Nobody screenwriter was “John Wick” creator Derek Kolstad.

The two characters even face off with Russian baddies, though that may be more a matter of happenstance since the script originally called for Korean gangsters before director Ilya Naishullar signed on and, since he’s Russian, felt more comfortable depicting his own countrymen as the villains.

The end result is a gritty yet effective actioner highlighted by some brutal close-quarters fight sequences.

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The genesis of the story, according to the bonus materials, came from Odenkirk, who looked back at the traumatic experience of his home being robbed in real life and wondering how someone with explicit combat training would have handled it. The project itself came about because Odenkirk hoped to leverage his popularity from “Better Call Saul” into a modestly budgeted action movie that would center on him as the unassuming hero — an intended departure from his comedic background.

This breaking from expectations also led to the casting of Christopher Lloyd as Hutch’s shotgun toting father, a retired former FBI agent who eventually gets drawn into his son’s street war, as does RZA as Hutch’s adopted brother.

These facets of the production’s history are discussed at length by Odenkirk in a commentary track shared with Naishullar, and in several of the behind-the-scenes featurettes. Naishullar also goes solo on a second commentary that goes more into his own personal reasons for making the movie.

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Among the featurettes are the four-minute “Hutch Hits Hard,” about Odenkirk’s training for the role; four “Breaking Down the Action” featurettes totaling about 19 minutes, focused on the bus fight, a home invasion sequence, a car chase and the final battle; and the 13-minute “Just a Nobody,” which covers the origins and making of the story, most of which is also discussed in the commentaries.

The Blu-ray also includes five minutes of deleted scenes.

The 4K disc includes the same extras as the regular Blu-ray.

Total Recall

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/8/20;
Lionsgate;
Sci-Fi;
$22.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Marshell Bell, Roy Brocksmith.

The latest edition of the 1990 sci-fi classic offers a new Ultra HD transfer and some engaging new retrospective bonus features that should please fans.

Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story ‘We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” the film that eventually became Total Recall went through dozens of script revisions before ending up in the hands of director Paul Verhoeven, who had just had a massive success in the sci-fi/action genre with RoboCop.

At one point Richard Dreyfuss was attached to star, playing a meek accountant who awakens hidden memories that he is, in fact, a deadly secret agent. When Arnold Schwarzenegger signed on, the character was changed to a construction worker, as the writers felt a character played by the famed muscle-man would not be believable having a number-crunching desk job. (Interestingly, four years later in True Lies Schwarzenegger would play a secret agent pretending to be a boring family man.)

Verhoeven’s version, set in the late 21st century, involves Schwarzenegger’s Doug Quaid attempting to break from the monotony of his life by visiting Rekall, a company that specializes in implanting memories of exotic vacations. However, Quaid’s attempts to implant a trip to Mars seems to trigger a dormant memory that he’s actually a spy named Hauser working with a revolutionary movement at the colony on the red planet. The unsurfacing of these memories prompts the Martian administrator (Ronny Cox) to send a security team to subdue Quaid, who manages to stay one step ahead thanks to clues his alter ego left himself, but who also wonders if this whole adventure might be nothing more than a dream.

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Even after 30 years, the film holds up as a pulse-pounding actioner with sumptuous visuals, snappy quips and a fair share of laughs.

The film is filled with over-the-top violence, a particular trait of Verhoeven’s style. Ronny Cox, who was so effective as the heavy in RoboCop, takes on a similar role here. Legendary tough guy Michael Ironside, who plays the leader of the hit squad after Quaid, had been in line to play RoboCop before dropping out, Verhoeven said, but ended up working with the director here, as well as in 1997’s Starship Troopers. Meanwhile, Sharon Stone, a mainstay of bit parts throughout the 1980s, got a lot of attention playing Quaid’s supposed wife, leading to Verhoeven casting her in his 1992 thriller Basic Instinct, a role that would catapult her to superstardom.

According to Verhoeven on the film’s commentary, a planned sequel to Total Recall would have adapted Dick’s Minority Report and involved Schwarzenegger leading a team of psychics — mutated Martian colonists — to prevent crimes before they happen. Eventually Minority Report ended up a standalone movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise.

The 30th anniversary Blu-ray set of Total Recall features a new 4K transfer by StudioCanal overseen by Verhoeven. The image retains a fair amount of grain to retain that film look, while giving the color palette a bit more pop, particular the extensive use of red on Mars.

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Among the extras carried over from earlier home video presentations are a 23-minute featurette about the film’s innovating visual effects, which won a Special Achievement Academy Award (meaning it received so many more nominations than any other film that there was no point in actually voting for a winner along with the other categories). Also included are a vintage eight-minute making-of featurette that seems to have been produced to promote the film’s original theatrical release, and a 30-minute “Imagining Total Recall” behind-the-scenes featurette that first appeared on the film’s 2001 DVD.

Also carried over from that original DVD is Verhoeven’s commentary, which he shares with Schwarzenegger, making for an accent-heavy affair as they discuss the film’s development, its production tricks, story points, and working together.

Newly added for this Blu-ray release are the new hourlong documentary Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood, about the history of the film’s production company — a fun look back at some of the biggest action blockbusters of the 1980s and ’90s.

Also new is the 21-minute Open Your Mind: Scoring ‘Total Recall,’ a featurette in which several music experts discuss Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable score for the film. Finally, there’s the eight-and-a-half-minute “Dreamers Within the Dream: Designing Total Recall,” a look at the production design of the film from concept sketches to final product.

Not making the cut this time around from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases is a half-hour Verhoeven interview, Rekall vacation vignettes, photo gallerys, storyboard comparisons, and other featurettes, including “Visions of Mars.”

Top Gun

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Action;
$14.99 Blu-ray, $22.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, Rick Rossovich, James Tolkan, Tim Robbins, Meg Ryan.

The new Blu-ray editions of 1986’s Top Gun were clearly timed to coincide with what would have been the theatrical release of the film’s long-awaited sequel. However, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic shutting down theaters, Top Gun: Maverick was pushed back six months to Dec. 23.

The new Blu-ray does include a trailer for the new film, plus a new six-minute “The Legacy of Top Gun” featurette in which Tom Cruise and some of the filmmakers behind the sequel discuss the impact of the director Tony Scott’s original, which has become an iconic depiction of fighter aircraft combat action. The film still holds up well (despite some cheesy over-the-top machismo that is part of its charm).

Of course, the other thing the film is well known for is its beach volleyball scene that has fueled the film’s reputation as a homoerotic fantasy. The volleyball scene has become so intrinsically associated with the film that a recent board game based on the film lets players either try their hand at the airplane combat of the famed Top Gun dogfighting school, or simulate the volleyball game.

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The bright, vivid image of the new Blu-ray transfer shows off every detail, to the point where it’s impossible not to notice how almost everyone is sweating profusely in practically every scene (it must be hot on those airplanes and carriers). The disc also brings out the film’s legendary soundtrack in a 5.1 mix that perfectly services the action.

The other extra listed as new for this edition is the five-part half-hour retrospective “On Your Six: Thirty Years of Top Gun.” It’s filled with great stories about the production ( such as Scott getting a Navy captain to turn an aircraft carrier around in order to get the perfect lighting from the sun). It was obviously filmed a few years ago, since this year is the 34th anniversary of the film, and Cruise talks about having just read an early draft of the sequel screenplay (the same sequel that is now finished and waiting to hit theaters).

The Blu-ray also includes all the bonus material from previous releases, including a commentary with the filmmakers and naval experts; storyboards; vintage interviews; four music videos (which have not aged particularly well); an earlier behind-the-scenes featurette from the 2008 Blu-ray; and an interesting look at the real Top Gun school, also from 2008.

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