Heroes, Season 1 Part 1 Review
One notes how, in Heroes, the cut-up technique, once utilised by William Burroughs, David Bowie and Genesis P Orridge, has now, after a period out of favour, found a place on television. Briefly, it is a literary style in which a completed work is literally cut to pieces and rearranged at random, thus finding some truth and innovation in the work that might have been absent in its first writing.
Heroes, as did Lost before it, appears to make good use of the cut-up technique, taking a traditionally plotted story of superheroes and restructuring it such that flashbacks sit upon flashbacks, events play out of sequence and the season finale arrives in the closing minutes of the pilot episode. There is a drip-feed of revealing moments, which draw the viewer to make assumptions about the story before, one suspects, a final twist permits everything to fall into place. Without intending to, I watched Heroes in the manner of the cut-up technique, watching the first three episodes during their broadcast on BBC2, catching a later one on BBC3, coming back to it with episode nine and filling in the gaps with this DVD set. Not that watching Heroes out of order ever left one feeling lost. Events and characters are revealed in a different method to that intended by the producers but they are revealed regardless and if one discovers the identity of a killer earlier or later than the producers had originally written the overall tone of the piece is unaffected. Certainly it isn't at this halfway stage in the series. It isn't that Heroes lacks suspense, more that it's interest lies in the human drama, the getting by with (and getting used to) a superpower and finding that the kind of things that very ordinary people may dream of may not be so very welcome after all.
The pilot episode of Heroes ends with an explosion in New York of such magnitude as to have buildings falling and dust billowing through the streets. It is in our future. How we arrive at it was to follow Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) to his arriving six months from now, seeing him leave modern-day Tokyo through the bending of space and time to being interrogated by the New York police of the near-future. Hiro is a superhero. Through sheer will, he can jump across time and over continents and is convinced that he, and others, is to play a role in saving mankind. A comic book that he holds tells him this; each frame in it is a scene-by-scene story of his life. Together with his friend Ando Masahashi (James Kyson Lee), he leaves Tokyo for New York. It is Hiro's destiny to find Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), the artist who created the comic book. And to save a cheerleader...save the cheerleader, save the world.
In New York, nurse Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) is having dreams of flying, of he and his brother Nathan (Adrian Pasdar), who is standing for Congress, flying high over the city. In Los Angeles, cop Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) is hearing a voice, that of a young girl hiding underneath the stairs in a house in which everyone has been slaughtered. But the voices are getting louder and soon his own thoughts are being drowned out in the chaos of the thoughts of other people. In Las Vegas, Internet stripper Niki Sanders (Ali Larter) is seeing her reflection smiling back at her but it also leaves her with two bodies torn messily apart in her garage. Hitting the road with her son Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey), who has the power to control electronic devices. Running out of a fire is the cheerleader, Claire Bennett (Hayden Panettiere), who contends with high school as well as an ability to regenerate herself almost immediately, making her almost invincible. Burns, fractures and even death are dealt with as easily as a minor cut. And in New York, Chandra Suresh is plotting each of these heroes on a map of the world, believing them to be the next evolutionary step. But first, he has bad news to break to Gabriel Gray (Zachary Quinto), taking him away from his repairing of a rare Sylar timepiece to say that he no longer believes Gray to amongst these heroes. Gray disagrees violently...
It isn't that Heroes is without suspense but in giving away something of its ending so early in its run of twenty-two episodes, it becomes less about what might happen that how it happens and the lives of those involved. These are heroes who start out like everyone else but who, without doses of gamma radiation, spider bites or superhuman reactions, stumble upon rare talents. Most often, these powers are something they don't wholly understand, using them as we might use a gadget. On top of saving people from burning buildings and lifting roasting-hot plates of muffins out of the oven, Claire makes tapes of herself getting run over. Sometimes, these heroes misunderstand the powers they've been given. Hiro believes that he can travel through space and time but doesn't understand those times when it doesn't appear to work, arriving back on a rooftop in Tokyo when he's needed to save someone. Isaac believes that he can only paint the future after injecting heroin. Peter believes that he can fly but learns that this is not his power. These powers are even looked upon with suspicion with telekinetic Brian Davis (David Berman) explaining how frightened he is of his power, worrying about what it might make him do and wanting rid of it.
Heroes takes a long time to get through a story that, on film, would have taken two hours or thereabouts but such is the difference between television and the cinema. Given fourteen hours or so of time to tell its story, Heroes does what television always does, expand upon its action with the kind of human dramas do well to bring an audience back week after week. In Heroes, this never drifts very far away from the overriding story arc but it certainly draws out the everyday in the story. Niki and DL have a violent home life - she has a psychotic alter ego, he has the ability to pass through solid objects - with this reflecting domestic abuse and Micah trying to pull his parents apart as they fight over a briefcase of stolen banknotes. Matt sees the downside of telepathy when he hears another cop's thoughts on his wife and admitting that he's having an affair with her. Claire can't let that videotape be seen by anyone else while Hiro and Ando have the most fun with Hiro's powers. At first, Hiro does all of the things that any one of us would do if we shared his power. He disappears in a nightclub having teleported himself into the women's toilet. He stops time in a Las Vegas casino to place the roulette ball to double up on the stake placed on the table by an Ando briefly frozen in time alongside the margaritas, waitresses and fellow gamblers. However, they too learn the downside of such powers when a visit from a gangster and a couple of his henchmen leave them feeling sore in places where no superhero ought to.
This is not X-Men and nor is it any of the Ultimate retellings of Marvel's superheroes. Heroes is more Peter Parker forgetting to come home in time to help his Uncle Ben paint the kitchen and realising that his time would have been better spent with his family than footling about on the rooftops of New York. Or it's those feelings of guilt that Parker experiences when he learns that the mugger he'd let go was responsible for Ben's death. This is a very modern superhero drama, one that walks alongside Superman Returns, Batman Begins and The 4400. That's not to say that it moves at the same pace as The 4400. It positively forges ahead compared to Peters and Echevarria's superpower drama and has more of a continuing storyline than a showing of a 4400-per-episode structure but they're comparable shows, this being the more exciting and dramatic of the two with many more flourishes to keep sci-fi and comic-book fans happy. Certainly, there are explosive effects, gruesome killings and moments of comedy, most of which are supplied by the fish-out-of-water goings-on around Ando and Hiro, who is giddy with excitement at his power over time and space. For the rest of the audience, his attempts to save a waitress show Hiro in a more human light, one that sees him fall in love and, ultimately, mourn all the things that he could have done differently but didn't. It's Hiro that, at this point, is the making of Heroes. That might change over the next eleven episodes - Peter Petrelli is coming more to the fore as this half-season ends - but it's Hiro that one is most glad to see pick his way out of the interlocking stories. With a painting showing him fighting a dinosaur, his search for a sword and his saving the cheerleader, these eleven episodes suggest an even better half-season to come, when, one suspects, its early reveals of its finale will prove to be as much smoke-and-mirrors as the special effects taken to create it.
The US gets a HD-DVD release, as well may well do in time, but for now Heroes is granted a standard-definition release on R2 DVD. Not that there is very much wrong with this release. At three episodes, typically, per disc, there's little on these four discs to trouble the encoding of the picture. They're certainly sharp and retain the darkness in the picture as seen on the BBC's broadcasting of Heroes but the picture is generally that bit better than it was on digital terrestrial or satellite, as you would well expect from the extra bandwidth afforded by DVD. However, with a HD-DVD elsewhere in the world, it could be very much better and though there are some very good-looking scenes, notably those where there is a clear sense of style, this is just a cut above being fairly ordinary most of the time.
There is a choice of two audio tracks (and English subtitles), being English DD5.1 and DD2.0. Both are good, notably presenting the dialogue clearly and separate from the ambient soundtrack and Wendy'n'Lisa score. There isn't a great deal of use of the rear channels on either track. Certainly there's some but only moments in passing, such as a sound effect or the score threatening danger for the heroes, but it's the clarity of the track that is its highlight.
Unaired Pilot (71m05s): This cut, prepared by the show's creator Tim Kring, is very slightly different from the two episodes broadcast in the show's opening run, Genesis and Don’t Look Back. However, there is one important addition, that of a terrorist storyline that was considered unsuitable for a show the network considered placing in an 8pm slot in the schedules. Cutting this explains why Matt Parkman was introduced much later than other members of the cast. Tim Kring has recorded a commentary for this cut and though it's a bit workmanlike, he does draw the viewer's attention to the differences between this cut and what was actually broadcast in Heroes, tending to explain things from both the producer's point of view as well as the network's. What he doesn't do is to explain any of the actual story but at this early stage in the series, that would be giving much too much away.
Deleted Scenes: Much like Universal's releases of Northern Exposure, they have included Deleted Scenes for each episode in the set spread out over all four discs. However, unlike most Deleted Scenes, these are actually really good and add a good deal to each episode, fewer effects and more background to each character perhaps but very welcome nonetheless. As one who's just about keeping up with the BBC's showing of episodes, albeit in rather a jumbled manner, I enjoyed these Deleted Scenes but did find that it's Genesis that benefits most from this DVD release, with there being plenty of bonus material on account of the storylines cut from the Unaired Pilot. Later episodes come up with one, two or perhaps three scenes, all of which remain of a high standard and are finished to a broadcast standard, but remain interesting throughout.
Making Of... (9m58s): This is a very brief look behind-the-scenes of Heroes with some short introductions to the characters, the main story arc and the various subplots that come and go throughout the twenty-two episodes. Contrary to the presence of Tim Kring and a handful of the cast, it does feel like an episode of Heroes Unmasked, the behind-the-scenes shows shown after each episode, as does...
Special Effects (8m43s): ...in which a couple of men sit around a big computer monitor explaining with the aid of half-finished effects shots how it was that Hiro saved a girl wearing a red bow from being run over by a truck. Showing the use of green screen, CG and prosthetics, all that this lacks is the cheap, bit-of-rubber-pipe-under-the-table effects that Heroes has just as much time for.
...but with none of the commentaries on the US set, none of the episodes of Heroes Unmasked that the BBC are showing after Heroes and only half the episodes, this isn't a sterling advertisement for Region 2. And it also lacks features on the stunts, the composers and a profile of artist Tim Sale, although it's likely that these will come out in the final half of the set. As a final insult, it's not very much less expensive than the full season one set on import. play.com list this at £26.99 while playusa.com list the seven-disc SD season one set at £34.99, a whole £8 cheaper. Certainly, were I in the market for Heroes and not simply making good on Universal being willing to send us review discs, I would be looking to the US, most likely to the HD-DVD set. Still, it's easy to understand Universal's interest in readying this set to coincide with the BBC arriving at episode eleven and, being honest, I suspect only a minority of those buying Heroes on DVD will import, leaving this, more than likely, a success. However, like the CSI half-season box sets, I'm not convinced that it deserves to be one.