Sunday, May 06, 2007

"I didn't peg you as a the kind of guy with a secret identity" - Smallville

Another alternate reality concept rears its ugly head on Smallville this week – what if it was all a film noir? Thus as Jimmy and Chloe are investigating a mysterious shooting at the Daily Planet, Jimmy gets clocked over the head and wakes up in a black & white amalgam of The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon, among others. Sure there’s not much point to it all, and the idea has already been done in holodeck episodes of basically every Star Trek incarnation, but 'Noir' has enough fun with the concept to keep me interested.

The main reason I enjoyed this episode was because it gave significant screen-time to Jimmy Olson (recurring guest star Aaron Ashmore, who has been severely underused all season). Having him as our protagonist makes ‘Noir’ far more interesting than if the increasingly whiny Clark had been the focus. The cinematography and art direction is also superb, especially at the 1940s version of the Daily Planet. To its credit the episode fully commits to its premise, replicating the tone of old-fashioned film noirs with accuracy and great aplomb.

Then again, that’s all Smallville is doing here – replicating. Not that honoring this classic genre isn’t a fine pursuit, but ‘Noir’ does it with varying degrees of success. The plot takes different elements from various sources, including those mentioned, but as the twists keep coming and the whole thing becomes increasingly convoluted it feels like Smallville is mocking the genre rather than trying to honor it. Yet despite the writers’ confusion, film noir is hardly tongue-in-cheek stuff – perhaps Smallville should stick to discrediting just the superhero genre.

Also, the cast have some difficulty getting to grips with the dialogue they’re offered. Ashmore tries to emulate Humphrey Bogart, but although he is undeniably charismatic (somebody get this guy his own show!) he’s a bit too boyish in appearance to pull it off. Tom Welling assumes he can get away with his complete lack of a coherent character by looking damn handsome in a tux. John Glover hams it up shamelessly, drawling words like ‘dame’ and 'cracker-jack' as if he were only just becoming accustomed to the English language. Erica Durance and Kristin Kruek get off easiest – they just have to look sultry and flirt shamelessly. Job done.

Yet despite its flaws, I have to admit that I really enjoyed ‘Noir’. The only problem was I enjoyed it a little too much – when Jimmy was jolted back to life and to the proper Smallville universe, I found myself yearning to return to that black & white world. Even Smallville couldn’t fail to make film noir cool as hell.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

I was a bit impressed with how much they tried to truly make the noir work and I wanted the noir to continue, mostly because as soon as they were back to reality Clark was whining about saving Lana again. Ugh.