In 10 Words or Less
Another round of disappointment from Hiro and company
Loves: "Heroes" Season One
Likes: Comic books, Hiro, Sylar, Daphne
Dislikes: Convenient plot twists, Peter, "Heroes" Season Two
Hates: Maya and Alejandro
The Story So Far...
The story of an assortment of everyday people who suddenly discover they have special powers and are connected in ways they can't imagine, the series is as ambitious as anything seen on TV before. NBC hit big with the concept as viewers followed Japanese geek Hiro and his friends in their attempts to save the cheerleader and save the world, only to get let down by the second season's less enthralling storylines. Universal released the first season of the series on DVD in August of 2007, and followed it with season two a year later. DVDTalk has reviews of both.
After the disappointment that was the strike-shortened second season of Heroes, I fully admit I was disillusioned, and watched nothing of the third year, sadly removing the show from my DVR schedule. There was little draw for me anymore, and I moved on to find a new love in Fringe, which filled my sci-fi needs nicely.
With the "lost" season now out on DVD, it's my chance to return to the show, bathing in an 18-hour flood of angsty superfolk who are intricately connected and haunted by their pasts (again.) It was a chance for the series to embrace redemption, deliver big and make me regret not watching it sooner. And for a while, it did, as the first volume of the third season, Villains, brought back what made the show so good in its first season, with shadowy bad guys and intricate conspiracies, in a storyline that explored what the line is between a hero and a villain. The return of the Petrelli patriarch Arthur (played with quiet badass-ness by Robert Forster) created an us-or-them scenario where characters had to choose sides and decide how far they would go to get what they want (shades of Marvel's Civil War storyline?)
The other key storyline surrounds Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) and his efforts to understand where the Heroes' powers come from. The race to discover how to give and take away powers, which involves a hidden formula and an element known as the catalyst, which is key to the granting of special powers. It was here where it all fell apart, as the catalyst is important to the series for about half a minute, and Mohinder grants himself powers, which creates what could be gently described as an homage to The Fly and the distribution of powers becomes sctattershot, as powers change and mutate with each episode, creating characters who suffered from the Superman syndrome, as they were simply too powerful to be defeated in a realistic way. The introduction of shape-shifting was the final straw, as it made every interaction questionable. If you can't believe that anyone is who they are, every moment becomes hindered by doubt as to the authenticity of the participants. The same goes for the endless double-crosses and secret alliances (again, making everything doubtful) and the deus ex machina of time-travel and healing. If you can always fix the problem, there's isn't really a problem, now is there?
One of the key problems in the second season of the show was the expansion of the cast, which diluted the series, introducing characters that sinned twice, by being uninteresting and taking screentime away from characters viewers wanted to see. Fortunately, the newcomers have mostly disappeared, with only Elle and Maya sticking around, with Maya in (thankfully) a somewhat minor role. The additions this time around are much better, including the ultra-creepy Puppet Master; Daphne, the morally-ambivalent Flash of the Heroes universe, and Utusu, an African version of Isaac Mendez, capable of painting the future on big rocks. Though they are, in some ways, repetitions of other characters, they bring enough to the show to be interesting, especially Brea Grant's speedster, who has a memorable conflict with Hiro (Masi Oka) and a starcrossed relationship with Matt (Greg Grunberg.) There are a handful of other newcomers, including some thuggish bad guys and yet another (very similar) role for Ali Larter, but they don't bother the way Maya and Alejandro did (well, with the exception of Larter's unnecessary return.)
The first arc ended with a bit of a thud, as is probably the only way a battle with a ruthless, all-powerful villain can end, but it was followed up with a dud in the "Fugitives" arc, which tried a bit too hard to have real-world relevance. Guided by a questionably-motivated Nathan (Adrian Pasdar), the government has begun to round-up super-powered people for Guantanamo Bay-style imprisonment, including all our favorite heroes. It puts all the big-names wither in shackles or on the run, a situation that could have been promising, but instead just peters out, as the motivation for each character's actions is no wildly different from what we know of them that it makes little sense. Nathan is all over the ballfield in how he conducts his hunt for his fellow kind, while Sylar has more personality changes than could be legitimately explained by the supposed psychotic break he's experiencing. Instead, it feels like he's doing whatever is needed to advance the plot in the prescribed direction (a condition that seems to affect several characters.) Sure, he's the coolest character because he's the most evil, but he's also far overexposed. Why was he so intriguing in the first season? Because he worked in the shadows. Now, he's got the spotlight and he's just like every other emo hero on the show.
If anything points out how off-track the show has become, it's the way the season ended, which is simply insulting to the viewer, and seemingly exists only to keep two popular characters on the show who really should be gone. I'm tempted to just write it right here, but even if I did, half the people reading would call shenanigans on me, simply because it makes no sense. It's one of many plot holes or forgotten storylines that litter the Heroes landscape, covered over with another goofy Hiro/Ando comedy routine or yet another Sylar road-trip. That kind of repetition is no coincidence, as repetition is a hallmark of Heroes, a show which goes to the well again and again. Seriously, Mohinder's working with the bad guys again, misled by his naivety? That's shocking after he's done it twice in two seasons. Peter gets betrayed by a family member? That's never happened before, and certainly not a number of times.
Though this review bags on the show a lot (and every time a storyline disappears for over an episode, it deserves it) there are some positives to be taken away, at least enough that driving through 25 episodes wasn't all that painful. The show consistently is one of the finest-looking series on TV, with gorgeous photography and special effects, and from time to time, there are bits of inspired creativity, like the origin story in "1961," which makes a terrific call-back all the way to a small-bit of dialogue in the pilot, Larter's character's powerful outburst in "Cold Snap" and the realistic rage the otherwise moral Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) experiences in "Trust and Blood." And maybe I'm a bit blind, but I didn't see foresee the identity of the anonymous underground agent helping the heroes in "Fugitives" and found it a smart re-use of characters. Perhaps smaller arcs, with four a season, would allow the show to focus more, not try to juggle so much and pare down the filler than seems like a problem every season. After getting into "Villains," it was such a disappointment to see it all end the way it did.
Returning to a full 25-episode run, the set climbs to six DVDs, which are packed in a three-tray, three-panel digipak with episode descriptions and extras information, which comes in a stiff slipcase with embossed holofoil cover art (continuing the look of the previous sets.) The discs feature similar animated anamorphic widescreen menus to the previous sets, with options to play all, select episodes, check out the bonus material and adjust languages. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French, though there's no closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers on these discs obviously aren't up to the quality of the show's HD broadcasts, but they look quite nice, capturing the series' cinematic look with appropriate color and a rather high level of fine detail. Style is certainly a large element in the visuals of Heroes, and as a result, there's a lot of different techniques to replicate. It's hard to notice any place where the ball was dropped, though the destruction of Japan looked a bit too fake. There are no obvious issues with digital artifacts and certainly no dirt or damage.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks sound fantastic, like the previous releases, keeping the center-focused dialogue clean and clear, which is key considering how often you've got characters whispering or mumbling, along with the excellent music which sets the mood of the show perfectly. Where the surround mix really shines though is in sides and rear, as the sound effects, music enhancements and atmospheric touches show just what an effort was made on the audio. This is no simple presentation, and the feeling you get from it puts you directly in the middle of the action.
The big extra on this set is once again a set of audio commentaries, one per episode, which, like the tracks on the first season, were available on the "Heroes" web site during the season as video commentaries (and are also available on the Blu-Ray release.) Shot during the season's production, they are once again free of the perspective of time, but you get to hear from the cast and crew at a point when they don't know what's going to happen next (at least until the last handful of episodes.) There's a nice variety of participants, including producers, writers, directors, editors, f/x crew, script supervisors, cinematographers, designers and actors (only Panettiere and Larter are absent among the main cast) and the conversations are diverse in their topics, including little details about production, off-set stories and discussion about the stories and characters. The choice of participants is a bit off once again though, as having a DP and editor on the season's final episode feels like a weird choice (no offense to those chosen, but maybe get Kring in there to talk about how it all wraps up?)
- The Second Coming: director/producer Allan Arkush, creator Tim Kring, actor Adrian Pasdar
- The Butterfly Effect: director Greg Beeman, actors James Kyson Lee and Brea Grant
- One of Us, One of Them: actors Cristine Rose and Milo Ventimiglia
- I Am Become Death: actors Jamie Hector and Greg Grunberg
- Angels and Monsters: director Anthony Hemingway and writers/producers Adam Armus and Kay Foster
- Dying of the Light: actor Sendhil Ramamurthy and writers Chuck Kim and Christopher Zatta
- Eris Quod Sum: Director of Photography Charlie Lieberman and editor Scott Boyd
- Villains: Arkush and actor Jack Coleman
- It's Coming: Actor Blake Shields, Lieberman, and editor Don Aron
- The Eclipse, Part 1: director Greg Beeman and Ramamurthy
- The Eclipse, Part 2: Rose and Grunberg
- Our Father: Grant and actor Masi Oka
- Dual: actor Zachary Quinto and f/x supervisor Gary D'Amico
- A Clear and Present Danger: Ventimiglia, Kring and director Greg Yaitanes
- Trust and Blood: Arkush and director Mark Verheiden
- Building 26: art director Sandy Getzler and production designer Ruth Ammon
- Cold Wars: Ramamurthy and Coleman
- Exposed: Grunberg and Ventimiglia
- Shades of Gray: actor David H. Lawrence XVII and writer Oliver Grigsby
- Cold Snap: Oka and writer Bryan Fuller
- Into Asylum: director of photography Nate Goodman and writer Joe Pokaski
- Turn and Face the Strange: Verheiden and writer Rob Fresco
- 1961: editor Jon Koslowsky and director of photography Adam Kane
- I Am Sylar: Goodman, Foster and Armus
- An Invisible Thread: Lieberman and Aron
Like last time, you get a load of deleted scenes, 37 scenes running almost 36 minutes, which actually include some rather interesting moments, including some bits that might have cleared up some confusion, such as an almost entirely deleted plotline involving Matt and new bad-guy Knox. Even if deleted scenes aren't your thing, you may want to check out Sylar versus Mr. Muggles.
The remainder of the extras, and there are plenty, are featurettes, starting with "The Super Powers of Heroes," an eight-minute look at how the Heroes' abilities are created on-screen. Filled with on-set footage from the various stunts and special-effects shots, it's a nice peek behind the curtain. It's complemented by another eight-minute featurette, "Completing the Scene," which focuses on the visual effects, zeroing in on a few of the more impressive pieces in Season Three.
The great thing about this set is really how the extras skip the usual fluff and aim for info that will be interesting to fans of the show, which is just what you get in the 5:36 "The Prop Box," which gives you a tour of the show's prop collection, with assistant prop master James Clark (who does a fine job as host.) Seeing just how many bits and pieces have been used over three seasons should give you a new appreciation for props. But it's just a warm-up for the four-part, 20:30 "Genetics of a Scene" which breaks down four specific scenes with some real style. There's some legitimate effort to create entertaining content here, and some fun moments to enjoy, like Panettiere having fun with her open skull make-up appliance. It's not a stretch to say this could be the most enjoyable consecutive 20 minutes in this set (episodes included.) It's followed by the 13-minute "The Writer's Forum," which features Kring, Armus and Aron Eli Coleite talking about the season's themes and storylines. You're not getting much more than you get when enjoying the rest of the extras, but for fans of writing, here it is in a nice, neat package.
There's some found material wrapping things up, including two of the three webisodes from this season, the 10-minute "Going Postal" and the 18-minute "Nowhere Man" (the third is found on the Blu-Ray release of the show.) "Nowhere Man," which stars the superbly creepy Puppet Master, is clearly much better than the other webisode, but if you didn't get a chance to watch them online, here's your chance to check them out in improved quality. There's also a short (one-minute) gallery of Tim Sale artwork from the series, and a Pinehearst
commercial (which really is almost entirely unconnected to the series (outside of the URL.)
The Bottom Line
Ratings are down, fans are disappointed and the critics have their knives out. How does Heroes respond? More of the same, and, as such, the reaction has also been more of the same. That doesn't mean the show isn't worth checking out. It just means that you've got to temper your expectations. The DVDs look and sound great, as usual, and there's more than enough extras to enjoy once you finish the series. The best bonus would have been a screen saying Season Four would reboot the series, bringing in a new cast, eliminating all the convoluted history and giving the concept a fresh start.
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.