Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season (Blu-ray) Directed by Kevin G. Fair et al Studio: Warner Bros. Year: 2009-2010 Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p VC-1 codec Running Time: 928 minutes Rating: NR Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Portuguese Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese Region: no regions listed MSRP: $ 69.98 Release Date: September 7, 2010 Review Date: August 27, 2010 The Series 3/5 For nine years, Smallville has been among the small handful of hits on the fledgling CW network. Originally aimed at teen girls, the show has grown up somewhat during its near decade on the air and now with all of its principals graduated from school and no longer playing teens, the show has become more of a comic book action series for young guys and gals and less a drippy teenaged melodrama. That’s not to say there isn’t melodrama present: the show fairly reeks of it with almost all of the main characters engaged in extreme situations which put lives at danger every week and feature emotions so thick you could cut them with a knife. The show still travels its own course: it’s never been slavishly faithful to the DC Comic mythology of the younger Clark Kent, but this season pushes Clark ever closer to becoming the Superman we’re all familiar with from movies and television shows of the last sixty years. As season nine begins, Clark Kent (Tom Welling) has established a relationship with Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Erica Durance) as “The Blur,” a superhero who swoops in out of nowhere to help those in need but who accomplishes his feats in the blur of an eye. Clark tries removing himself from humanity for the first couple of episodes before realizing that he needs human interaction to better do his job. And it’s at this point that the romantic storyline for Clark and Lois kicks into another level as the two declare their passion for each other as well as continuing as work cohorts. In other series stories, Clark’s best friend Chloe (Allison Mack) is now running a Big Brother-type organization known as Watchtower, very handy as her friends all seem to be in constant danger from both outside forces and their own sometimes misguided intentions. Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley), now one of the owners of Luther Corp., has abandoned his superhero role as the Green Arrow and has gone off the rails, utterly disillusioned and at his lowest ebb, his redemption by Chloe one of the season’s strongest storylines. Luther Corp. CEO Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman) has her own plans for the inhabitants of Earth, and those plans are made more complex by the appearance of this season’s continuing malevolent presence, Kandorian Zod (Callum Blue), newly arrived from the exploded Krypton with a large bunch of followers and intent on making the Earth his new base of operations. As with many continuing drama series on both network and cable television, each episode presents a calamity of the week for our heroes to cope with as well as the season-long story arc featuring Major/General Zod’s campaign to gain power and defeat the son of his most hated enemy Jor-El (voiced by Terence Stamp in the fortress, played by Julian Sands in one episode). Since Zod mysteriously has no powers under the yellow Earth sun as Kal-El/Clark Kent does, his major activity during the season is to find a way to gain the superpowers he lacks to make his conquering of the Earth all the easier while Clark and his friends do everything in their power to prevent it, especially after they’re given a glimpse of a future visited by Lois in last season’s cliffhanger where Earth is laid waste by Zod while Clark and Chloe are killed. Thwarting this version of the future from taking place becomes the serious mission of the show’s heroes for at least half of the season’s episodes. Other highlights in this penultimate season of the show include a very entertaining double episode concerning the Justice Society of America (they pop back up in the season finale as well) and the evolution of the organization Checkmate with Pam Grier making several guest appearances as its shady headmistress. Tom Welling has grown gracefully into the role of the young adult Clark Kent, and Erica Durance is an acceptable Lois. The show’s real saving grace, however, continues to be Allison Mack’s Chloe Sullivan, a no-nonsense computer whiz who stops at nothing when the safety of her friends is the issue. Callum Blue adds a decent touch of menace as Zod (though his in-your-face villainy is a bit burdensome week after week). Kudos to Brian Austin Green who brings considerable charisma and empathy to the role of John Corben/Metallo in three episodes, and it’s nice to see former regular Annette O’Toole back as Martha Kent in a guest appearance. The writers certainly know their audience well, however, as there is an abundance sci-fi/fantasy action sequences each week often involving predictable girl-on-girl fighting (or girls in skin tight clothes beating up much brawnier male opponents), lots of comic book violence (people hurtled though bookcases and glass shelves without breaking bones or majorly lacerating skin), and the irksome plentiful supply of green kryptonite (often called “meteor rocks”) to weaken Clark at the appropriate moments. On the plus side, the special effects are beautifully delivered in the series week after week, one of the show’s real claims to fame. Here are the twenty-one episodes contained on four discs in this season nine Blu-ray set. Names in parentheses refer to the participants in that episode’s audio commentary: 1 – Savior 2 – Metallo 3 – Rabid 4 – Echo 5 – Roulette 6 – Crossfire 7 – Kandor (writer/producers Turi Meyer and Al Septien, Callum Blue) 8 – Idol (producers Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders, Erica Durance) 9 – Pandora 10 – Disciple 11 – Absolute Justice (a double episode; by far, the season’s best) 12 – Warrior 13 – Persuasion 14 – Conspiracy 15 – Escape 16 – Checkmate 17 – Upgrade 18 – Charade 19 – Sacrifice 20 – Hostage 21 – Salvation Video Quality 4/5 The episodes have been framed at the widescreen television aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and are presented in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. Video quality is something of a mixed bag with Smallville. While there are scenes that are as dimensional, sharp, and colorful as any available on any television series, there are many other scenes where sharpness slides into a perplexing softness and the image becomes somewhat flat. Perhaps the heavy use of CGI effects on the series requires that sharpness be dialed back to better meld the real life action to the CGI effects, but it remains that the images vary in quality throughout an episode and throughout the series. Black levels, however, remain inky and impressive. Each episode apart from the supersized one has been divided into 7 chapters. Audio Quality 4.5/5 Though disappointingly Warners did not deem it necessary to outfit this release with a lossless soundtrack, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix certainly gets the job done. The soundtrack is loud, and the entire soundfield is active throughout the episodes that feature heavy action. There is plenty for the LFE channel to do as well, so the mix is very effective with dialogue presented clearly in the center channel. One has to wonder, however, how much cleaner and better delineated the channels might have been had a lossless codec been applied. Thus, a half point has been deducted from the overall score for what is, quite probably, one of the otherwise most active and complex soundtracks of a television show now available. Special Features 3.5/5 There are two audio commentaries, both worth a listen. The one featuring the producer-writers of the episode and co-star Callum Blue is probably the more effective since each can quiz the other on methods and techniques of work and dole out praise as each one sees fit. Blue is also a very articulate speaker. The second one featuring executive producers and co-star Erica Durance is fluffier, but it, too, contains information fans would be interested to hear. There are 10 deleted scenes spread across all four discs which can be accessed from either the episode menu or the features menu of each disc. They’re presented in 1080p and run a total of 8 ¾ minutes. “Kneel Before Zod” gives a mini-history of the character of Zod from the Richard Donner Superman films (played by Terence Stamp) up through his latest incarnation on this series played by Callum Blue. Both actors are interviewed along with several of the show’s producers and DC Comics executives who are pleased with the transition of the character from big screen to small screen. It runs 15 ¼ minutes in 1080i. “Absolute Justice: From Script to Screen” is the set’s most substantial bonus: 29 ½ minutes giving the production history of the series’ double episode from casting (we see some audition highlights) to the building of costumes and sets, through to the stunt work for the principals. It’s in 1080i. The set does have a BD-Live active portal, but there didn’t seem to be anything specifically Smallville related there. The set contains an extremely colorful and helpful 15-page booklet filled with color stills from each episode, chapter listings, and mini summaries of each episode. In Conclusion 3.5/5 (not an average) A reasonably entertaining comic book series with a bit more predictable melodrama that prevents it from attaining even greater dramatic stature, Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season offers fans good video and audio and some tempting bonus features. More information on the series can be found at the show’s official disc website here. Matt Hough Charlotte, NC Note: While WB sponsored this review it was done independent of the actual review process and did not impact the review or ratings given.