The Complete First Season (Region 1 edition)

Starring: Tom Welling
Warner Home Video
RRP US$64.92
Available now


Clark Kent may have been brought up by humble Kansas farmers, but his origins couldn't be less down-to-earth - he arrived in a spaceship from another planet during a meteor shower. Now a teenager with burgeoning superpowers, Clark struggles to preserve his secret, even from his closest friends, Pete, Chloe, Lana and Lex, while protecting innocent people from the strange side effects of the meteor rocks...

This series is an excellent example of how to successfully re-launch and re-brand a long-running character. Executive producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have preserved the essence of the Superman legend (a powerful but morally upright alien striving to save people from peril) and the setting of the classic Superboy comics (the titular town of Smallville), but have stirred them up in a whole new mix. Into this mix are thrown the "alien teen" aspect of Roswell and the "monster of the week" element of The X-Files.

None of the superpowered villains from the comics have yet made it into the TV show, so Clark (Tom Welling) faces new foes each week in the shape of ordinary humans who have been mutated in various ways by the green meteor rocks (which comics fans will recognise as Kryptonite). Kryptonite affecting humans is an innovation of this new mythology, though we soon discover that the rocks still have the power to weaken Clark, as they did on the radio, in the comics and in the movies. Many of the mutated "monsters of the week" are unfortunately similar to characters that have appeared in the aforementioned X-Files, including an electrically charged kid (Adrian McMorran) in the pilot episode, a pyrokinetic (Dan Lauria) in Hothead, a shape-shifter (Lizzy Caplan) in X-Ray, a fat-sucking fiend (Amy Adams) in Craving and killer bees in Drone. What really drives home the similarities is the music of Mark Snow, who also scored the entire run of The X-Files.

The episode Leech sees Clark's powers transferred to an ordinary boy (Shawn Ashmore) via a lightning strike, a plotline that was used in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. But I suppose this is an irresistible idea that has been used in many other versions of the Superman saga as well.

While Gough and Millar are careful not to put off any casual viewers by ramming unwieldy chunks of 65-year-old mythology down their throats, the producers respect the character's heritage and pay homage to it in subtle ways. Fans of the D.C. Comics series will appreciate the nickname "fortress of solitude" for Clark's personal barnyard retreat, as well as references to Cadmus Labs, a scientist called Hamilton, and the fact that Clark frequently wears blue or red, the colours of Superman's costume. In fact, there is a grand tradition in the comic series for such reinvention and gradual reintegration of old mythology, most famously in John Byrne's revisionist Man of Steel mini-series, which established, as Smallville does, that Clark's powers developed over a number of years as he approached adulthood. Another nod to D.C. is the long-haired look of Lionel Luthor (John Glover), which resembles the cloned body that Lex Luthor inhabited in the comics during the mid-1990s. The movies are also acknowledged in the casting of Annette O'Toole, who played Lana Lang in Superman III, who takes on the role of Clark's adoptive mother, Martha Kent.

The casting is another major factor in this series' favour, especially in the case of Tom Welling, who combines the look and heroism of Superman with convincing teenage angst; John Schneider, who proves that there's more to his repertoire than Bo Duke with his portrayal of Clark's devoted father Jonathan; and Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor, who constantly defies our expectations of the character while the writers simultaneously hint at his potential future as Superman's arch nemesis.

The only truly disappointing character is Pete Ross, played by Sam Jones III. The actor's performance is fine, but he doesn't get enough to do, and all too often comes across as little more than a token black kid. The deleted scenes on the final disc attest to the fact that he would have had a greater amount of screen time had certain episodes not needed to be trimmed for time reasons. Thankfully, this shortcoming is a matter that is addressed in the second season, when a major plot development affords Pete a greater role.

The box set's special features include the aforementioned deleted scenes - six minutes' worth from the first two episodes, Pilot and Metamorphosis. There are also some storyboard comparisons to scenes in the pilot; audio commentaries for both the pilot and Metamorphosis by Gough, Millar and pilot director David Nutter; and interactive DVD-ROM features. Not much relating to episodes after Metamorphosis, though.

One annoying thing about the special features is that they are listed on the main menu of every disc, even though there aren't any on discs 2-5. If you select "FEATURES" on discs 2-5, you only get through to an unhelpful message that reads: "Check out the other discs from Season One for Special Features." Gee, thanks! Why bother listing the features at all? Surely it wouldn't have been that much trouble to have designed a different main menu for discs 2-5?

However, aside from the inconvenience of the menu listings, which you soon get wise to if you consult the booklet inside the pack, this affordable box set is really rather super.

Richard McGinlay

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