The Complete Fourth Season
(Region 1 Edition)

Starring: Tom Welling, Kristin Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum and Allison Mack
Warner Bros
RRP US $59.98

Certificate: Not Rated (USA)
Available 13 September 2005 (USA)

Born on another planet, a son of Krypton, Kal-El is sent as an infant, by his father Jor-El, to the planet Earth to escape the destruction of his home. Found and adopted by Martha and Jonathan Kent Kal-El must grow to manhood as Clark Kent hiding his awesome powers...

From a prejudicial point of view I was ready to hate this show, I'd not seen much of the series on television, and the bits I had seen made me want to turn the channel over. It looked to me, on those little fragments, just like some awful teen take on Superman's early years - all testosterone confusion and staring off into space wondering about the meaning of it all. A lot of good shows gets cancelled in their first year and a lot of old tat seems to hang in there for no good artistic reason, so you can understand my surprise to discover that Smallville, in its forth year, not only wasn't what I thought it was, but was in fact a very good show. Okay, so there are some teen flick elements, after all these are Clark's teen years, but those elements aren't allowed to get out of hand.

Some of the performances are stunning, although the Kents role as the moral voice of the show can get a bit gratingly preachy at times. So, it was nice to see Martha, played by Annette O'Toole, let her hair down and have something else to do in Spirit when her body it taken over by a particularly vacuous cheerleader.

The supporting cast of Allison Mack as Chloe, Erica Durance as Lois and Kristen Kreuk as Lana, all do a great job at bringing their characters to life and imbuing them with more than two dimensional facets. Oddly enough the worst performance is given by Tom Welling as Clark, who for the most part seems to have attended the Keanu Reeves school of wooden acting. Hell, even Roger Moore raised his eyebrow now and again. I may be being over harsh here; this may have been the performance that the makers were after, if so, they have done Tom an injustice. He comes over less like the puzzled stranger in a strange land, more like someone who's just a little bit 'special'. He does break out of this occasionally, usually when he's possessed, as in Transference and Spirit but otherwise it's pretty much a one note performance.

The prize for great performance and most intriguing character has to go to Michael Rosenbaum who plays Alexander 'Lex' Luthor. By far the most charismatic and complicated character in the show, Lex is not your common or garden villain. Afraid of his own ambition and the path he is travelling. In Scare we see Lex's worse nightmare, when the attainment of absolute power compels him to condemn the world to a nuclear holocaust. In one of the best episodes, Onyx, a lab accident splits Lex into his good and bad side. Okay, this has been done to death since Captain Kirk did it, and the episode isn't as good as Harlen Ellisons Shatterday, shown as part of the Twilight Zone in the eighties, but it does give us an insight to the turmoil that is Lex's psyche. I was particularly pleased to see that the good Lex wasn't portrayed as weak and ineffectual as is often the case in these stories. The relationships he has with his father Lionel - another great character played by John Glover - Lana and especially Clark demonstrates just how complex a character he is. If Smallville ever gets cancelled I'd love to see a Lex Luthor series.

The fourth season finds Clark in his final years at Smallville High, so as you would expect the theme of change and transformation plays a large part in the seasons overall arc. Holding the narrative together throughout this season is Clark's search for three artefacts left by his father, Jor-El, on earth. When put together they represent a source of great power, a power that must not fall into the hands of the humans. Clark is not the only person looking for the crystals. Lex Luthor, Clark's sometime friend, is also looking for them. Clark is helped and sometimes hindered by his friends Lana Lang - love interest for Clark and Lex - Chloe Sullivan, Jason Teague and, introduced this season at last, Lois Lane.

The show has its own tone and neither slavishly adheres to the comics or the previous films and television series. This is as it should be, but it's nice to see some elements of both being referenced in some of the minor characters.

In Run, Clark meets a super fast thief, one of whose pseudonyms is Barry Allen the same real name of The Flash in the DC comics and as an extra Warner Brothers have included the very first episode of The Flash TV series.

In Lucy we are introduced to Lucy Lane, Lois's younger sister, but not for this show the saccharine sweetness of the comics, this Lucy comes with a bite. Harder still, but with a certain amount of success we are introduced to Krypto, Kal-El's pet dog from the comics, but here depicted as an escaped canine test subject.

With this season up against Lost the makers appear to have tried to grab some audiences from other shows, so this season we have a whole Witchcraft storyline running through, I guess they hoped that this would get some of the Charmed crowd on board to maintain their audience share. Lana gets a cool tattoo and a new boyfriend but things are not what they seem. In Spell, Lana, Chloe and Lois are inhabited by the spirits of three dead witches also intent on gaining control of the stones, which they hope will bring them great power.

The show has a cinematic feel to it not often found in small screen presentations, its not just the bits that have been purloined from other films. The villain in Gone is able to metal morph in the same was as the cop in Terminator 2 and there is a homage fight scene in Sacred that is very reminiscent of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. No, there is a definite use of expensive crane shots and shots that really use the expansive vista that stands in for Kansas and the overall cinematography is far superior to other shows.

There are some downsides to the show as a whole, the overuse of various types of Kryptonite, and a sad lack of continuity in some places. When Alicia's character returns to the show and her final fate is determined (in Unsafe and Pariah) nobody seems to either remember her or be affected by what happened to her by the next episode. This holds true for the various 'villain of the week' type stories, which don't really add to the overall arc.

This box set has a number of extras, twelve of the twenty-two episodes have unaired scenes, often more than one, and three episodes have a commentary track giving insight to the show. There is a DVD-Rom link to the Smallville web site for extra content, but that involves having to use the player provided. Subtitles, should you need them, come in English, French and Spanish flavours. The Free Flash episode, on a separate disk, and the two small featurettes Being Lois Lane and Behind Closed Doors - Inside the Writers Room complete the package. The six disc set runs for an impressive 952 mins.

The picture is matted to give a widescreen appearance, which adds to its cinematic feel. In the sound department there is no 5.1 or DTS track which is a real shame as the show would really benefit from it.

So there you have it, WB and Smallville have made another convert. The show still has its faults, including the world's most annoying title track, but hey that's a matter of personal choice. For the Smallville fan this is a good overall package with some strong episodes. For those of you new to Smallville I suggest you start watching them from the beginning, I know I will be.

Charles Packer

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