Movie Review: Smallville ‘Relic’

Magical episode in young-Superman series _ 9/10
Review by Brian Wright

Smallville: RelicLana: She knew what it felt like to really be in love.
Clark: It’s too bad it couldn’t last.
Lana: But what if that’s not the point. Maybe you have to be grateful for the time that you have together, stop holding on to what could’ve been.

You have to be kidding. Smallville?! Just a comic book treatment of the comic book hero, Superman, right? Not. I’d heard of the Warner Brothers Smallville series, but paid scant attention. Having grown up in the 1950s as an avid follower of the Superman television series starring George Reeves (also reading several of the Superman comic books[1], which had a life of their own since their origin in 1938), I welcomed the first movie Superman in 1978. I’m still a young man (29) then, and though wary of the overcommercialization of one of my childhood heroes, I feel Christopher Reeve and company gave the first Superman a wonderful presence.

Character Created by: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Series Developed by: Alfred Gough and Miles Millar
Series Concept by: Tim McCanlies
Episode Directed by Marita Grabiak
Episode Written by Kelly Souders and Brian Wayne Peterson

Tom Welling … Clark Kent / Jor-El
Kristin Kreuk … Lana Lang / Louise McCallum
Michael Rosenbaum … Lex Luthor
Sam Jones III … Pete Ross
Allison Mack … Chloe Sullivan
John Glover … Lionel Luthor
Annette O’Toole … Martha Kent
John Schneider … Jonathan Kent

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After Superman II (1981) Hollywood ‘glitzed’ the work of art.

What distinguishes Smallville is its story of how Superman in the person of Clark Kent comes to be an adult, i.e. the growing years after he was discovered in the aftermath of a meteor shower that struck the Kansas, USA, countryside. I recall that Superman (birth name Kal-El) arrived on Earth, in a spacecraft, as a boy from Krypton, a self-destructing planet from a faraway galaxy. Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) and Martha Kent (Annette O’Toole), farmers, discover the Superman boy in the debris of the meteor shower and adopt him as their own. Hence, Clark Kent. We pick up in Season 1 as Clark (Tom Welling) is a teenager helping with the farm and attending high school. His key friends and character associates are:

  • Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack)—a pre-Lois Lane reporter and newspaper editor type
  • Pete Ross (Sam Jones III)—a pre-Jimmy Olsen who helps Chloe
  • Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk)—the teen heart throb of young Clark
  • Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum)—son of billionaire sleazoid Lionel Luthor (John Glover) who was affected by the meteor shower and shares his father’s mega-ambitions, albeit not the criminal mind; initially becomes Clark’s friend

The Smallville series—I’m only midway through the third season (and it ran 10 full years from 2001)—is really a family-friendly, coming-of-age soap opera where the principal character has special powers. Continuing plot lines are a) keeping Clark’s powers under wraps, b) dodging the conniving acts of Lionel Luthor, c) dealing with the green-rock-empowered bad guy/girl(s) of the week, and d) whether Clark and Lana will be in or out of love this week. [Unlike Friday Night Lights, the boys and girls of Smallville seem to have a chasteness when it comes to sex before marriage.]

Interestingly, because of the BIG CONCEPT and the Superman lineage, the creators ratchet Smallville to a height several notches above Pleasantville: the 50s sensibilities are refreshing, the young protagonists (especially Lex) have quite a vocabulary and worldliness, the plots occasionally require you to pay attention, and the special effects are stellar and integral. [Most important: Smallville captures the iconic idealism of the maturing Superman.] As actors, the two awesomely attractive main characters, Welling and Kreuk, continue to improve; others in the ensemble, and many of the guest actors, can really bring it. The producers draw on a large pool of directors and writers for individual episodes, making for a varied output.

What’s so special about the “Relic” episode?

One or two episodes per year grab you as a spiritual beacon.[2] “Relic,” which flashes back to late 50s, is one of those—especially for earlier Baby Boomers who would have been hot-and-horny teens or young adults in the Happy Days. The story revolves around Lana, who pays a visit to a old man, Dexter McCallum, doing life for murder of his wife (Lana’s grand-aunt), Louise McCallum. Dexter says he’s innocent, that he saw a drifter running from the barn that night, where Dexter ran in and found her shot.

Meantime Clark has found a relic medallion from the ‘Indian Cave’ that when held and he touches something else in Smallville, he’s taken back to that location at the time of the murder. Clark bears a striking resemblance to the drifter, just as Lana resembles Louise. Thus, the viewer sees all the events surrounding the tragedy. The drifter, played by Welling, has powers—we find out that the drifter is actually Clark’s biological father Jor-El sent to Earth as punishment—and incidentally protects Louise from some town toughs. You can see there’s more than just a spark when they part. The spark ignites in her barn later, and hubba hubba, they get down, to the sharps and flats of “Earth Angel” and other absolute classics.

Kreuk is stunningly beautiful and sexy as the Louise, as I recall from my own youth, she’s ‘the stuff that dreams are made of,’ in authentic costume. The plot comes together logically. The whole episode has a majestic dream quality, and the final bittersweet scene—Jor-El cannot stay—is unlike any you’ll see… tenderness and passion sanctifying the cosmos. If you’re at all romantic, it will take your breath away. Magic.

[1] Superman comics and the Superman character stem from the Depression era work of authors Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

[2] In season two, a show revisits a boy with mindreading powers, who becomes as a brother to Clark. The boy is dying and in the final scene of departure, he and Clark rise in a beautiful multicolored balloon over the Kansas prairie; he knows of Clark’s powers, his parting words: “I love you, tho I must part now, promise me to continue to fulfill your destiny by helping people, fighting for truth and justice. Until it is your time.” I honestly felt at that moment my own departed brother’s presence in the room, telling me the same message. This is the magic potential of Smallville.

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