The sad truth, and one that I think many are more prone to admit now, is that the NBC series 'Heroes,' about everyday folks who undergo a super-heroic (and sometimes super-villainous) transformation, was pretty awful right from the very beginning.
The series started out promisingly enough, with people all over the world developing superpowers. There was virtuous, indestructible cheerleader Claire (Hayden Penettiere) whose father (Jack Coleman) worked for a mysterious agency called The Company; Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), who can absorb and access other people's superpowers like his own personal supernatural Rolodex; lovable "master of time and space" Hiro (Masi Oka) and telepathic cop Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg). The joys of earlier seasons (what little joys there were) came from watching normal, workaday folks deal with their newly discovered abilities. There were also, lesser pleasures derived from watching our titular heroes face off against Sylar (Zachary Quinto), a kind of evil version of Peter, who killed his victims and ate their brains to absorb their powers. While the first season built and built, it ended in one of the most limp, anticlimactic season finales ever. And it never recovered.
Subsequent seasons gave the series a global and then political scope, which pushed the emphasis further and further away from the humanity that made the series so compelling in the first place. Even though the series occasionally employed talent from the comic book world (most notably Jeph Loeb), it seemed to be put together by people who had never read a comic book or knew the fundamentals of what makes comic book storytelling so compelling.
In the series' fourth (and, it turns out, final) season, there seemed to be, at least initially, an attempt to shift back to the human stories of the first season: Peter was back working as a nurse (although using his superpowers in a pinch); Claire was back to college and using her real name; and Matt Parkman made a vow to not use his mind-reading for anything, even though he suspects his wife/mother-of-his-child of cheating again.
It turned out that these plot threads were just as boring as anything else cooked up in 'Heroes,' so they decided to shift focus to an endless (and I do mean endless) plot line involving a bunch of evil carnival folk. Yep. Evil carnival folk. That old chestnut. And if this sounds familiar it's because it is, not only in the unforgettable episode of 'The X-Files,' "Humbug," but also Ronald D. Moore's thematically ambitious HBO series 'Carnivale,' in which more than a few of the carnies has superpowers.
This carnival group was anchored by Samuel Sullivan (Robert Knepper), who had the ability to control earth (oooh scary) and genocidal delusions of grandeur. What, exactly, this has to do with our core characters was always a little beyond me because none of them have anything to do with his big plan to bury a bunch of people in Times Square. But by this point, nearly every character had superpowers, so there was very little to identify with. Even Ando (James Kyson Lee), Hiro's nebbish office coworker, developed a befuddling superpower he dubbed "red lightning." Uhhhh what?
And the subplots - oh the subplots this season! From Claire's implied lesbianism, to Hiro putting on a painfully saccharine magic show for people in the hospital a la 'Patch Adams,' to Sylar's "mind" being trapped in Matt Parkman's subconscious (character confusion?), the fourth season of 'Heroes' offered one eye-rolling moment of extreme asininity after another, culminating in a laughable climax, complete with some of the worst digital matte paintings I've ever seen.
'Heroes' was a show that started off promisingly, but then the scope and the sheer number of characters (I haven't yet mentioned that the talented Ali Larter was forced to play THREE separate characters throughout the course of her humiliating 'Heroes' run) were too much to ever really reconcile. Part of me wishes that creator Tim Kring and his creative team had their seemingly inexhaustible budget slashed. It would have tightened things up and made them trim the fat. Instead, 'Heroes' ebbed along as one of the least-special shows on television. Someone should have let Kring and co. know that it wasn't the powers that were super, it was the characters.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal is releasing 'Heroes' season 4 on four 50GB, region-free Blu-ray discs. The discs are all BD-Live enabled and are housed in a really terrible (one of the worst ever, actually) slim cardboard box.
In a word, the 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer (aspect ratio: 1.78:1) is dreadful.
First of all, for a show whose weekly budget was millions upon millions of dollars, the series often looks flat and cheesy. Many sequences designed to dazzle end up boring you instead. Sequences like the mysterious Horn Rimmed Glasses getting trapped in a car that is overflowing with a watery superhero, one that is supposed to be dramatic and suspenseful, is undone by the cheesy practical effects and iffy digital water recreations. Ditto a new character (played by 'The Phantom Menace' baddie Ray Park) who moves really quickly. You can tell they spent money and time on the effect, but it looks cheap and like someone just monkeyed with the camera's shutter speed.
But beyond these issues, there are tons of technical problems that plague the transfer. Virtually every buggy technical issue that you can imagine is present on the four 'Heroes' season four discs: ringing, noise, crush (which mars many nighttime sequences), artifacts and banding. It's a veritable who's-who of terrible technical issues that ruin what little respectability an already soft (just look at those digital matte paintings of "Times Square" in the finale) and unfocused image might have had.
If anything, though, the transfer is about as good as the series itself, i.e. not very good at all. And while there are a couple of high points, mostly to do with skin tones and some occasionally high levels of detail, this is just riddled with problems, far too many to ignore.
And I'm not saying that these kind of technical issues would be overlooked if the overall image looked better, but it would be a lot easier to swallow if the show itself looked halfway decent. But it doesn't. It looks cheap and the image being riddled with technical defects just makes it look that much worse
Equally iffy are the discs' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mixes.
For such an action-oriented show, the audio mixes are surprisingly front-loaded, with most of the emphasis being placed on the front channels. And for a front-heavy mix, usually a mainstay for dialogue-heavy series, some of the dialogue sounds muddy and indecipherable.
Occasionally the other channels open up and things get very, very loud. So don't turn your system up if you can't hear the dialogue, because you'll get blasted when the mix decides to get active.
This kind of soft-loud crap is one of the worst offenses in a sound mix (if not The Worst), so any pluses this mix has are lost on me. Each episode's audio lacks subtlety, depth, or dimensionality. Instead, you either have things incredibly loud or incredibly quiet, with very little middle ground (whenever it does reach some equilibrium, it seems like a minor triumph).
What's worse - this is the only audio option available, but there are subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Due to extremely confusing wording on the box, I'm going to lump these special features into the categories I think they're supposed to be in. Feel free to correct me if I've mislabeled something. Although I didn't care for the extras on these discs (they're mostly about as exciting as those carnival sequences), it is nice that Universal packed these discs with so many special features.
'Heroes' was a bust from the beginning. With thematically ambitious but with clunky narrative beats, it was a show that stumbled along as a series of anti-climactic misfires with characters that we could be invested in, if only they gave us something interesting to work with. Creator Tim Kring struck me as a guy who has never picked up a comic book in his life, so he's completely clueless as to what makes comic books so appealing. Instead, he lumped clunky subplots on top of clunky subplots and slathered the whole thing in iffy computer generated effects (the best that mainstream television money can buy!) And this Blu-ray set doesn't do the show any favors. With video that's riddled with problems, sub-par audio, and extras that are less-than-illuminating, it doesn't do anything but make the series' problems more pronounced. Leave this one be; put the money you were going to spend on the 'Heroes' box towards the gigantic 'Lost' set. At least that mythology has soul.