Heroes: Season 3 (US - BD)
Gabe would rather read comic books for 18 hours than trudge through this again
I’m not a big TV watcher, as I’ve made clear in most of my TV on DVD/Blu-ray reviews. I watch documentary and animated programming most of the time, and come to almost all these popular series with a clean slate. After negative responses to my early TV reviews I do as much research as time permits before diving into the third or forth season of anything. I took great effort to understand why people love Lost and Battlestar Galactica, and even if I didn’t develop a fanatic attitude concerning these shows, I was able to appreciate the craft of serialized storytelling that went into them. Heroes is a different story—I watched the show from the start, right up to about three episodes into season two. I don’t have to do any research, and because I’ve given the show every chance I can muster I feel fine in letting everyone know that I hate this show.
Why do I hate this show? I admit it’s mostly because I’m a nerd, and no matter how hard I try to look at geek properties with an objective eye, I can’t help but drag my preconceptions and history as a nerd with it. My biggest problems with Heroes are related to the incessant laziness of its writing. The characters don’t learn any lessons, make repetitively stupid mistakes, and the super-plot spins in so many circles I get dizzy just thinking about it. And then there’s the constant ‘appropriation’ of popular superhero stories. Comic books are swimming in recycled stories, an abundance of clichés, and hyperbole laced dialogue, and have for decades. Modern film adaptations of comic book material have taken great strides to overcome the medium’s stereotyped short comings, and the creators and fans of Heroes seem to think the show somehow belongs in this more ‘mature’ category. Yet this lazy writing always reigns supreme, and besides consistently hyperbole laced dialogue, Heroes recycles stories to a painful degree.
Besides Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’, which has opened into a bigger piece of the public conscious thanks to Zach Snyder’s movie, and Brian K. Vaughan’s ‘Y: the Last Man’ and ‘Ex Machina’ (both of which would make fantastic television shows, by the way), Heroes regularly, and bald-facedly, rips the most classic X-Men tales over and over again. Obvious examples include ‘Days of Future Past’, ‘Operation: Zero Tolerance’, ‘God Loves, Man Kills’, and ‘The Legacy Virus’ arcs. I’m not talking super-powers, because there are only so many special things popular entertainment can make people do, I’m talking storylines. And it’s not like these are obscure tales to steal—all of them were featured in the hugely popular animated X-Men show of the ‘90s, and again in three popular movies, and two more popular animated series. Oh, and they toss in a little Cronenberg for good measure this season, just to twist the knife a little.
There is, of course, the minute possibility that Tim Kring and the series’ regular writing staff just happen to come up with the same stories as Alan Moore, Chris Claremont, and every other famous comic writer to come out of the 1970s and ‘80s, but one would think a person with any inkling of self respect would research popular culture to make sure their ideas were their own. A trip to Google.com would probably do the trick. In fairness some of the series writers have admitted some influence in print, and co-producer Jeph Loeb (along with artist/writer Tim Sale) is an important part of modern comic books (his ‘The Long Halloween’ was a huge influence on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). The problem is in the popularity and commonality of the subjects they choose to ‘adapt’, and the fact that other people have taken the same cues to much better and more interesting places. In the end it isn’t really about rights issues or respecting creative property, but how uninteresting this behaviour is. Bruce Timm and his company of writers and artists have been adapting old DC stories for years, but they always find a way to make the stories fresh, and even unexpected.
Two or three minutes into season three and it was immediately clear that the writers were going the ‘Days of Future Past’ route. Again. Again! ‘How do they keep getting away with this’, screams my inner geek, as I pound my fingers bloody against the keyboard, ‘and why do people keep watching?’. I’d read that season three eventually pulled itself out of the gutter following bad reactions from fans and dropping ratings (I’m guessing it was the constant flashbacking that starts up around disc two of this set).
The episodes not written by Kring are noticeably better dialogue-wise, but continue the same plodding narrative. Even when something unexpected happens (characters ‘dying’ in the entirely irrelevant ‘Eclipse’ episode, for instance) the surprise almost always acts as a post commercial break tease instead of an actual plot twist. The second half, or fourth chapter, is stronger overall than the rest of the set, but it does lead to more familiar and popular comic book arcs (including an evil government rounding up superheroes… again), which then leads to some pretty heavy-handed political subtext that comes about two years too late (the Gitmo garb almost made me give up watching altogether).
But let’s pretend I never read a comic book, watched a comic based television show, or saw any of the multi-million dollar superhero movies that have taken over Hollywood over the last decade. How does the show stand up with a clean slate? In brief, it’s shockingly boring, despite all the frenetic camera work and budget bursting special effects the creators can throw at the screen. Mind bogglingly, numbingly boring. The plotlines repeat ad nuaseum, the characters refuse to learn any lessons (again and again seemingly intelligent characters don’t recognize the moustache swirling villain) or grow emotionally (everyone regresses back to their season one equivalents after a few episodes of what at first appears genuine change), and the purely visceral impact is dulled by super-glossy direction. Taken only as its own universe, and again, pretending nothing else exists outside of this universe, the characters are inconsistent, and their powers are so ill-defined their battles don’t make any sense. Often it seems the writers have forgotten what the characters can even do. Physics and logic are merely victims of the randomly induced plot, a plot so random it seems that the actors are reading lines straight off the writers’ computer screen, which is funny, since everything about the plot is brutally predictable even without a lick of prior knowledge concerning comic books (or serialized television, for that matter).
So is there anything I like about the show? Well, I like some of the actors. Jack Coleman and Zachary Quinto can both read and sell ridiculous dialogue like no one else in the cast, while Ali Larter (so does the casting director have a thing for blonds or what?) somehow manages to make her generally frustrating character(s) generally acceptable. James Kyson Lee and Masi Oka are pretty consistent sources of entertainment thanks to their amusing interplays. Actually, the Hiro/Ando subplots are so decent it’s hard to believe they aren’t written by an entirely different creative team (until Hiro turns emotionally ten and becomes annoying). Sadly Robert Forester is never an intriguing villain or particularly frightening threat, but he’s pretty charming. The on screen images are definitely pretty throughout, and the special effects are very impressive for a television series. The effects and look are probably the only things that have matured since the show’s inception. As a horror geek I also appreciate the show’s use of pretty extreme gore, and season three features a few choice plates, such as a man freezing, shattering, and melting into a sewer drain, a through the chest punch, and a really convincing severed head.
Like I said, Heroes is a very pretty show, and it looks extra pretty in 1080p video. The show isn’t utilizing comic book panel framing as much as it did during the first season, but the pen and ink blacks, and CMYK inspired colours are pushed to almost expressionistic levels. The cinematography divides the present and future through tinting and overall saturation. The present and normal world look relatively comfortable and attractive, while the future and insides of the evil corporation are painted in dystopian blues (dystopian blue is so 1999). The look is generally as predictable as the plot, but it certainly impresses. The usual shortcomings apply, and can be blamed on the camera rather than the Blu-ray. These include heavy grain, sometimes when it’s probably unintended (the blue future is likely super-grainy on purpose). Low lighting leads to some digital noise in warm colours, and sometimes the brightest whites overtake and bloom other elements a bit. The transfer features some incredibly effective and natural colour blends, along with occasionally pure primaries when needed. Details are the big story though. The overall sharpness and clarity is so lifelike it’s hypnotizing at some points. Despite the cast overflowing with gorgeous, soft-skinned actor, every single little facial imperfection is crystalline on screen, and the textures are tactilely incredible. In short—it’s worth the extra money to buy the hi-def version for fans.
The Heroes writers can’t find original ways to deal with superpowers, but the audio designers have some good ideas concerning the sound effects that accompany the superpowers. Highlights include the stereo attack of mind-reading, the modulated wind of super speed, the bass-intensified flame throwing, and the multi-channel scream of warping. The only power effect that doesn’t sound that impressive is the electric beam throwing, which sounds like a sound effect CD sample. But even when things are at their most subtle and quite there isn’t a lot of blank space, and when we’re meant to notice a given effect there’s no chance of us missing it. Lossless DTS-HD audio doesn’t serve all television, but it certainly serves television that acts like a blockbuster movie. The series music gets points for not sounding like anything else on television, and for playing against the obvious on screen emotions at some points (on purpose?), but most of the time it reminds me too much of the kind of New Age stuff they play at the local Yoga studio. The constant presence of the music is trying, but keeps the track busy in all channels, even if the rears are act more as echo channels than discreet channels most of the time. All throughout the pertinent dialogue doesn’t get lost in the mess, is consistent volume-wise, and of course, crystal clear.
If they aren’t going to give their fans good writing or compelling stories, they might as well give them their money’s worth on the Blu-ray set. Well, assuming those fans have a better Blu-ray player than me. My Profile 1.0 player won’t play the U-Control picture in picture stuff, only the ‘Hero Connections Bios’. I imagine I’m missing quite a bit considering the relative brevity of the collection’s featurettes, and lack of audio only commentary tracks. Each disc features an addition ‘connection network’ screen, which supplies the same character info as the pop-up factoids, just in case you didn’t feel like having a fourth of the screen taken over with graphics.
In addition to these consistent extras are a series of deleted scenes and featurettes. Disc one features thirteen deleted scenes (with a ‘play all’ option, in SD) and a single featurette entitled ‘The Super Powers of Heroes’ (08:00, HD), which explores the physical effects and stunts, and the process of staging things for the camera. Disc two features ten deleted scenes, ‘Completing the Scene’ (07:50, HD), a look at the show’s constantly impressive digital effects, three ‘Alternate Stories’ (see below), and a pretend commercial for the Pinhearst Company. Disc three features six deleted scenes, ‘The Prop Box’ (05:30, HD), a look at props, and a Tim Sale art gallery. Disc four features a single deleted scene, and four ‘Genetics of a Scene’ featurettes (‘Exploring Claire’s Mind’, ‘Speedster Steals the Formula’, ‘Throwing Thoughts’, and ‘Lights, Camera, Beeman’, totaling 20:30, in SD). The ‘Genetics of a Scene’ bits include behind the scenes information on gore effects, the creation of the new Flash-based character and her effects, on-the-street filming, and director Greg Beeman. The final disc houses six deleted scenes, and two featurettes. ‘The Writer’s Forum’ (13:30, HD) sees Kring and two of the show’s writers discussing their season three accomplishments, with focus placed on the over-arcing themes of each of the season’s two parts. ‘Building Coyote Sands’ (10:50, HD) takes a look behind the scenes of the construction of one of the season’s last act sets.
The second disc’s three ‘Alternate Stories’ are the most interesting and entertaining thing in the collection. The production values are definitively lower than the show proper, but the standalone stories work pretty well. Perhaps the whole series would benefit from a standalone, freak of the week rehash (just a thought). The first, ‘Recruit’ (18:00, HD) follows three of the ill-fated army recruits, one of whom survives and who is interrogated on the location of a final vile of super serum. The second, ‘Going Postal’ (10:00, HD), follows a mailman with Banshee screaming abilities who is menaced by various super powered bad guys while protecting his wife. The third, ‘Nowhere Man’ (18:00, HD), looks at the evil puppet master’s attempts to re-enter society as a normal working man. All in all these are probably the best live action, made exclusively as web content extra shorts I’ve ever seen.
At the very, very, very end of the season the Heroes writers get so entwined in their ridiculousness they end things on an almost brilliantly convoluted note. It would’ve actually been the perfect ending to a perfectly stupid show. Unfortunately, it appears people still enjoy the live action X-Men riffs. I suppose I can’t blame them following the last two official X-Men movies. I still hate the show, but recognize the technical achievements (great special effects and cinematography), and appreciate the actors. Perhaps consistent mediocrity rubs me rawer than genuine awfulness. The Blu-ray collection looks and sounds great, almost as good as Lost (it’s pretty grainy on purpose), and some of the extras are worth your while (they were painlessly brief for me). Fans should be happy.
In the interest of actually being constructive I have a few titles I’d like to recommend to those Heroes fans that don’t normally take a trip to the comic book store. Besides all the classic X-Men and Justice League stories that Heroes ‘borrows’, there are dozens of more recent comics that cover similar ‘superheroes in the real world’ possibilities, on a similarly mature level. Among these are Mark Millar’s run on ‘The Ultimates’ ( Heroes producer Jeph Loeb wrote the third volume, but most fans hated it), Grant Morrison’s X-Men run, under the title ‘New X-Men’ (or anything by Morrison, frankly), and Brian K. Vaughn’s ‘Y: The Last Man’, which uses a similar storytelling structure, and ‘Ex Machina’, which seems to be the basis for the Nathan Petrelli character. These are all available in collections on Amazon, and most local bookstores.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 1st September 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish
Extras: U-Control Pip and Hero Connections, Building Coyote Sands, The Super Powers of Heroes, Completing the Scene, Genetics of a Scene, The Writers' Forum, The Prop Box, Tim Sale Art Gallery, Alternate Stories, Pinehearst Commercial, Deleted Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Hayden Panettiere, Kristen Bell, James Kyson Lee, Masi Oka, Greg Grunberg, Cristine Rose, Adrian Pasdar, Milo Ventimiglia, Ali Larter, Zachary Quinto
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy and Sci-Fi
Length: 1020 minutes
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