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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Heroes: Season 3 (Blu-ray)
Heroes: Season 3 (Blu-ray)
Universal // Unrated // September 1, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 29, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Okay, so by the time the third season of Heroes wraps up, we're lookin' at:
  • Another sinister, shadowy "company" swirling around the superhuman crowd. There's even a third if you count the Feds.
  • Mohinder's been duped into helping out the bad guys for the third volume straight.
  • Hiro has lost and (kinda) regained his powers again.
  • We're up to our sixth character whose eyes roll over white and can paint/doodle/whatever the future.
  • Sylar is on his third set of parents.
  • Yet another jaunt to an apocalyptic future? Yup, for the third volume running.
  • Isaac
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    Mendez' 9th Wonders! comics are still being churned out even though he died, like, two seasons ago. This junkie pretty much went nuts since all of his artwork prophecized the end of the world, but you think he'd have been able to lean back since he'd hammered out the better part of a year's worth of comic books showing that everything turned out peachy.
  • The first two seasons of Heroes each ended with Nathan sarcastic-fingerquotes-dying. What's the over/under that the same thing happens the third time around?
Remember back this time last year when NBC aired a bunch of promos pretty much apologizing for the second season of Heroes? "No, it's good again! Pinky-swear! Give it another shot!" Creator Tim Kring acknowledged everything season two did wrong -- the barrage of new characters, glacial pacing, clunky stabs at romance -- and promised that he and his gaggle of writers had learned their lesson. Turns out...? Not so much.

The smart money says if you're digging into a review with "season 3" in the title, you already know who the characters are and can skip some long, rambling setup. If you need a recap, you're watching the wrong show. Anyway, this season is split down the middle into two volumes: the 13 episode "Villains" arc and the 12 ep "Fugitives". "Villains" is rooted around a formula that can infuse anyone with superpowers. If things continue on their current path -- with Congressman Nathan Petrelli about to announce to the world at large that metahumans exist and if the half of the formula entrusted to Hiro Nakamura makes its way into the wrong hands -- then civilization as we know it will be reduced to a smoldering cinder. The odds are stacked the other way this time around. Sylar is essentially immortal now. Primatech is crippled. The biotech firm engineering this scheme is led by a man who doesn't just duplicate powers but steals them outright, leaving his victims weak and defenseless. He's amassed a small army of murderous superpowered flunkies too: escapees from Primatech's most secure prison ward.

In "Villains", Nathan
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was convinced that the existence of metahumans is leading to an uneven balance that's destined to topple society. The solution he toyed with was to level the field -- to give everyone superpowers -- but having seen the failure of that approach, he veers into the opposite direction entirely. The season's second arc, "Fugitives", opens with the survivors of "Villains" back to some semblance of normalcy -- Matt is a cop again, Peter's a working paramedic, Claire's back at home with her father and starting to eye colleges -- but one by one, heavily-armed government agents swoop in and subdue them. Led by the calculating, relentless Emile Danko (Zeljko Ivanek), he and his black-ops squads are hellbent on securing every last superhuman, from an exploitative psychic puppeteer to some harmless schlub who can breathe underwater. The same guys we've been following for a few volumes now escape from a plane crash before they could be locked away, and they're taking the fight to the feds' front door. ...at least until it all goes back to being about Sylar again, building up to an ending that really only seems to be there because someone got the trade paperback of Identity Crisis for Christmas. ::audible sigh::

Okay, I know the way these reviews usually go is Synopsis! Did I Like/Dislike It And Why! Witty Conclusion! I can't really bring myself to trudge through that this time around. See, I really dug the first season of Heroes. It had its missteps, sure -- some of the subplots plodded around endlessly, fist-sized chunks of dialogue creaked along, the season finale was bafflingly anticlimactic -- but I was hooked. That first season juggled a startling number of characters and subplots, pretty much everything gelled together, and it's held up surprisingly well to repeat viewings. Maybe it nudged more towards a guilty pleasure, but there's nothing wrong with that. I'll catch glimmers of that show every once in a while in later seasons: the introduction of the sociopathic Elle, an exceptionally well-done homage to Halloween (the real one, not Rob Zombie's redneck county fair) that kicks off this season, and two of the sacrifices that define "Fugitives", in particular. Otherwise, though...? Heroes is frustrating more than anything else. Poorly written, ineptly constructed, too eager to toss the same plot points from previous seasons back in the microwave for another go, too willing to mash the reset button, more interested in whatever plot they've cobbled together this week than whether or not it actually fits in with the characters they've written... It's a trainwreck, so to focus my ranting a little more tightly, I'm cramming them all under their own individual headings. Feel free to skip around if you want, although fair warning: a couple of mild spoilers are tossed around in there. So, here goes:

Ever since Heroes first kicked off, I've recoiled in pain whenever anyone's mentioned "The Company", and since that happens seventeen or eighteen times an episode, I'm pretty much always doubled over by the time the end credits kick in. Guess I'm in the minority 'cause "Villains" tosses another company -- Pinehearst -- into the mix. So, there's Primatech, the shadowy, clandestine, and frequently sinister paper company whose goal is to prevent the world from ever knowing about the existence of metahumans. Why it has to be a "company" and not a "group" or a "team" or whatever, I have no idea. I mean, you have a guy in it who can make gold. Do you really need a cover? If you do and you're funding your work by shuffling around solid gold notebooks or whatever, what good is it to be a paper company? Anyway, since the morally ambiguous I-guess-they're-good-guys have their company, the bad guys have gotta have one too. At least Pinehearst is a biotechnology outfit, so their front actually gels with the whole superhuman angle. Pinehearst's goal is...I dunno, world domination, I guess. Their
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mwah-hah-hah-nefarious scheme revolves around The Formula: engineering their own metahumans which will eventually spiral into an apocalyptic future where everyone has superpowers. No, it's really not worth thinking about it too hard.

For anyone keeping track at home, volume four delves into the origin of Primatech, although it pretty much boils down to a 12 year old sitting in a diner and saying "we can't let this mistreatment of superhumans ever happen again, so we'll form a company..." Yeah! Let's incorporate in Delaware, figure out some way to pay dividends to pique investors' interest...wait, what are we talking about again?

So, the recipe for churning out a superhuman has two ingredients: The Formula and The Catalyst. This formula was used decades earlier to give a small select number of the heroes currently stomping around their powers, but The Company decided it was too dangerous! Rather than destroy it like...y'know, logic would dictate, they spread it around NES-video-game-style to several secure locations. At least someone tore it into two parts. Hiro is entrusted with half of the formula, which means within a quarter-second of him opening the safe, the bad guys have already swiped it. Yeah, because of curiosity-slash-boredom, Hiro's indirectly responsible for a huge stack of corpses piling up. It's kind of like that episode of Buffy when Xander for the hell of it unleashes a song-and-dance-demon that slaughters a slew of people and shrugs it all off afterwards with an "Oops! My bad!". Anyway, for the formula to do anything, you need a catalyst to activate it, and it turns out that the catalyst isn't a what...it's a who, and it can be transferred from host to host at will. Wait, what...? Picture me shaking my head in disappointment right now. This is just another meaningless, bullshit MacGuffin to give Heroes' characters an excuse to do something.

Heroes' dialogue has never exactly sparkled, but it seems even worse than usual now. Pretty much all of it overexplains things that are fairly straightforward in the first place ("You don't have your powers anymore, Peter...because I have them now"), clich├ęd ("We created a monster and set him loose in the world"), or ridiculous (Peter's seething "I'm the most special!"). It's kind of like thumbing through an issue of "X-Factor" back in 1989. "Marvel Girl! Use your telekinesis to augment my optic blasts so I can fend off Mr. Sinister!"

As bad as a lot of it is -- especially after hearing Knox say something like "Mmmm! Fear! Fear makes me stronger! I get stronger from fear! Go ahead, be afraid: it just makes me stronger on account of me getting stronger from fear!" for the 834th time -- there are some pretty great lines. "Eat your brain...? Claire, that's disgusting." "The Ando-cycle is a chick magnet!" For some reason, I love the name Stop-And-Go-Baby too. Yeah, I don't feel like quoting anymore, though, so moving on...!

There was a pretty great jab at Heroes in "Entertainment Weekly" that asked readers to try and describe Nathan Petrelli without saying something like "politician" or "flies". I can't. I mean,
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I can rattle off what he did in a particular ep, but 59 episodes in, I'm struggling to think of some defining personality trait beyond Senator Flying Man Whoooosh! Heroes doesn't really care about 'em as characters: it's all about nudging the Plot of the Week forward. One week, Nathan is obsessed with religion, convinced that superpowers are a gift bestowed by the man upstairs. A couple episodes later? Forgotten. Never mentioned again (kinda like his wife and kids). Where did Good Mommy Meredith come from after she's so clearly been shown as kind of a money-grubbing sleaze early on? She still opens up her palm every single episode to show that she can make fire, but otherwise, this doesn't really strike me as the same person.

Elle started off as a cautionary tale...y'know, this is what could've happened to Claire if she'd been kept in the clutches of The Company. In season two, it's spelled out that she's a batshit crazy sociopath, wholly unable to relate to people, and has spent more than half her life locked inside Primatech. In season three, she's painted as a sweetly sympathetic girl who's dispatched to shape Sylar into a ravenous psychopath. What? This isn't some niggling fanboy thing, like "...but Wolverine was in Vancouver between issues 133 and 135! How could he be squaring off against Avalanche in New Jersey?" I mean, she's a fundamentally different character.

The same goes for Sylar. We caught a few glimpses of torture and regret throughout Heroes' first season, but otherwise, he revelled in his kills. Season three backpedals and explains it away with The Hunger. An inexorable part of Sylar's power is a thirst to absorb other abilities, and it's been newly retconned that he didn't ever want to do this in the first place. So, he's bad! He's good! He needs to be redeemed! Wait, he's bad again. No, it's just that hunger. He's good! He's bad! Heroes keeps ping-ponging back and forth with a character who really should've been off the radar for a season or two, but Sylar's a fan favorite, so they keep cramming him into every storyline again and again and again. C'mon, hold him back for a while. Everyone likes The Joker, but that doesn't mean we wanna see him in every. single. issue. of "Batman" either.

The list keeps rambling on from there. I've been reading comics for terrifyingly close to thirty years now, and what keeps bringing me back aren't double-page battle royales or a hefty body count: it's the characters. Heroes tries to take a lot of its cues from comics, but it focuses so blindly on plot points and powers that it overlooks characterization pretty much entirely. Helpful hint: I'm-good-no-I'm-bad-no-I'm-good isn't characterization.

Ando and Mohinder were defined in large part by their lack of powers, but that's upended this season. Ando gaining abilities as Hiro loses his actually makes for a pretty intriguing dynamic...the guy who's obsessed with being a worthy superhero having his abilities yanked away and forced to play sidekick. Mohinder, though...? At least it briefly gives him something to do other than reluctantly lead the Bad Guys' Underground Science Lab for a few episodes, although it kind of goes without saying it's not too long before D'ohinder dives back into that too. Mohinder isolates what he believes to be the source of metahuman powers and opts to go ahead and inject himself without doing any testing or anything. Seems okay at first -- super-strength! wall-crawling! -- but then it turns into a retread of Cronenberg's The Fly. It veers past "homage" and straightahead into "shameless rip-off", nicking the first couple acts of the flick beat-by-beat only...y'know, not remotely as well. Long-term consequences...? Absolutely none.

To be fair, Heroes does make better use of the few straggling characters who don't have superpowers than it has in previous seasons, particularly Claire's mother. Sandra had barely ever stepped foot outside of the house for a couple of years straight, but she's finally given an opportunity to shine in "Fugitives".

One of the biggest
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missteps of Heroes' second season was its glacial pacing. Oh, there's a killer virus? Let's meander around with Payter's Amnesiatic Adventures in Oireland with Darby O'Caitlin for six or seven episodes before we show just how high the stakes are. Hiro's jaunt into Feudal Japan and Sylar's road trip with the Toxic Twins dragged on forever and never really went anywhere either.

"Villains" does the exact opposite. The pacing is so frantic that nothing really has a chance to make an impact. No one even has a chance to react to one situation because they're already kneedeep in the next one. Instead of meticulously weaving together a story, it's as if the writers brainstormed a couple dozen notebooks' worth of ideas and just chucked every last one of 'em at the screen. Nathan's religious fervor! A distant memory a couple of episodes in. Peter's trapped in some sonic-screaming-gangbanger's body until...oh, wait, no, he's not. Oh, but now Peter is infested with Sylar's hunger, cursed with a murderous lust for power until he's not. Matt's frothing-at-the-mouth, head-over-heels in love after two episodes and a futurish dream. This is explained away in the commentaries, but still, it seems pretty oddball. I mean, Peter's told that the guy who killed him is his brother, and the two of 'em cheerfully accept it without missing a beat because that's what brothers do. ???

A few stretches do still slowly trudge along, though. Some of it plays better on Blu-ray when episodes aren't saddled with a week between 'em, so instead of Sylar and his wide-eyed sidekick Microwave Boy seeming like they've been on a road trip for a month and a half, it feels more like just a couple of episodes. Still, the lackluster payoff of Sylar's quest to meet his surviving birth parent doesn't come close to warranting the extended lead-up. Oh well. At least both volumes get off to a hell of a start.

One of the central conceits of "Villains" is that we're all capable of good and evil, and at some point we're forced to choose. Saddling up next to "evil" in the Heroesverse means you'll probably just wear black leather and scowl a lot, and Evil Future Claire and Evil Future Peter make me want to ball up in the fetal position and cry. Actually, so does Current Day Evil Peter after absorbing Sylar's...um, power-absorption powers for a plot that never really goes anywhere. It's only been a couple of days since I dug into these episodes for the second time, but I have no idea why Angela Petrelli would decide it's a winning idea to feed a trapped, restrained Sylar with some random superpowered girl. If this was ever explained, I guess it was an in-one-ear... sort of thing, but I'm guessing it boils down to shoehorning in another couple scoops of moral ambiguity. "Fugitives" finally does nudge the Claire/HRG dynamic forward, but "Villains" is still stuck with the same stale, angsty "I'm doing this to take care of my family, Claire-Bear" / "Grrrr...you're losing sight of the people who love you by doing these terrible, terrible things, Dad!" dynamic from the past couple years.

Sometimes this can be used to particularly strong effect, though. Is there a cooler moment in season 3 than an emotionally ravaged Matt leaping into the minds of a group of Marines and forcing them to gun each other down?

If there was anything worse
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on television last year than Hiro's mind reverting to a 10 year old -- making for madcap slapstick in a bowling alley with spitballs and squirting ketchup in a chair! -- I'm glad I missed it. Hiro does have his moments, though, especially when a precog is whacking him over the head with a shovel again and again. I've been itching to do that for a couple of years now.

Half of the badniks in "Villains" are chucked out about as quickly as they're introduced. Who's left to take the reins as Pinehearst's muscle...? A guy who feeds off of fear. Another guy whose hands are engulfed in flames. Okay. I kinda like both of those characters, but we're not exactly talking about the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants or anything here. ...and Robert Forster! Look, I'm a cult cinema nerd. I'm honor-bound to love Robert Forster, and from Alligator all the way to the criminally shortlived Karen Sisco, I really do. He's just...deadpans everything as the reigning badnik. What makes him a bad guy? He touches people, speaks in monotone, and straight-up says "hey, we're the bad guys". There's nothing really unnerving or awe-inspiring about him. Forster does score one impressive cliffhanger -- with the severed head of a recurring character, even -- and slaughtering another badnik from days past, but other than that...? Meh. C'mon, you're a comic book master villain: do something.

"Fugitives" isn't much of an improvement on that front either. I'm a huge fan of Zeljko Ivanek -- he's the reason that Damages' first season seemed so incredible -- but as the volume's Big Bad...? No. He just doesn't have the presence to make for much of an ominous black-ops leader. The uber-powerful character that's the focus of "Shades of Gray" is played by John Glover -- an actor who even managed to make Smallville seem watchable -- but his talents are wasted here as well.

Heroes gets poked at a lot for lobbing out a half-battalion of new characters rather than focusing on the ones they already have, but some of the additions this time around are more than worth it. One of the first introductions is Daphne Milbrook (Brea Grant), a spunky, pixie-haired speedster who's playing errand girl for the badniks. She makes for a great foil for Hiro and Ando, and the backstory that's revealed when an eclipse zaps away everyone's powers packs a wallop too. The best of the new villains is Eric Doyle, a disturbingly creepy puppeteer with the the power to pull everyone else's strings. It's just a case of perfect casting: David H. Lawrence XVII has a cacklingly unsettling presence onscreen, the way he mimes his puppeteering power doesn't require a CGI budget but looks more impressive than just about everyone else's abilities, and the power itself feels more distinctive and unique than most.

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has too many characters who are basically omnipotent. I mean, Hiro can freeze time, teleport, and leap into the past or future; there wouldn't have even been a season if Hiro had flashed back eight seconds and told himself "hey, don't open that safe!". Matt can psychically manipulate people, read their minds, and alter their perception of the world around them. Sylar and Peter...? There's not a whole lot they can't do. Realistically, how seriously can you take the stakes in a show where, what, five of its characters can not only heal themselves but anyone else's wounds or even reanimate the dead by bleeding on them? The only way to ensnare them in a plot that lasts more than a minute and a half is to slash their IQs down the middle. This is a show whose machinations only function because no one talks to each other, thinks through things semi-rationally, or bothers to ask obvious questions.

The "Fugitives" arc cleans up a lot of this, thankfully, although it opts to make Sylar even more powerful. The instant the arc becomes All About Sylar, it goes straight down the crapper. Oh, and since I put "stupid people" as the heading here, I guess this is where I snicker at Claire. In awe that her father could track down someone at his day job: "If they can find you at work, they can find you anywhere!" No, sweetie, work is, like, the second place anyone, anywhere would look. I'm still laughing at the "You're a shapeshifter?!!??!!" revelation late in the season after another character had clearly transformed in front of another the night before. I could probably quadraseptuple the length of this already unreadably long review if I went for a complete list, so I'll move on.

The visual
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effects on Heroes are frequently spectacular: the destruction of Neo-Tokyo in the premiere took home an Emmy nomination, and the flash-frozen parking garage in "Cold Snap" may be even better. You don't really have all that many superpowered battle royales, though: it's either completely one-sided or are just guys being flung into walls. The season finale has an epic battle between Sylar, Peter, and Nathan that -- I wish I were kidding here -- takes place off-screen, halfassedly sold completely through sound effects and light beaming through a crack in a door. We get more Hugs of Doom than big, four-color, superhero-versus-supervillain battles. Why?

It's kind of tough to ignore just how much of a rut Heroes was caught in. The skeletons of each of the first three volumes were essentially the same: a glimpse of a ravaged future, time travel to drop one of our key characters there to witness firsthand just how unbearable things have gotten...errr, will get, brother pitted against brother, new characters coming and going, allegiances constantly shifting, near-fatal wounds maybe amounting to a Band-Aid the next episode, a meandering leadup that rushes breathlessly towards an anticlimactic finale at the tail end, the same heroes going through the same motions...lather, rinse, repeat. "Fugitives" started off pretty well, although Heroes always gets off to a strong start, but it's not until "Cold Snap" that it really kicks into high gear. Bryan Fuller -- the brilliant mind behind Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me -- was kind of hailed as the Once and Future Savior of Heroes, and "Cold Snap" completely lives up to that promise. From the very first image onscreen -- something as seemingly mundane as Danko shaving -- it's instantly arresting. From the scale of Tracy flash-freezing a small army of soldiers to a wistful goodbye inspired by Superman, this is easily the best episode of the series from the past two seasons. It doesn't last, though, and "Fugitives" dramatically plummets downhill from there. Bryan Fuller has left Heroes again to focus on his own series, and whatever it is he's dreaming up next, I'm sure he's better off.

I don't know if I've ever seen a show plunge further into mediocrity than Heroes did between its first and second seasons. Even with all the apologizing Tim Kring did as he made the rounds in the press, he quickly settled back into the same bad habits as before, and Heroes' third season manages to be worse than ever. If you're a diehard fan of the show, this season really has scored an exceptional release on Blu-ray, but for those with more of a casual interest or the handful of folks who've only been watching Heroes on home video...? Rent It.

Heroes can be kind of erratic in high definition, sure, but these twenty-five episodes generally look great. The 1080p24 video is predominately crisp and detailed, highlighting the strength of the show's visual effects and production design. Softness creeps in sporadically, but only a few scattered stretches -- such as a heartfelt conversation of Hiro's as he leaps into the past in "Our Father" that's practically out-of-focus -- really manage to disappoint. Black levels are uneven but are punchy enough to give the image a reasonably strong sense of depth and dimensionality under the right light. Its use of color can be striking, from the vivid neons of Tokyo to the desaturated hues in the aftermath of a plane crash to the cold, clinical look of Pinehearst. These episodes seem sharper on Blu-ray than I remember them being when they first aired, and these VC-1 encodes don't suffer from any of the nasty macroblocking I'm used to trudging through on high-def channels on cable. There are a few moments where the image doesn't look completely smooth in motion -- the season premiere in particular has a tendency to ghost at times -- but it's not a constant headache. The gritty texture of the film grain is preserved nicely here, and though the weight of the grain can vary from shot-to-shot, the compression never once buckles.

I'm really impressed by just how cinematic Heroes
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sounds on Blu-ray. Each episode is bolstered by a robust lossless soundtrack, presented here in DTS-HD Master Audio with 24-bit, six-channel surround sound. The mix is extremely immersive, and the rears hardly ever let up even in its most low-key sequences. Bodies telekinetically flung across the room, sprays of gunfire, explosive bursts of power, a wave of destruction decimating an entire city, swarming federal agents as they encircle their prey, the Petrellis tearing across the sky...these effects are reinforced by smooth pans from one speaker to the next and a consistently strong sense of imaging across all channels. The sound design is so effective at heightening the intensity of some stretches -- particularly the stalk-and-slash that bookends the "Villains" arc -- that it'd be an entirely different experience for viewers who up till now have only caught Heroes in stereo. The low-end is thick and resounding, and everything's balanced deftly enough that its dialogue is never unduly overwhelmed in the mix. Heroes' audio seems designed with 5.1 primarily in mind rather than just an afterthought, and it takes remarkably full advantage of the additional clarity and resolution that Blu-ray has to offer.

There aren't any dubs or downmixes this time around, but subtitles are served up in English (SDH), Spanish, and French. This third season of Heroes is also enhanced for D-Box rigs.

  • U-Control: There are two U-Control features that run throughout the course of each episode. "Bios / Hero Connections" is a pared-down version of the "Heroes Connection Network" (more on that later), although the text about each character is updated episode-by-episode here. It's a handy recap for people who spread out their viewing, but it's kind of pointless for anyone tearing through a marathon.

    Of much more note are the picture-in-picture video commentaries. All twenty-five episodes this season feature chats with the cast and crew, and nearly every remotely prominent actor makes an appearance at least once. Of the series regulars, Ali Larter and Hayden Panettiere are the only glaring holdouts.

    1. The Second Coming
    director Allan Arkush, writer Tim Kring, Adrian Pasdar
    9. It's Coming
    Blake Shields, cinematographer Charlie Lieberman, and editor Don Aron
    18. Exposed
    Greg Grunberg and Milo Ventimiglia
    2. The Butterfly Effect
    director Greg Beeman, James Kyson Lee, Brea Grant
    10. The Eclipse, Part 1
    director Greg Beeman and Sendhil Ramamurthy
    19. Shades of Gray
    David H. Lawrence XVII and writer Oliver Grigsby
    3. One of Us, One of Them
    Cristine Rose and Milo Ventimiglia
    11. The Eclipse, Part 2
    Cristina Rose and Greg Grunberg
    20. Cold Snap
    Masi Oka and writer Bryan Fuller
    4. I Am Become Death
    Jamie Hector and Greg Grunberg
    12. Our Father
    Masi Oka and Brea Grant
    21. Into Asylum
    cinematographer Nate Goodman and writer Joe Pokaski
    5. Angels and Monsters
    director Anthony Hemingway and writers Adam Armus and Kay Foster
    13. Dual
    Zachary Quinto and vfx supervisor Gary D'Amico
    22. Turn and Face the Strange
    writers Rob Fresco and Mark Verheiden
    6. Dying of the Light
    Sendhil Ramamurthy and writers Chuck Kim and Christopher Zatta
    14. A Clear and Present Danger
    Milo Ventimiglia, writer Tim Kring, director Greg Yaitanes
    23. 1961
    editor Jon Koslowsky and cinematographer Adam Kane
    7. Eris Quod Sum
    cinematographer Charlie Lieberman and editor Scott Boyd
    15. Trust and Blood
    writer Allan Arkush and director Mark Verheiden
    24. I Am Sylar
    cinematographer Nate Goodman and writers Kay Foster and Adam Armus
    8. Villains
    Jack Coleman and director Allan Arkush
    16. Building 26
    art director Sandy Getzler and production designer Ruth Ammon
    25. An Invisible Thread
    cinematographer Charlie Lieberman and editor Don Aron
    17. Cold Wars
    Sendhil Ramamurthy and Jack Coleman

    Although I
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    clearly didn't think all that much of Heroes this season, I really dug these commentaries. I gave all twenty-five of them a spin in full, and they're impressively thorough and infused with an enormous amount of personality. I came away with a much stronger appreciation of the scale of the work that goes into producing each episode, especially the ingenuity of the way sets are redressed and repurposed. I'd poked fun at Heroes before for rehashing the same familiar backdrops over and over -- Isaac's loft, the greasy spoon from back in the first season, the rooftop of the Deveaux Building -- but despite that, these commentaries make it clear how brilliantly many of the show's existing locations are transformed week in and week out as well as how seemingly every square inch of their studio space is put to use.

    Some of the other highlights...? Shooting "Mexico" in the same stretch of Venice Beach as Touch of Evil. The musical source for Danko's name. Delving into how the writing process has transformed over the past few seasons. A gaggle of trained rabbits. A laundry list of the cast and crew's Twitter usernames. Shooting in the same motel as My Name Is Earl that happens to be teeming with hookers and low-grade porn stars. Blowing stuff up with a microwave to figure out how one new character's powers ought to look. How frequently scenes are carved apart and reshuffled, sometimes making their way into completely different episodes. The not-altogether-pleasant scent and texture of a fake baby. Sushi slang. Frozen meat visual effects. Kristen Bell's hot tub parties. Tips and tricks for whacking someone with a gun on-camera. Buying ten thousand stalks of corn that all withered and died before cameras had a chance to roll. Whose name is on the lease on Mohinder's pad in New York. Visual nods to everything from The Conversation to 8 1/2 to Mario
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    Bava. Breaking out the family lentil soup recipe. Scarfing down prop food. Sendhil almost tasering himself. Greg Grunberg's real-life ocular superpower. The inevitable endgame between Sandra and Angela. Alaska versus Texas! A stunt coordinator who spent an entire night setting his wife on fire. As tough as it was when I first had to rewatch these episodes on Blu-ray, I had a surprisingly great time giving them a third look with these video commentaries.

    If you only have time to gave a handful of these a shot, keep an eye out for any commentary with Allan Arkush or Greg Grunberg. Arkush is exceptionally personable and always covers an enormous amount of ground, and Grunberg is just a blast to listen to, even if the plugs for Band from TV get repetitive after a while. Cristina Rose is so endlessly charming in "One of Us, One of Them" that it's essential viewing too. I'll admit that my interest waned near the end of the season, but the only commentary that's worth skipping altogether is the one for "Dual". Zachary Quinto's not recorded particularly well, so he's tough to hear when he does bother to say something, although he and Gary D'Amico spend about as much time blankly staring forward as they do talking.

    Up until the very end, these commentaries were shot on Heroes' many different sets, making them visually more interesting than just having an editing bay or a gray wall in the background. There's enough motion and variation in the photography to keep them from feeling overly static too. Because these tracks debuted online after each episode aired, there are very, very few spoilers to fret about for first-time viewers; if you want to
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    watch an episode for the first time and then immediately dive into the commentary afterwards, you ought to be pretty safe.

  • Deleted Scenes (36 min.; SD): It's a drag that some of this additional footage couldn't have been spliced back into the season for DVD and Blu-ray; quite a few complaints that fans have rattled off were answered but wound up instead on the cutting room floor. The lengthiest omission is Knox' backstory with Parkman that was completely carved out of the season. We also learn about what happened to Hiro's fortune, see with our own eyes what exactly happened to Molly, why Arthur was able to so easily track down his victims, a different lead-up to Sylar going nuclear in an alternate future, and Noah taking in Rebel to help bring down Sylar. Other highlights include a debate about the morality of injecting someone with superpowers, another tag to the booze-swilling scheme in Mexico, Angela bickering with her son about his delusional religious fantasies, and the long-awaited battle royale between Sylar and Mr. Muggles.

    One disappointment is that Bryan Fuller mentions in his commentary that "Cold Snap" originally ran ten minutes long, and yet of the five episodes on that disc, there's a grand total of 22 seconds of footage and even that's from a different ep altogether.

  • The Super Powers of Heroes (8 min.; HD): The first of the set's featurettes delves into Heroes' physical stuntwork: flinging a half-naked man around without any visible rig attached, Mohinderfly skittering up the wall and across the ceiling, Claire diving out a window and plummeting to the ground in one seamless shot, hammering out a crashing plane, everyone and everything telekinetically slammed into walls, and executing a miniature black hole as it devours everything in sight. "The Super Powers..." touches on the design and execution of these stunts, and quite a bit of raw footage and outtakes have been piled on here too.

  • Completing the Scene (8 min.; HD): Heroes' ambitious visual effects work also scores its own behind-the-scenes featurette. The series' VFX crew chats about how the dozens of effects shots in each episode are conceptualized and brought to life, including peeks at different stages of their digital wizardry and how invisible so much of the work they do week in and week out can be. The season's two most outstanding sequences -- a frostbitten parking garage and the Emmy-nominated destruction of Tokyo -- are explored in detail.

  • The Prop Box (6 min.; HD): James
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    Clark, the propmaster on Heroes, offers up a tour of "The Gold Room", showing off a random stack of stuff that includes a Tupperware container full of nothing but Peter's watches, half-torched comics, Tim Sale's paintings, a trashcan filled with swords, and a box of fake birds. This clip is an enormous amount of fun, and it's definitely worth setting aside a few minutes to give it a whirl.

  • Genetics of a Scene (20 min.; HD): Most of the other extras in this boxed set are kind of broad in scope, but these four featurettes delve in depth into four specific sequences:

    1. Exploring Claire's Mind: Following a quick peek at a production meeting, a couple of the guys from Optic Nerve show off Claire's exposed brain rig from the season premiere. While the camera crew's there, they also run through open-everything-surgery, innards with a still-beating heart, maquettes and lifecasts, and Suresh's 'Elephant Man' guinea pig.

    2. Speedster Steals the Formula: This mini-featurette touches on which snippets from Daphne's introduction in the premiere were rendered digitally and what was pulled off practically on the set. The design of her speed trail also scores a fair amount of screentime.

    3. Throwing Thoughts: Director Jeannot Szwarc wanted to flesh out a sense of '70s-style paranoia as Parkman vengefully stalked Danko, and "Throwing Thoughts" explores how this was accomplished through zooms, modified frame rates, and deft camerawork.

    4. Lights, Camera, Beeman: More of a montage than the usual gaggle of talking heads, the last of these featurettes follows director Greg Beeman as he and his crew work through a brawl between Sylar and Danko.

  • Building Coyote Sands (11 min.; HD): The episode "1961" is set against the backdrop of a weathered internment camp, and "Building Coyote Sands" offers a look at how a camp of this scale was built under grueling conditions on a stark desert ranch. This featurette touches on the design of the interiors and exterior of the camp, the challenges posed by limited time, design requirements, and unrelenting weather, engineering their own homebrew sandstorms, and juggling two completely different eras set close to a half-century apart.

  • The Writers' Forum (13 min.; HD): The
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    last of Heroes' featurettes this season is a chat with creator Tim Kring and writers Adam Armus and Aron Eli Coleite. They reflect back on both of this season's volumes, including the struggles both internal and external between good and evil, Sylar's search for an identity, comparing and contrasting Peter and Arthur Petrelli, the evolution of the "Fugitives" arc, and how its final moments set the stage for volume five. Though some of their comments about the mechanics of the Petrellis' power-absorbing abilities are kind of intriguing, not much else here seems particularly insightful.

  • Alternate Stories (46 min.; HD): Three multipart webisodes produced this season have also made their way to this Blu-ray set, and all of them are presented in full high definition:

    1. Heroes: The Recruit (18 min.): Private Mills (Taylor Cole) was seen only briefly this season, but "The Recruit" fleshes out her backstory: this teleporting Marine was caught in an explosion at Pinehearst, and after struggling against one power-mad survivor, she may or may not have escaped with a sample of The Formula. Cristina Rose guest stars as Angela Petrelli, hellbent on discovering whether or not any trace of the formula still exists. Each segment is extremely short, and without the recaps and lengthy credits to bloat the runtime, "The Recruit" seems as if it could've been trimmed down five or six minutes easily. What's left is okay but inessential.

    2. Heroes: Going Postal (10 min.): Ack. Awkwardly oversponsored by Sprint and Nissan, this howlingly bad, low-rent microseries revolves around a mailman who uses his sonic scream to escape from the clutches of one sinister organization or another. It's just...unrelentingly goofy, complete with a Cinemax After Dark cheesecake shot of the guy's wife and production values that are barely a leg up over an $800 HDV camcorder from Best Buy. Cristina Rose turns up for a quick cameo at the end.

    3. Nowhere Man (18 min.): The best acted, most sharply written, and clearly the most expensive of the three webisodes is "Nowhere Man", following up on what happened to Doyle after he's helped to make his escape. He's taking a stab at reforming, currently trudging through a menial temp job at Copy Kingdom. Doyle needs a letter of character from his manager to stay out of the clink, but that prick is too busy sneering and degrading his impossibly sweet girlfriend to bother putting pen to paper. Doyle had been trying to wean himself off his puppetry powers, but...::cue ominous music here:: This storyline is followed by a short promo that originally aired on NBC.

  • Heroes Connection Network: All
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    five discs include an interactive board showing just how right Nathan was when he said "we're all connected". Each character is represented by a pushpin, and colored strings denote how they're connected to one another. Selecting a character brings up a full name, photo, and a textual bio, and these are updated from one disc to the next, even pointing out who's keeled over throughout the course of the season.

  • Tim Sale Gallery of Screen Art (1 min.; HD): High-res scans of some of Tim Sale's future-leaning artwork throughout the season is compiled into this minute-long montage.

  • Pinehearst Commercial (1 min.; HD): A winking plug for Heroes' other "Company" -- boasting about the biotech wonders of the future! -- has also been tossed on.

  • BD Live: The first disc in this boxed set hooks into Universal's online sandbox, and a choppy, low-res sneak peek at Heroes' fourth season can be streamed from there.

The Final Word
The 25 episodes that make up Heroes' third season look and sound incredible on Blu-ray, eclipsing what had aired in high-def on NBC. Between the season itself and its sprawling selection of extras, it'd literally take an entire work week -- right at forty hours! -- to explore it all. Still, I don't shell out fifty or sixty bucks for a boxed set based on the number of bulletpoints on the flipside of the case or how many stars are in the sidebar of a review online: I buy 'em because I love the show, and Heroes' third season is pretty thoroughly awful, plummeting even further than the series had already sunk a year earlier. There are enough scattered moments I like to find this third season worth a couple of clicks on Netflix, but I'd suggest that anyone but slavish completists steer clear of a blind buy. Rent It.
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