Filmed in Vancouver: Smallville


Over the next while I will be looking at a few of the good, not-so-good and great shows that have been filmed in Vancouver over the years. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Title: Smallville
Stars: Tom Welling, Kristin Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum, Allison Mack
Canadian Content: None unless I missed something.
Lasting Impact: The first show that I’ve profiled that is still being produced Smallville helped kickstart a second wave of shows that mixed teen drama with science fiction elements (after Buffy The Vampire Slayer invented the genre), some of which were also filmed in Vancouver. It also helped Warner Brothers finally decide to go forward with the Superman Returns movie.
Good or bad: Mixed. The show does suffer from being compared to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the movie version of Superman, the Bruce Timm / Paul Dini animated Superman/DC universe cartoon(s) and the comics all of which it is inferior to. Taken on its own however it’s an engaging mix of teen drama and superheroics.

The last time Canada stood in for Smallville USA, the childhood home of Superman, was in the 1978 Richard Donner film where Alberta filled the role of the Kent farm. After first scouting Australia it was decided that Vancouver and other lower mainland locations, would be the new home of Smallville Kansas in a teen action/drama series that explored the early years of Clark Kent as he grew into the role of Superman. Superman had been on the small screen a few times since the movies including in Superboy [wp] and Lois and Clark [wp] but it has been the newest series that has been the most enduring helping to define the Clark Kent character to a generation of non-comics readers and paving the way for the Man of Steel’s eventual return to the big screen in last year’s Superman Returns.

Initially my appraisal of Smallville was going to be much more positive, until I remembered Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Smallville follows the path that Buffy, and other shows, tread in mixing science fiction / fantasy into a teenage high school drama, but Smallville has always lacked the incredibly smart writing that Joss Whedon and his team brought to Buffy and while it remains one of the better shows of this kind on television today it just can’t compare. Like the episode of South Park where Butters discovers that everything he can think of doing The Simpsons already did and did it better, Smallville may forever be in the shadow of Buffy. Having said that from this point forward I will try not to mention that vampire show (which I’ll point out was not filmed in Vancouver).

Smallville has had good casting throughout its run, mixing locals like Kristin Kreuk [wp] as Lana Lang and Aaron Ashmore [wp] as Jimmy Olson (if Aaron looks familiar it may be because his twin brother Shawn was Iceman in the X-Men films), with talent from around the world such as Tom Welling as Clark Kent and Michael Rosenbaum [wp] as Lex Luthor (Rosenbaum was the voice of the Flash on the Timm/Dini DC cartoons). After initially keeping the cast fairly tightly focused on the core characters with an additional “freak of the week” style guest, the show’s world has expanded a little with the addition of Metropolis to the settings and new characters such as Lois Lane, the Green Arrow and others.

Smallville is a show that demonstrates Vancouver’s flexibility, with the lower mainland passing as everything from a Kansas farm to a major American city on the level of New York. And yet because it stands in so well for any place in the show, it lacks the influence on the feel or visuals of the show that it had on The X-Files [mbv]. Because it’s so flexible here Vancouver rarely looks like Vancouver, despite the odd glimpse of a local landmark like the downtown library on Robson. Normally for the Filmed in Vancouver posts I have not quoted much from Wikipedia, despite using it as a reference, however the Wikipedia article [wp] on the show has such a good article on local locations that I’m going to quote extensively from it now.

The show is produced at BB Studios in Burnaby. Initially, production was going to be in Australia, but Vancouver had more of a “Middle America landscape”. The city provided a site for the Kent farm, as well as doubling for Metropolis. It also provided a cheaper shooting location, and was in the same time zone as Los Angeles. “Main street” Smallville is at a combination of two locations. Portions were shot in the town of Merritt, and the rest was shot in Cloverdale. Cloverdale is particularly proud of being a filming site for the show; at its entrance is a sign which reads “Home of Smallville”.

Vancouver Technical School doubled as the exterior for Smallville High, as the film makers believed Van Tech had the “mid-American largess” they wanted. This kept in-line with Millar’s idea that Smallville should be the epitome of “Smalltown, USA”. The interiors of Templeton Secondary School were used for Smallville High’s interior.[17] The Kent farm is a real farm located in Aldergrove. Owned by The Andalinis, the production crew had to paint their home yellow for the show. Exterior shots of Luthor Mansion were filmed at a castle in Victoria. The interior shots were done at Shannon Mews, in Vancouver, which was also the set for the Dark Angel pilot and Along Came a Spider. Movie house Clova Cinema, in Cloverdale, is used for exterior shots of The Talon, the show’s coffee house. For the first three seasons, the coffee house is co-owned by Lex Luthor and Lana Lang, who also manages it.

Smallville continues and is entering its seventh season this year. It’s hard to summarize the impact of a show that’s still on the air since its influence on both the city’s film industry and the television landscape as a whole is not yet complete. However it’s not hard to guess that the success of Smallville helped rescue last year’s Superman Returns from development hell which it had been trapped in for years. (For a particularly amusing story involving Kevin Smith’s one time involvement in that project see this YouTube video [yt]). Smallville remains a show that’s never quite as bad as its critics say, nor quite as good as its supports want to think it is. It is though probably as good as a weekly drama about the life of a young Clark Kent could be and it’s been remarkably successful at adapting some of the far out ideas from the comics to a more grounded television universe.

3 Comments so far

  1. Hummingbird604 (unregistered) on August 1st, 2007 @ 12:09 am


    There IS Canadian content on Smallville. Erica Durance is Canadian, and actually Kristin Kreuk is born and raised in Vancouver. Lots of local actors (including twin brothers Shawn Ashmore and Aaron Ashmore, as you clearly have noted in your review). Or what do you mean by no Canadian content?

    Great review though!

  2. Matt (unregistered) on August 1st, 2007 @ 10:15 am

    I think he means in the fictional setting and writing of the show. There’s a difference between Canadian Content and Canadian Production.

    In this case, despite the show’s being filmed in the Vancouver area, and many of the actors being Canada, none of the story’s characters hail from Canada, and none of the scenes (to our knowledge, anyway) are set in Canada — only filmed here.

    This is true to varying degrees for most Vancouver films and series. Even the X-Files’ Canadian content was limited to a few arctic circle scenes (presumably in Canada, but not clear), and the Season 4 opener which begins with a TELUS install tech on a roadside in Alberta.

  3. Hummingbird604 (unregistered) on August 1st, 2007 @ 4:39 pm

    I think you’re right Matt. Sorry Jeffery, I think I misunderstood. Well, Dark Angel does have some Canadian content. In several episodes, some of the X-5 siblings of Max are shipped off to Canada (like what they did with Tinga, whom Zack drove to Canada). Sorry, this should’ve been in your next post.

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