In 10 Words or Less
An epic serial with a comic-book mentality
Likes: Comic books, Hiro, Sylar
Dislikes: Convenient plot twists, Peter,
Hates: The ending
When you see Spider-Man on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and D-list characters like Ant-Man are getting feature films, it's hard to believe that it hasn't been that long since comic books were mainly the realm of the social pariah. Sure, Batman, Superman and the X-Men have had their popularity, but true mainstream acceptance has always been out of vinyl-gloved reach.
The true proof of mainstream popularity are television ratings: winners determined by the lowest common denominator. Thus, the ascendancy of "Heroes" has announced the arrival of comic book adventures as an accepted genre. The people have spoken, and they said "We want our superheroes without latex or spandex." And that's just what "Heroes" provided in tasty bite-sized portions.
With a story of this magnitude, it's hard to pick out one actual "hero" for the series, but the two finalists have to be the appropriately named Hiro (Masi Oka) and the very emo Peter (Milo Ventimiglia.) Both men travel the path of the classic hero as they discover their powers and chase down their destinies, dealing with loss as they grow as men. An office drone and a unsatisfied hospice worker, they are also the most "normal" characters, and serve as stand-ins for the viewer.
Though Hiro and Peter are the stars, in the grand scheme of the series, everything centers around high-school cheerleader Claire Bennett (Hayden Panettiere,) who, despite being able to regenerate and heal herself, needs the protection of all the show's heroes. After all, as goes the now-famous saying, "Save the cheerleader, save the world." She acts as the core link in the show linking all the characters, and does a fine job of portraying a young girl in way over her head, but with just enough heroic tendencies to be brave, yet scared, and never more mature than her age should allow.
The remainder of the heroes represent a wide cross-section of society, including a conflicted politician, a disillusioned scientist, a troubled cop, a heroin-addicted artist, and an internet stripper, and each one struggles with their powers and their relationships. As a result, the characters are simply human and their stories are engaging. Or, at least most of them are, as they cover a variety of genres, including police procedurals, political drama and mystery adventure. The one that doesn't work as well focuses on Niki (Ali Larter), her son Micah, and her estranged husband D.L. Though superpowers are a part of the mix, Niki's background is more soap opera than comic book, and her story is too tangentially connected to the rest of the plot to really care much about, and as a result, her family drama feels out of place in the overall tale.
A story about heroes tends to only be as good as the villain involved, and "Heroes" has a powerful one in Sylar (Zachary Quinto.) A physical and mental match for the good guys, he is a frightening foe, mainly because his powers have no real limit, as he seeks to acquire more abilities as part of his psychosis. As his origin is revealed over the course of the season, Sylar is fully-fleshed out thanks to a solid performance by Quinto, becoming as "real" as any of the heroes, with sincere motivation and true purpose. It's the mark of a good villain when you want to see more of him than the heroes, and that's certainly the case with Sylar, whose "hunt" would be an interesting series on its own.
Quinto's performance isn't the only one worth tuning in for, as the show gets excellent turns from many actors, including Sendhil Ramamurthy's portrayal of Mohinder, the scientist seeking to continue his father's investigation into evolution, Adrian Pasdar's congressman Nathan Petrelli, who is tied up in conspiracies and idolmaking, and even Larter's attempt to show the two sides of Niki through her face and movement. It would be hard to pick out a performance that flat out doesn't work for the show, as the ensemble cast fits together well, and the guest stars, including George Takei, Eric Roberts, Richard Roundtree and Malcolm McDowell, are integrated seamlessly. Takei's appearances may be the finest TV work of his career, and while he brings sci-fi clout to the show, his role likely changed how some people view him as an actor, having known him mainly as Sulu.
With such a large story and so many characters to "service," the series ran the risk of losing its way and its momentum, but by breaking it into manageable arcs, the creators recreated the energizing feel of the movie serial, and managed cliffhangers and character development deftly. Arcs that didn't have a huge effect on the main storyline still were worthy of the time allotted to them, as they helped round out the characters. One in particular, in which Hiro meets a girl named Charlie (Jayma Mays), was spread over three episodes and could probably be cut from the series without much change occurring, but it's easily one of the most memorable, as it was loaded with emotion and helped in the evolution of Hiro as a hero. It's one of the biggest and best examples of the show's comic-book influence, as the episodic delivery of the series worked in its favor. That it could spread one story over such a long time and so many episodes and still connect is a credit to both the show and the fans who followed it, striking down the theory that people can't make a serious investment in TV.
Though the series is tremendous fun and a wonderful example of genre storytelling, it's not perfect, with two roadbumps coming at unfortunate times. One place the series didn't work, is the show "Five Years Gone," which comes before the final three episodes, taking a pause before the series' extended finale. The episode pushed the characters ahead by five years, and told what could be considered a tale of an alternate future, revealing what could happen to the heroes if the storyline goes along as it seems it will. Just when things were getting good, the show took a left turn, and essentially killed the momentum. Showing out-of-continuity characters and the completion of plots that were still ongoing was a bit anti-climatic, and what could have been a cool battle between two of the show's most powerful characters turns out to just be a tease.
The other problem spot is the finale. With so much build-up and such incredible expectations, it was going to be nearly impossible for the series to provide a finale to satisfy everyone, but they didn't have to disappoint everyone instead. A lack of resolution and an abundance of ambiguity as to what exactly happens are the show's greatest sins, as the whole thing amounts to one big "To Be Continued..." The episode shows why most comic books never really have an ending, as the only possible result is letting down the audience. Unfortunately, unlike soap operas, prime time TV has an offseason.
Considering the appeal of "Heroes" to the DVD-buying audience, it only makes sense that Universal would go all-out with this collection, and with the sheer size of the series (which runs almost 17 hours), some serious disc space was needed. The 23 episodes in Season One are spread over seven DVDs, with four episodes on most of the discs, two on disc one, and one of disc seven (which is home to most of the extras.) The discs are packed in a hefty four-tray, four-panel digipak with art, photos and episode information, which is held in a classy holofoil, embossed, matte-coated slipcase. It's really one of the better-looking packages in recent months.
The discs have well-done animated, anamorphic widescreen menus, which are based in Isaac's studio and are heavily comic-book inspired. Options include a play-all choice, episode selections, bonus features and language options. The discs have no audio options, while subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French. There is no closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers feature a very clean image that has bright, vivid color and a very high level of detail. During darker scenes, some obvious grain shows up, but the video is solid for the most part and there are no real obvious digital artifacts to be seen. The video doesn't look nearly as good as it does in high definition, but for SD DVD, it's hard to complain about the quality here.
The audio is delivered in English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that are clean and distortion-free. There are some nice sound effects in the series that are present in the surrounding speakers, which makes the sound more theatrical that TV series tend to be. It's a fitting mix for an action fantasy series.
The extras kick off with the show's unaired pilot, which is quite different than the show's first episode, running 20 minutes longer and featuring a terrorism subplot that was wisely cut from the series. It's interesting to see where bits and pieces of plot and character were moved around and distributed to other episodes and parts, and to see how things changed from creator Tim Kring's first attempt at the show. The episode is available with an optional audio commentary by Kring, who gives a great deal of info about how the pilot was put together from borrowed parts (mainly from his series Crossing Jordan) and why the decisions were made that resulted in the final premiere.
A hefty amount of deleted scenes, 50 in all that run almost 50 minutes, are included on the DVDs, included with the episodes they were cut from. Nothing here felt like it needed to be seen, and considering the smooth way the series moved and hit its marks, it's hard to argue with the decisions made.
The other big extra is a collection of 12 audio commentaries that mix cast and crew. I am almost certain that these are the same commentaries that were available as video commentaries on the NBC web site during the season (due to certain comments made during the tracks), so it's a bit disappointing that there's a lack of perspective included in the comments. Even so, they are solid tracks, with lots of info and entertainment, with "Distractions," "Unexpected" and "Landslide" standing out among the rest.
Here are the tracks:
- "Godsend": Jack Coleman, Leonard Roberts, and Sendhil Ramamurthy
- "The Fix": Greg Grunberg, Hayden Panettiere, and Natalie Chaidez (writer/co-executive producer)
- "Distractions": Milo Ventimiglia, Zachary Quinto, Greg Grunberg, Jeanot Szwarc (director), Jack Coleman, and Michael Green (writer/co-executive producer)
- "Run!": Greg Grunberg, Kevin Chamberlin, Adam Armus, and Kay Foster (writers/producers)
- "Unexpected": Greg Beeman (director/ co-executive producer), Zachary Quinto, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Jeph Loeb (writer/co-executive producer)
- "Company Man": Jack Coleman, Allan Arkush (director/executive producer), and Bryan Fuller (co-executive producer/writer)
- "Parasite": Allan Arkush (executive producer), Jimmy Jean-Louis and Christopher Zatta (writer)
- ".07%": Chuck Kim (writer), Andrew Chambliss (Tim Kring's assistant), and Tim Keppler (Dennis Hammer's assistant)
- "Five Years Gone": Greg Grunberg, Sendhil Ramamurthy, and Jack Coleman
- "The Hard Part": James Kyson Lee, Noah Gray-Cabey, and Ian Quinn (stunt coordinator)
- "Landslide": Masi Oka, George Takei, and Matthew Armstrong
- "How To Stop an Exploding Man": Tim Kring (creator), Dennis Hammer (executive producer), and Allan Arkush (executive producer/director)
The bulk of the remaining extras are on the final disc, with the exception of a "Mind Reader Game" on the fifth DVD, which is a cute math puzzle built around one of the character's abilities. The rest of the extras are featurettes, starting with the 10-minute "Making Of." On-set footage and interviews with nearly all of the main cast and some of the crew are mixed to talk about the origins of the series and how the show came together. It's a nice overview of the show and a condensed version of the info from the commentaries.
"Special Effects" spends almost nine minutes with the show's visual effects supervisor, discussing the work that went into the look of the series, and how one scene in particular was achieved, while "The Stunts" is a 10-minute look at how the action in the series was filmed, using lots of behind-the-scenes footage. Of interest to comic book fans will be "Profile of Artist Tim Sale," whose work was used as the paintings done by one of the characters. This might be the most in-depth of the featurettes, at 11:26 in length, as Sale shares a great deal about his art, his involvement in the show, and the process that went into his paintings. It's definitely worth watching for just about anyone. The finale featurette is "The Score," which joins Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (the former Prince bandmates) and audio engineer Michael Perfitt, to talk about the series' unique musical sound. The nine-minute piece is interesting to watch, especially when it seems that Wendy and Lisa don't seem to agree on their inspiration for the sound.
All of the extras are very polished and well produced, but they tend to be a bit surface and don't go as in-depth as fans of the series might have wanted. Unfortunately missing is any of the graphic novel material available via the web site (for now), which are a major supplement to the series. You do get plenty of ads for other Universal DVDs though.
The Bottom Line
After years of having television taken over by stupid reality shows and inane comedies, along came "Heroes," a series that not only rewarded attentive viewers, but also required them to get on board for the long haul, taking them for a 23-episode world trip that offered a little bit of everything and a whole lot of comic book-style fun. Though the ending left something to be desired after so much investment on the viewer's part, the journey more than made up for it, delivering a complex web of characters that was both fresh and comfortably familiar to comic fans. Like the series, the DVDs are an impressive package, with a solid presentation and a healthy amount of extras that tend to rise above the level of fluff, all packed in a nicely-designed box. Though I think the serial nature of the series goes against the urge to marathon-watch a DVD collection, now that NBC has taken away the online episodes, this is the easiest way to catch up with the series before season two starts. If you've seen it before though, a rental to check out the extras is probably all you need, as the lengthy series is hard to get back into for a re-watch when you know what's coming.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.