Universal // 2006 // 1009 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 30th, 2007
Save the cheerleader. Save the world.
The big sensation from last year's television season phases into a much-anticipated high-definition box set. If you know the show, you're likely a fan because it's damn cool. But on high-def, Heroes sets the new standard for next-gen optical format television releases.
Well, this is going to be a tough synopsis. Heroes is about as serialized as any other hour-long on television, and its storyline(s) is driven by the twists, reveals and changes in character. Basically, don't expect much detail because almost anything specific I say will be spoilerish, and that would be cruel.
The vague overview is that (seemingly) random, everyday people are discovering they can wield superhuman abilities. Flight, regeneration, telekinesis, super-hearing, phasing, brute strength, time travel and more await the characters in the Heroes universe. Some of the major players include hospice nurse Peter and his brother, the congressman-to-be Nathan Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia and Adrian Pasdar), cheerleader Claire (Hayden Panettiere) and her mysterious father Mr. Bennet (Jack Coleman), spunky Japanese office worker Hiro (Masi Oka), LA cop Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), Niki the Internet stripper (Ali Larter), researcher Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) and the malicious Sylar (Zachary Quinto).
Each of these individuals' destinies will intersect at some point, as they discover the roles they play in a common mission to save the world.
First things first, Heroes is a great show, deserving of the hype and positive word-of-mouth and packed silly with interesting characters and paced masterfully. Creator Tim Kring has developed a series that should serve as a case study on how to plot a season-long serial; at many points throughout my viewing I was dumbfounded at the mechanics of the character arcs and intersections. Not many shows can balance multiple storylines, but the folks behind Heroes put on a clinic.
As I did in the synopsis, I'm going to keep this wrap-up as spoiler-free as possible. I was lucky enough to dodge any and all plot points during my wait for the HD DVD release and my viewing experience was that much more rewarding. If you're a Heroes newbie, I urge you to steer clear as well; the show thrives on its big reveals and jaw-dropper cliffhangers.
Fate and destiny. That's what Season One is all about. Is the future written? Can it be chanced free, willing agents? Or is agent freedom a façade? Are humans governed strictly by the unfeeling mechanical processes of evolution? Or does God play a role still? These questions are tossed around liberally throughout the 23 episodes, and despite the monologues and voice-over narration, there are no real answers given. Truly these characters are connected, and their arcs will inexorably meet, but what governs that? What is the driving force? While some of these philosophical rhetorical questions flirt with pretentiousness, they give the show a weightier feel that elevates beyond being a simple comic book TV show.
But Heroes is a great comic book show and its storytelling embraces that comparison. While obviously derivative of the X-Men mythos (humans genetically mutating into superior beings, a shadowy government organization fearfully pursuing them, bad folks with super abilities out to cause havoc), the show still feels fresh and original. Plus, the writers are self-aware enough to stock plenty of fanboy "in" jokes, like nods to Star Trek (capped with a recurring role by George Takei), Back to the Future and its comic book influences (references to popular superheroes and a cameo by Stan Lee). This treatment gives Heroes more of an homage feel, but Kring and his crew spin enough of their own mythology to make the enterprise unique and the characters grounded.
As much as I enjoyed the show, however, there are still some warts. As I mentioned before, the opening voice-over lends gravity to the show, yet it also came across as heavy-handed and empty, like the writers wanted to make their show sound a lot more academic than it is. When you're juggling so many plotlines, you have to expect a few of them to fall on the ground and shatter, and Heroes has its share of narrative missteps, like a pointless and contrived samurai sword training montage, an unsatisfying love triangle and some spotty characterizations (SPOILER ALERT! Seriously, being complicit in the vaporization of a million people? How is anything worth that?). But those are nitpicky. What's not nitpicky is the oft-maligned finale. While the final episode isn't a train-wreck, I found it unsatisfying. For a show that is, in essence, all build-up, there is a heavy responsibility on the finale to serve up something unforgettable and Tim Kring only managed to cap his stellar debut season with a mediocre episode. Again, not to tread too far into spoiler territory, but there had been a showdown brewing nearly all-season long and when it finally happened -- pbbbbbbttttttt. Just undelivered. Even the big cliffhanger finale failed to marshal anticipation for next season. It's a bummer because this disappointment -- it's probably the least-rewarding episode of the entire run, which, to be fair, speaks more to the excellent quality of the rest of the shows -- left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Back to the good feelings, let's talk about this HD release, which is currently the gold standard for high-def television releases. Each episode looks fantastic in its 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (1080p, VC-1 encoded) glory. Color levels, details, tones, all of it, adds to HDTV-like picture quality. One downside: the enhanced clarity does take away from some of the more ambitious visual effects shots like flying, etc. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround mix is a great audio supplement, really accentuating the awesome score and sound work.
The real treats lie in the extras. Each episode is equipped with the U-Control In-Movie Experience option. As you watch, the U icon will flash, allowing you to access character connections (bios on the heroes), closer looks at the great artwork, glimpses at the helix icon that pops up in every episode and, the best of the bunch, the picture-in-picture commentaries. I'm telling you, the PIP stuff is the natural evolution of DVD special features. Watching the actors and writers and producers interact with each other and talk about the episode is so much better than simply listening to a language track. There are 12 PIP commentaries in all and they each add something interesting to the experience. In addition you'll get 50 deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes featurettes (a making-of promo, specials effects, stunts and score), a profile of artist Tim Sale and some cool interactive features like a trippy mind-reading game and a web-enabled ability test. As an added bonus, Disc One includes the 73-minute original pilot (with audio commentary by Tm Kring), which is wildly different than the aired pilot and details an explicitly different season arc.
The first 22 episodes are great, almost spell-binding, but Heroes just couldn't stick the landing for its finale. But don't let that deter you from the belle of last season's ball and this sublime HD DVD release.
Not guilty...flying man!
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1009 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Picture-in-Picture Commentary
* Unaired Pilot with Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Making-of Featurette
* The Special Effects
* The Score
* The Stunts
* Artist Profile
* Mind Reader Game
* Genetic Abilities Test
* Downloadable Web Content
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Official Site