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SMALLVILLE: SEASON 9 DVD Review
Author: Jett
DATE
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SYNOPSIS: Synopsis: Great planet, Earth is. So great that other survivors of Planet Krypton wouldn't mind making it home and taking control. But fellow Kryptonian Clark Kent has a warning for Zod and his followers who cross the line, especially if they seek to enlist Lois Lane in their schemes: I will destroy you all!

Hearts grow fonder (Clark & Lois) and dangers grow stronger (Clark vs. warriors of Zod) in this 21-Episode Season 9 Collection. Plus, unexpected characters from DC Comics lore add exciting new layers to the adventures of the

Finally SMALLVILLE transforms into an exciting DCU program with Season 9 -- perhaps the best season since the early days with Season 3.
The past few years have been pretty rocky. Clark’s stay in the barn went on much longer than necessary during the course of the program -- the pining for Lana, the filler episodes, the uneven storytelling, and the big redwood mountainous terrain in Kansas all added up to flaws that detracted from what could be a great program. Season 8 started off spectacularly well -- bringing in a beautifully re-envisioned Doomsday to the table, a Chloe Sullivan facing reprogramming through Brainiac, and finally the Geoff Johns episode, LEGION, which remains a series best. After that, the program became renewed, and the audience could almost hear the brakes squeal, cutting off the excellent head of steam and forward momentum promised by the first eleven episodes == Lex Luthor is casually blown up in a track by the Green Arrow for reasons that are more telegraphed than organic, the proto-Justice League falls into complete mistrust, and of course Jimmy -- excuse me “Henry James” -- bites the dust. All in all it turned into a complete mess.

So, where do we go from here? Clark re-emerges as the blur, sporting the family crest and a costume that evokes THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN, while keeping true to some of the long black trench coat aesthetic last seen on Zor-El (Season 7), and Lex/Zod (Season 6) before that. Yes, it evokes THE MATRIX a little bit (and that’s a shame) but the momentary distraction does not last too long. Lois returns from the future with half-formed memories. Chloe is alone as ever at the revamped Watchtower, and there’s the new threat.

An army of Kryptonians arrive on earth with little memory of how they arrived, all under the shaky leadership of Zod -- not quite yet General Zod, but a younger Major Zod. A great deal of foundation is laid, and from there we have the new DCU elements including Metallo (played to perfection by Brian Austin Green), Checkmate, and even The Wonder Twins. And who could forget the hotly anticipated Justice Society? (For full review of the two-part episode “Absolute Justice,” CLICK HERE.)

Callum Blue (DEAD LIKE ME) as Zod evokes Terrance Stamp at the right moments and at the correct angles. One could picture Callum with a beard, misnaming Earth as Houston. One of the better episodes this season -- “Kandor” -- provides a glimpse of the relationship between Zod and Jor-El before the destruction of Krypton. The friendship and loyalty as it falls victim to megalomaniac interests, provides an interesting mirror to the Clark/Lex interaction of previous seasons. It’s sadly only for one episode, as this kind of back story is more than welcome. Krypton evokes Richard Donner’s version, right down to the council -- projected blue faces against a black wall. The Justice Society provide a proper role model for Clark and Company, and their mentorship is evoked later in the season, when Clark has to make a difficult decision concerning the Book of Rao -- a device that will open a portal and pull all the Kryptonians -- Clark included -- into a parallel world to start over. The kind of team dialogue that emerges is what was sorely lacking in Season 8, even though it is done virtually in the Watchtower. In fact, I accepted that it was through a jazzed up Skype dialogue, as it kept Clark in the foreground, which is what this program must do.

The season moves along quite well, despite a few missteps and goofy fillers (“Rabid” and “Escape” are two of the bigger culprits). I was a bit tired of the self-doubting/downward spiraling Green Arrow, and was pleased that his morose behavior did not carry through the entire season. While introducing Speedy (the Mia version) was a good move to get him out of his own head, the interaction with The Dark Archer was a bit by the numbers. In fact, as much as Justin Hartley shines in the role, I would not object to less Green Arrow focused episodes in Season 10.

Also, some of the television soap opera visual vernacular gets stale. How many times can one character dramatically turn away and speak to the person now standing behind them before this bit of blocking gets old hat? The romance between Ollie and Chloe smacks of evening soap opera narrative necessity, not based on character chemistry, though the actors look like they are having fun.

With that said, the romance that does work is between Lois and Clark. Welling and Durance have excellent screen chemistry, and as their relationship is a strong part of the mythos, I’m willing to watch as much as the writers wish to dish out -- even the sillier moments allow these two to shine.

Guest actors, such as Pam Grier as Amanda Waller, Julian Sands as Jor-El, and the much needed return of Phil Morris as J’onn J’onnz, help bring out a sense of extended family in the DC universe. Bringing back Martha Kent (Annette O’Toole) and Perry White (Michael McKean) was one of the best ideas for a program this late in its run. There’s a moment when White brings in firewood into the Kent house, and the backlighting recalls a similar image of Jonathan Kent walking through the door -- Annette’s quiet performance in this moment is shattering. White offers Lois a co-writer spot for an international story? Yes, please. In terms of guest casting, the one puzzler is Gil Bellows, who plays Maxwell Lord a bit too one-note. Where is that trademark smile and smarmy charisma?

Still, the strengths greatly outweigh the weaknesses, and the program is once again fun and exciting to watch. It feels like Superman version 1.0, and I hope Season 10 builds from there. Season 9’s finale gives us a glimpse into the future -- right down to “Look, up in the sky,” and the arrival of :The Suit” via Martha Kent. “Sacrifice” is the best Season Finale since “Commencement” (way back in Season 4) or possibly “Covenant” (Season 3). It’s the first time in YEARS I’ve had chills during a final episode.

All things considered, this is one of the better seasons, and stands up to repeat viewing. A few skip-able episodes, but the story and the heart are all there, as is the respect for the fanbase.

THE DISC & EXTRAS
I looked at the Blu-ray disc set, and the video quality and audio quality are astounding. The cinematography greatly improved in Season 9, and despite a reportedly declining budget, the cinematographers seemed to be able to do more with less. I’m pleased the transfer lives up to their efforts. The audio is well mixed -- I particularly liked the heroic music swells that accented the derring-do.

The menus are a bit clunky and cumbersome (I can’t believe the standard DVDs still have smoother interactions, and a cleaner title menu), but it’s not too much of a deterrent.

The extras were terrific, but a bit limited in number. There were two audio commentaries, a few unaired scenes, and two original items: Kneel Before Zod: The Evolution of a Classic Evil Character and Absolute Justice: From Script to Screen. Both truly demonstrate the love and care that the show handlers have for this property, even with some of the misfires. It’s quite an ordeal to put on a production that has such a strong fanbase and a larger than life mythos in popular culture. We are talking about THE superhero that began it all, after all.

Kneel has some terrific interviews, including SUPERMAN II’s Zod Terrance Stamp and SUPERMAN director Richard Donner. Before Stamp took on the role of Zod, it had been eight years since his last performance. He was all but retired, and staying in India, when a cable came through from his nearly-forgotten agent, inquiring if he would meet with Richard Donner in London.

Absolute showcases all the hard work that goes into brining an elaborate DCU mythology to the small screen. The storylines, the script drafts, the costumes, the casting, etc. I had a better appreciation for the episode after looking at this program.

While I truly enjoyed these features, I do miss the “Gag Reel” of previous seasons, and would have liked a few more cut scenes, especially for “Idol“ -- which had released photos for scenes not aired, and not included on this disc set. Also, more commentaries would have been nice.

GRADE: A-

Gregg Bray is a longtime BOF'er and site contributor.
He is Lecturer in the Communication and Media Department at SUNY New Paltz.
Send feedback to GREGGBRAY@YAHOO.COM.

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