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.

Escape From L.A. — Collector’s Edition

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Action;
$34.93 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for violence and some language.
Stars Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Cliff Robertson, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Bruce Campbell, Valeria Golino, Georges Corraface, Michelle Forbes, A.J. Langer, Peter Jason.

Nowadays, a character such as Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken would be tagged for franchise potential and, if his first outing shows a modicum of success, thrust into a series of sequels (e.g. John Wick). But fans of 1981’s Escape From New York had to wait 15 years before director John Carpenter would bring the character back to the big screen.

Such a gap between sequels might not seem like such a big deal anymore, with studios frequently greenlighting follow-ups to popular movies from 20 to 30 years ago, or longer (case in point, the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick getting made 34 years after the original).

Carpenter and Russell certainly didn’t end their creative partnership following Escape From New York, collaborating on other cult classics such as 1982’s The Thing and 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China (both receiving their own Scream Factory special-edition Blu-rays).

The delay in getting a Plissken sequel off the ground wasn’t for lack of trying. Russell reportedly wanted to play the character again, and a script had been in development since the mid 1980s. The project suffered additional setbacks after the original film’s distributor went bankrupt and rights to the sequel bounced around, eventually ending up with Paramount. (Distribution rights for the original film ended up with MGM, making a DVD bundle of the two films problematic —though perhaps Shout! Factory can remedy that now that it has been able to release both films on separate Blu-rays).

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The film finally hit theaters in 1996, just a year before the “futuristic” setting of the original film, in which Snake had to rescue the U.S. president from the island of Manhattan, which had been turned into a lawless maximum security prison.

The sequel takes the obvious approach to a follow-up to a movie called Escape From New York, and transfers the setting to Los Angeles. Aside from that, the film is essentially a beat-for-beat remake of the first film, with a few details mixed around for good measure. Most of the new characters Plissken meets correspond to characters from the first movie, from the head of the police force that recruits him for an impossible mission, to the leader of the gangs on the prison island where he’s sent.

In the years since Snake’s first escape, a massive earthquake strikes California in the year 2000, causing the greater Los Angeles area to break off from the mainland. A presidential candidate (Cliff Robertson) who happened to predict the disaster is subsequently swept into office, and he oversees a series of Constitutional amendments, including one giving him a lifetime term. He outlaws all religions but Christianity, and anyone who violates the new U.S. moral code is deported to the island of Los Angeles, which is monitored by a national police force.

In 2013, however, the president’s daughter (A.J. Langer) falls in love with a revolutionary, steals a top-secret weapons control system, and exiles herself to the island. When the rescue team fails to find her, the president recruits Plissken, who has experience with this sort of thing (even eliciting a comment from Snake about how familiar it all is).

Plissken has a day to infiltrate the island and recover the weapons system, which is apparently America’s only defense against an imminent invasion from the rest of the world the president has managed to tick off. The invasion will be led by Che Guevara wannabe Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), who now possesses the weapon thanks to the First Daughter, and plans to use it against the U.S.

So, as with New York, Snake must navigate a series of unsavory characters and dangerous situations to recover the items of national importance and return to the authorities for the cure to the deadly ailment they secretly gave him to motivate him to go on the mission.

Where Escape From New York mostly treats its setting as a generic burned-out urban sprawl, Escape From L.A. puts more emphasis on re-creating the dystopian version of specific recognizable Los Angeles landmarks, and revels in extrapolating a lawless world from a number of L.A. tropes, from a gang of mutant plastic surgeon victims led by a doctor (Bruce Campbell) trying to keep them fresh, to the aging surfer (Peter Fonda) who helps Snake get around town by riding the waves.

And in one of the film’s best gags, a character implies that Disney has somehow gone bankrupt by 2013. In the real timeline, that would have been a year after they bought Lucasfilm.

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Escape from L.A. plays a bit like what Carpenter would have done with the first movie if he had an actual budget to work with. Where the first film felt gritty and was quite effective in making the most out of its limited resources, the sequel seems a bit too polished. The film makes extensive use of computer animation for its visual effects, but they haven’t aged well, looking more like video game graphics than anything that exists in the real world.

Still, its fun to get a sense of the future version of L.A. that Carpenter was going for. The Blu-ray features a new 4K scan of the original negative that makes it easy to enjoy the film’s production design, even if it doesn’t do many favors for the visual effects.

Where the previous Paramount Blu-ray of the film offered no bonus materials, the new single-disc Scream Factory edition presents more than an hour’s worth of newly recorded interviews with some of the cast and filmmakers. They are presented as six separate videos, one for each subject.

Among the actors showcased here are Stacy Keach, who plays the police commander, and Peter Jason, who plays another police official, in addition to Campbell and Corraface. The behind-the-scenes guys include special effects artist Jim McPherson and visual effects artist David Jones. The discussions don’t always stick to Escape From L.A. as the topic and hand and at times veer into the subjects’ careers in general.

Rounding out the package are the trailer, TV spots and a still gallery. While a better offering than the original Blu-ray, it’s a far cry from the two-disc Escape From New York collection that included several audio commentaries and deleted scenes in addition to behind-the-scenes interviews.

Carpenter and Russell reportedly had additional sequels planned, but the underwhelming critical and box office response to Escape From L.A. put an end to that. One potential sequel supposedly ended up being turned into Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars.