Universal // 2006 // 1008 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 8th, 2008
Save the cheerleader, save the world.
The exchange of ideas between visual media is fascinating. Warren Ellis (amongst others) took the visual bombast of Hollywood films and channeled it into so-called "widescreen comics." These comics expanded the visual language available to comic artists and brought us some interesting stories as well. This exchange has come full circle with Tim Kring's latest show, Heroes. Taking inspiration from comics whose inspiration was film, the show continues the questioning of heroes (and heroic characters) that has been a staple of storytelling since at least Alan Moore's Watchmen. The show has been wildly popular, and Universal has now released the show in its second hi-def incarnation. This release is almost everything a Heroes fan could ask for.
As Heroes: Season 1 (Blu-ray) begins, a group of humans is discovering that they have powers, including the ability to stop time, fly, and predict the future, due to a genetic anomaly. As they awaken to their new abilities, it becomes apparent that New York City is in grave danger, and they must work together to avert disaster.
Universal presents all 23 episodes of this first season on five discs:
* "Don't Look back"
* "One Giant Leap"
* "Better Halves"
* "Nothing to Hide"
* "Seven Minutes to Midnight"
* "Six Months Ago"
* "The Fix"
* "Company Man"
* "Five Years Gone"
* "The Hard Part"
* "How to Stop an Exploding Man"
Let's cut to the chase: if you've seen a preview, or are otherwise curious about Heroes, just watch it. The less you know going in, the more enjoyable the series is likely to be. Although it's not a perfect show, the mix of sincerity, humor, excellent acting, and compelling story place it in the top tier of current television offerings.
The first thing that stands out about Heroes is the compelling premise. Tying together current trends in genetic research with superhuman abilities (plus the odd conspiracy theory), the first episode begins in the middle of the story, and half the fun of this season is putting all the pieces together. Another plus for the story is the use of real people as the "heroes." Instead of the too-perfect Superman, or the morally ambiguous Batman figures, we get normal people, like a cheerleader or a beat cop, who become gifted (cursed?) with new powers. It's been done before, but the sheer, continent-spanning scope of the hero characters in the series is staggering. I was often reminded of Stephen King's The Stand while watching the show, partly for the apocalyptic overtones, partly for the use of Las Vegas, but also because both The Stand and Heroes feature regular people who are asked to do a task which seems impossible, even if they are gifted.
The range of heroes was also fun to watch. Some of them we've seen before (mind-reading, time-stopping), but many of them are new, and even the old ones are presented well. However, I found the non-hero characters where often the most interesting. For instance, Hiro's friend and traveling companion Ando is a perfect foil. He's a great audience surrogate, skeptical without being overly negative. His reasons for travelling with Hiro are never fully explored (although they are alluded to), which makes him all the more interesting. Simone, the love interest for several characters, is also surprisingly effective. Watching her transform from skeptic to believer added significant emotional weight to the story. I was also impressed by Clea Duvall as Agent Hanson. Her dedication to catching Sylar despite her lack of powers makes him seem all the more threatening.
The series also succeeds by putting excellent actors in every role. I was initially worried about Milo Ventimiglia's key role, since he wasn't given much to do on Gilmore Girls, but he acquits himself nicely here. Every other major player is perfectly cast, from Ali Larter as Niki to Masi Oka as Hiro. However, the highlight (acting-wise) of the series for me was the appearance of Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who) in the middle of the season. He's a frightfully talented actor, and horribly underutilized. He takes a fairly tired "teacher" character and makes him shine. Plus, his accent is fun to listen to.
I'm a sucker for flashback origin episodes. I got hooked on Firefly with the episode "Out of Gas." Similarly, I got hooked on Heroes during the episode "Six Months Ago." Kudos to Kring and his team for not only slowly revealing backstory, but also taking us back to those critical moments that formed the story arc. Although even this episode left more questions than answers, I found it made the emotional impact of the rest of the season much greater and shows a lot of potential for the series to come.
Finally, fans of the show are in for a treat with the extras on this set. The one most are going to turn to first is the 73-minute premiere episode to see how things might have turned out. Kring's commentary will also please fans as he discusses a number of aspects of the show in detail. There are also a ton of deleted scenes, most of which add some nice extra moments to the show. I'm not usually a fan of U-Control style extras, but with a show this complex, the inclusion of "Hero Connections" helped me keep track of who knew whom when I went back to sample individual episodes out of order. The picture-in-picture commentaries contain interesting info, but I'm not a huge fan of the format: I'd rather see them just as standalone video (or strictly audio). For fans of standalone featurettes, there are a number of them, and they cover stunts, scoring, and the special effects. Score one for alliteration. There are also features on the making of the show, as well as a profile of artist Tim Sale. From an extras standpoint, this is one of the most impressive box sets I've ever seen.
I really enjoyed watching the first season of Heroes; however, it is not a perfect show. Here are a few things that still bug me:
* Sylar. I think he's lame and overdone. Yes, the idea of a serial killer targeting heroes is interesting, but there's very little about Sylar to make him a worthwhile character. The show gives us some of his history later in the season, and while it helps to develop his character, he's still more clichéd than fully developed. Hopefully this will change in future seasons.
* Mohinder's narration. It was often pretentious, overblown, and unnecessary. The kind of thing that you'd skim in a comic, but since it's being spoken it's harder to ignore.
* Comic-book origins. Speaking of comics, Heroes obviously owes a huge debt to the graphic medium. So much so that readers who are familiar with the work of Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, and Grant Morrison will find the show has a bit of a "been there, done that" quality.
* The epic storyline. While the huge canvas of the show served it well, it did occasionally make for tedious viewing. The constant shifting between interlocking threads was sometimes hard to take. Obviously some characters and situations are going to be more interesting than others, but there were times when I was really annoyed that the show took me away from a story I was invested in and made me watch one I found less interesting.
* The ending. By far this season features the worst finale I've ever seen on a television show. Twenty-two episodes promise an ending nothing short of heart stopping, but when it finally arrives, it's completely anti-climactic. When Episode 23 ended, I was seriously ticked. Yes, the last few minutes set up some intriguing bits for Season Two, but the ending of Season One's storyline is just lame. So lame, in fact, that I considered not even bothering with Season Two.
* The video on this Blu-ray. This is, by far, the most variable transfer I've seen on any format. Some shots look absolutely stunning, with a massive amount of fine texture. I'm talking facial hair and beads of sweat looking three dimensional. Other scenes, however, will be filled with a cloud of noise. It doesn't seem to be related to special effects, shooting conditions, or film stock. It's not a total loss, but it was sometimes distracting to watch a scene through a haze of white dots.
All of these difficulties (save the last one) are a result of the show's reach exceeding its grasp. Because Heroes aims so high, I'm willing to forgive these (minor) flaws in favor of the other gains the show makes.
Even considering my (ardent) displeasure with the season finale, Heroes provides some stunningly epic television filled with interesting characters, great acting, and a story that offers lots of opportunity for viewer investment. There are enough extras to keep even diehard fans busy for days. The video quality of this release is the only black mark on its record. Yes, the noise is distracting, but the overall quality is sufficient to make this BD presentation recommended.
Heroes: Season 1 (Blu-ray) is not guilty. Although they should be cautioned about future video quality, Universal deserves special commendation for the generous selection of extras on this high definition release.
Review content copyright © 2008 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 1008 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 73-Minute Premiere Episode with Tim Kring Commentary
* "The Making of Heroes"
* "The Special Effects"
* "The Stunts"
* Profile of artist Tim Sale
* The Score
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site