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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Heroes - Season 1 (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Heroes - Season 1 (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Universal // Unrated // August 28, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $99.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Daniel Hirshleifer | posted August 27, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Show:
Comic books have never been more en vogue than they are right now. With high profile films like Batman Begins and Spider-Man coming out in recent years, we're now seeing an unprecedented wave of comic-based and comic related material. In the next year alone we'll be seeing The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy 2, and more. The market for original IP's with a comic book feel is also wide open. By far the most successful of these new ventures has been NBC's Heroes. Creator Tim Krang and executive producer/writer Jeph Loeb (writer of the highly acclaimed Batman: The Long Halloween, on which a majority of The Dark Knight is based) wove together a tale which was equal parts Marvel Comics, The X-Files, and maybe even a little Dark Shadows and Twin Peaks thrown in for good measure. The mixture was a hit with audiences, turning an unsure prospect into a phenomenon.

Heroes follows the disparate paths of several people, both ordinary and extraordinary. There's Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), younger brother of New York Congressional candidate Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar). Peter is convinced he can fly, but strangely, it's only when Nathan is around. In Las Vegas Niki Sanders (Ali Larter) keeps seeing someone else in the mirror. It looks like her, but it's darker, more dangerous. What does that mean for her and her son, Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey)? In Odessa, Texas, Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) has been tape recording herself dying. And dying again. And again. And again. She's seemingly indestructible, although she's determined not to let anyone else find out about it. Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) finds himself stuck in his LAPD job, until he starts hearing other people's thoughts in his head. Back in New York, painter Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera) is hopelessly addicted to heroin. But when he's high, he creates his best work, all of which seem to come true shortly after he paints them. Then we've got Hiro (Masi Oka), living in Tokyo Japan. Hiro is convinced he can bend the laws of space and time, and as it turns out, he can! Merely by concentrating, he ends up in New York city, five weeks in the future. However, things aren't so great when he gets there. Specifically, a nuclear explosion occurs, prompting him to return to Tokyo, now with a mission. Over the course of the next five weeks, all of these people's lives will become utterly entangled.

One of the great things about Heroes is also what makes it so hard to do an effective synopsis: Its sprawling epic nature. The show does an excellent job of spreading interest across several different characters all across the country and sometimes even the world. Like a novel, the show picks and chooses moments to show us. A little here, a little there, and the interest grows. Of course, it's not like we're watching paint dry here. The people in this show have extraordinary abilities. Nathan Petrelli flies like Superman. Claire Bennet regenerates like Wolverine. And Isaac Mendez can see the future.

Kring and Loeb are more than aware Heroes' comic book inspirations. Loeb is himself a comic writer, and Kring clearly takes joy in referencing comics whenever he can. The very look of the show is heightened to make it look like it's got the bright colors and alternating bleak shadows so often found in most comics. Mendez's paintings are drawn by renowned comic book artist Tim Sale, and other characters even mention that his paintings look like they're taken from comics. Hiro often quotes X-Men and Star Trek. Upon finding himself in New York, one of the first things an elated Hiro sees is a comic book of himself, drawn by Mendez. The connections are overt, but not overwhelming. The storylines play out as human drama, but with a supernatural twist.

Unlike most comics, Heroes has an underlying mystery. Much like Twin Peaks and especially The X-Files, there are unseen forces at work. And as each layer of the mystery unfolds, things seem to just go deeper and deeper. Unlike The X-Files, there appears to be some sense of direction. Every new answer is an actual step forward, as opposed to yet another diversion to make the audience think they've learned something when they haven't.

The show's not flawless, of course. While the dialogue can often be smart and witty, sometimes it's just way too obvious. I'll chalk that one up to the show's attempts to hew close to comic books. Same with the obvious and easy to spot plot twists. Some people have commented on how the constant intertwining of the characters feels forced, but I actually think it works, given the themes of destiny running throughout. The biggest problem, by far, is the Ali Larter story. It's nothing more than a bad multiple personality tale, and it's not even told well. It's the only time the show drags. More than that, actually. Her sequences stop the show right in its tracks.

But even with her scenes, Heroes is still one of the better and most unique shows on television at the moment, which is more than enough reason to give this set a spin.

Heroes comes packaged with a fold-out case in a cardboard slipcover. Inside is a booklet with instructions on how to use the U-Control and Web Enabled special features.

The Image:
Universal presents Heroes in its original aspect ratio 1.78:1 in this VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer. I was severely disappointed in this wildly inconsistent transfer. While shot on film, Heroes has been severely digitally altered to achieve the stylized look Kring was after. Unfortunately, the results of this is that many of the scenes are littered with digital noise, to the point where entire backgrounds look like they're covered in swarms of insects. Often shadow detail is non-existant, and the drop off to black is ridiculous. Also, it looks as if edge enhancement has been liberally applied, often appearing on jawlines and the edges of glasses, in people's beards or hair, etc. At the same time, however, there are scenes of stunning clarity. Sometimes everything just comes together and the picture looks great. Not the best I've ever seen, but very good. Mostly the image hovers somewhere between these two poles, but I see this as a missed opportunity on Universal's part.

Note: I did not watch Heroes in HD during its initial on-air run. Speaking to those who have, everyone I have talked to agrees that the HD DVD is noticeably better than the versions that aired on NBC. If you saw the show on TV, this will look better. If you were satisfied with the way it looked then, you'll be more than happy with the way this looks, as it is an improvement.

The Audio:
Despite the fact that Universal is slow dipping their toes in the lossless audio waters once again, Heroes comes with only a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix. For a show about superheros, most of Heroes is actually dialogue driven. Luckily, all of this dialogue is very clear and strong. But even when the track does come to life, it's not too impressive, with most of the sound getting spread equally to the rears, without strong separation or directionality. Not terrible, not great.

The Supplements:
Universal lavished the DVD set with a copious amount of extras. Not only are they all present on the HD DVD, they're just the tip of the iceberg. Universal has gone all out to make this set as feature-packed as possible. While all of the supplements are in 480p standard definition, the sheer amount of what we get more than makes up for the lack of HD presentation.

  • Extended Pilot with Optional Commentary: This version of the show's pilot runs 73 minutes and includes several extra plotlines. In addition, scenes from the aired pilot sometimes get cut in this version, which was put together by creator Tim Kring. It's very different, even to the point of having another actor playing Sylar. There's also a commentary with Kring, who outlines the changes and gives some anecdotes.
  • Video Commentaries (HD DVD Exclusive Feature): Universal offers picture-in picture commentaries on eight of the season's 23 episodes (for the curious, they appear on "Godsend," "The Fix," "Distractions," ".07%,", "Five Years Game," "The Hard Part," "Landslide," and "How to Stop an Exploding Man"). These commentaries feature many of the show's cast and crew in rotation. Personally, I quite enjoyed all of these, as it's clear that everyone is really excited about being part of the team and have some good things to say.
  • U-Control (HD DVD Exclusive Feature): This is Univeral's interactive feature that they have included on many of their high profile releases. Often, we get a lot of fluff and little substance, but that's not the case with Heroes. Probably the coolest U-Control feature is the ability to take a closer look at any of Isaac's paintings. This is really cool, as you can zoom in while you're watching the episode. Considering how vital these paintings are to the series, it's a great way to go more in-depth. There's a "Character Connections" chart which is more useful than it sounds. Each episode, a few of the characters from each area interact with each other, many of them unaware that they are doing so. This feature charts their meetings in a way that resembles the map made by "Papa" Suresh, with intersecting lines criss-crossing around. Considering how often the characters bump into each other, I found this to be very useful indeed. The final aspect is also the least interesting. Throughout the show, a Helix symbol appears (it's most easily noticed on the cover of the book "Activating Evolution," as well as Jessica's shoulder) and this feature points the symbol out every time it shows up. Personally, I enjoyed finding the symbols by myself, so I didn't have much use for this, but less eagle-eyed viewers may want to give it a whirl.
  • Web Enabled Content (HD DVD Exclusive Feature): All HD DVD players are required to have an ethernet connection, which is how Universal is able to put web content on the Heroes HD DVD set. There are two sections to this. One is a "Genetic Abilities Test," which asks you questions and then determines if you too have special abilities (more likely than not it will tell you that you have them). You can then register your powers and your profile online for others to see. I have to say, however, that for anyone who has watched the show before registering, it seems like it might be a phenomenally bad idea to put your name on a list of super-powered people, but I digress. The other part is a download area, which currently has a trailer for Heroes Season One and the upcoming Universal films Talk To Her and White Noise 2. But Universal has promised that more content will be made available in the future. As to whether or not that actually pans out, only Isaac knows.
  • Deleted Scenes: Most of the episodes contain deleted scenes, some of which are just a few lines of dialog, but others are very substantial and would have done well if included in the actual broadcasts. A mixed bag, but worth going through for the best scenes.
  • Making Of: Here's where the supplements start to whittle down. This featurette is 10 minutes and it's just fluff, especially if you've gone through the commentaries and Unaired Pilot.
  • Special Effects: A look at the visual effects done for the series, which I thought looked pretty darn good. This extra gives us an idea of how little time the effects people had to work on any given episode, which makes the end results look even better in my eyes (and the few less than stellar shots become much more forgivable).
  • Stunts: 10 more minutes about the stunts, with some interviews and behind the scenes footage on some of the key action setpieces.
  • Profile of Artist Tim Sale: Considering Jeph Loeb was an executive producer on Heroes, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that his longtime collaborator Tim Sale was brought on to do the artwork for Isaac's paintings. This is easily the best of the featurettes, as Story has plenty to say and it's all worth hearing.
  • The Score: Ladies and gentlemen...The Revolution! Wait, sorry, I was having a flashback to Purple Rain. Why would that be? Oh yes, because Wendy and Lisa composed the show's score. It's rather atmospheric, but it's neat to see them again, anyway.
  • Mind Reader: A rather pointless game where you pick some of the show's heroes and Matt Parkman tries to guess which ones you've chosen.

The Conclusion:
Heroes rightfully deserved to be a mega hit. It's got everything you need for good television: Identifiable characters, excellent plots, humor, drama, and super powers! The series' few flaws aren't bad enough to turn people away, but the image quality on this HD DVD might. The transfer is maddeningly uneven, going from very good to downright awful and back again. Luckily, Universal has eased the pain by stuffing this seven-disc set to the brim with features, many of them exclusive to the HD DVD version. So while I'm not happy about the picture, the glut of supplements makes this the superior home video version of this compulsively watchable show. Highly Recommended.

Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.

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