I kinda got fed up with “Smallville” and stopped watching early last season when Chloe Sullivan survived a cliffhanger explosion and Lionel Luthor dodged the gas chamber and Lex was suddenly friends with Clark again, and Clark was squandering his free time playing football against humans, and Lana somehow was the one American who stumbled upon some Old World Kryptonian relics. It just got to be too much for me.
The good news for me and those like me? You don’t have to have seen any part of season four to enjoy the season-five opener. It does a swell job of catching you up on who now knows Clark is Superboy, what Chloe is doing at the North Pole, where the Lex-Clark relationship stands, and any other questions that might niggle at you.
(Although – because I saw a few early episodes of season four – I am still a little curious as to how they explained the coincidence of Clark’s Smallville classmate, Lana, being the individual who happens to come upon Europe’s Kryptonian artifacts. Not curious enough to buy or watch the season-four DVD set, mind you, but curious enough to let the talkbackers catch me up if they’ve a mind to.)
From this point forward, do take that main-page spoiler warning-box seriously, because …
With this fifth-season premiere, the show suddenly and gratifyingly embraces the goofy 1978 special-effects iconography of Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman” movie. While Clark’s birth-dad Jor-El has always been portrayed as kinda an evil presence in “Smallville” (his voice is provided by the great Terrence Stamp, who played supervillain Zod in the Donner movie), the Fortress of Solitude is reintroduced in 5.1, and looks EXACTLY like it did in the Marlon Brando movie. The Phantom Zone returns as well, and we again get to see the faces of agonized individuals pressed up against that spinning, floating geometric space-jail window. It’s all an excuse to recreate the weird ‘70s special effects with dramatic computer-generated imagery, and it’s great fun.
Clark does not tonight fly out of his new fortress as he does in the movie. Nor does he don the blue tights. But there are arrogant Kryptonian villains dressed in black wreaking small-town havoc. And we again get to hear a little bit of John Williams’ always-welcome “Superman” movie theme.
I’m inclined to believe these nods to Donner have something to do with the fact that Bryan Singer’s upcoming “Superman Returns” feature adheres so strongly to visual elements introduced in the 1978 feature. At this year’s Comic Con in San Diego, we heard Singer tell the thousands gathered that he and the producers of “Smallville” were sharing information about their respective projects. It seemed odd at the time, because the TV continuity and the movie continuity don’t – and can’t -really match up, but Singer’s comments do make more sense after you’ve seen both the “Superman Returns” footage screened at Comic Con and “Smallville” 5.1.
Lois Lane is now a regular character, with E.N. Durance’s pretty face newly wedged between those of Michael Rosenbaum and Allison Mack in the main title sequence.
We learn in the credits – the ones subsequent to the “Somebody Save Me” song - that “Buffy” vet James Marsters, who embodies the evil living computer Brainiac this season, appears in tonight’s opener, but I wish someone had arranged to reposition his credit to show’s end – or eliminate it entirely. Marsters’ is not a speaking part this week, and he only appears in the episode’s closing seconds. His nifty entrance would have had far more impact if we weren’t anticipating him all episode.
Herc’s rating for “Smallville” 5.1?
The Hercules T. Strong Rating System:
***** better than we deserve
**** better than most motion pictures
*** actually worth your valuable time
** as horrible as most stuff on TV
* makes you quietly pray for bulletins