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Smallville - The Complete Ninth Season (2010) Print E-mail
Monday, 13 September 2010
Image"Smallville" has had its ups and downs during its on-going nine-season run.  For many, the appeal of the film fell off after the first few seasons.  As far I am concerned, the first three seasons were just a warm up for what has become a terrific extension of the Superman saga.

The first few seasons were essentially villains or freaks of the week episodes.  Beginning in season four the show took on a plot arc approach.  This worked well for a couple seasons but then the show feel victim to spending more time on random weekly episodes rather than the season's story arc.  It seems that show has move in and out of this habit over the past few seasons.  Season was extremely vulnerable to that effect.

I am pleased to report that season nine is back in full swing.  Occasionally the story arc falls victim to the prey that is weekly villains, but over all the season works nicely.  Sure, with various writing staffs the season is subject to several subplots being raised and then dropped without a second thought.  Still, for true fans of the Superman genre, the show can do no wrong.  Audiences enjoy each and every episode, only dreading the day in which the show is canceled and how the writers will end a decade long show.  No one thought the show would make it this far, especially after what happened to "Lois & Clark" back in the mid-90s.  However, the tenth season is set to debut in just a couple weeks.  I for one cannot wait.

The ninth season of "Smallville" brings Lois and Clark's relationship to the forefront.  I was most pleased with this choice.  Not only do Lois and Clark have one of the most timeless loving relationships, but Erica Durance is a favorite of mine.  Season nine also deals with Zod and his followers longing to discover how to have "The Blur's" powers as well as a secret organization known as Checkmate.  Checkmate is preparing for what they believe is an alien takeover.  For the most part the three stories work well together.  There is an ultimate connection lacking come the end of the season.  Still, there is something to treasure in every episode.
Season nine also finds other comic book heroes popping up.  In a special two-hour event the show brings heroes such as StarGirl, Hawkman and Dr. Fate to the screen.  Most of the time the heroes are so obscure only true comic book fans would appreciate the cameos or name drops.  Nevertheless, it is a nice attempt on the part of the creators.  Here's to hoping that season 10 is better than ever.

It is no secret that Comcast’s CW HD channel offers some of the worst HD broadcasts.  On no less than half a dozen occasions did some forget to flip the switch, resulting in a widescreen letterboxed image floating inside a widescreen TV picture.  Worse yet, the HD broadcast appears correctly for the first segment, but once it comes back from commercial break the image transforms to this crappy looking floating image.  Thankfully, Warner has provided fans with an improved, compared to previous “Smallville” season releases 1080p video transfer.  It is such a pleasure to watch this show without the pixel breakup and motion artifacting of Comcast HD broadcasts.  Still, there numerous soft shots throughout the episodes.  I suppose a lot of this traces back to the original source material.  On the bright side colors are bolder than ever.  Clark’s red and blue signature outfit always has presence.  Fleshtones remain fairly stable throughout.  Black levels are consistent, with crushing apparent in several scenes.  Shadow delineation is heavily lacking, but not as much as the original broadcast.  However, this is more due to a stylistic choice, as dark vs. light (good vs. evil) is a main component of the show’s storytelling.  Source artifacting is minimal and source noise is even and under control.  There is some noise reduction here and there.  Overall though, this is a pleasing Warner television show Blu-ray video transfer.

Like the video, the original HD broadcast has terrible audio.  The cascading coders of the broadcast chain severely takes its toll on “Smallville’s” audio track.  Crackling, popping and frequency coupling destroy the 5.1 audio track.  This has been mostly resolved here with the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks on the Blu-ray.  Yes, that is right, yet another Warner release with only Dolby Digital audio.  Still no explanation as to why the studio doesn’t see fit to give us lossless audio.  It should be mandated by law that Blu-ray releases come with lossless audio.  The frequency coupling of Dolby Digital is so distracting.  You lose a ton of information.  I digress.  What we do have here isn’t half bad.  These audio tracks have all the right stuff: good surround effects, clean dialogue and a supporting LFE.  I mainly have problems with directionality and dynamics.  The latter is really a matter of mixing for television, but still, a lossless audio track would have given the track more room to breath.  Of huge concern is directionality.  Some of the poor pans stem from the original mix.  However, others are clear after effects of Dolby’s compression scheme.  Coherency of the soundfield is split.  This makes destroys a sense of immersion as you don’t know which soundfield is more important, the front or the rear.  Still, this is a better than broadcast audio transfer.

Warner has upped the quality of the supplemental package for this Blu-ray release, but it is still lacking for true fans.  There are only two audio commentaries.  Actor Callum Blue and a couple of writers take on a commentary for the episode “Kandor.”  This is a very informative track and worthwhile for fans.  The other audio commentary is on episode, “Idol” and features Erica Durance and a couple executive producers.  This is yet another terrific commentary.  This track primarily deals with the story developments and Lois and Clark’s relationship.

There are a total of less than 10 minutes of deleted scenes across the four discs, some of which are quite entertaining.  “Absolute Justice: From Script to Screen” examines the use of the JSA in the season.  “Kneel Before Zod” (great title if you remember “Superman II”) has Richard Donner and Terence Stamp discuss the character of Zod.  The discs are also BD-Live enabled.

“Smallville” is far from perfect.  However, for fans of Superman lore, “Smallville” will always have a special place in our hearts.  The video transfer here is a major upgrade from HD broadcast but still lacks ultimate picture clarity.  The audio track is as good as Dolby Digital can be.  Let’s us just hope that when “Smallville” is over that Warner will see fit to release the entire series in a Blu-ray collection with lossless audio, just like “Lost.”

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