Heroes: Season 3

(2009) ** 1/2 Unrated
1020 min. NBC. Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Hayden Panettiere, Masi Oka, Ali Larter, Robert Forster, Malcolm McDowell.

/content/films/3544/1.jpgWhere have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
—"Holding Out for a Hero," Bonnie Tyler

To paraphrase the Welsh songstress Bonnie Tyler, we need a hero (or eight), a void the comic-book-styled genre series Heroes attempts to fill on a weekly basis. Of course, many other outlets compete to supply the demand, from TV's Smallville to a slew of blockbuster movies. Since 2006, creator Tim Kring's Heroes has provided its own twist by telling stories of everyday folks (who almost never don flashy costumes) discovering and grappling with extraordinary abilities and the necessity of keeping them under wraps. In tone and visual style, Heroes consciously evoked the M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable, about the actualization of a hero and a villain in "real-world" Philadelphia.

But in evolving, the show has struggled to find a relaxed and fluent identity, one that serves a large group of characters and typically divergent storylines that only dovetail as the show's multi-chapter "volumes" come to a close. Season Three of Heroes again shows the strain, but a surprising amount of what the series' writers throw at the wall sticks. The 2008-2009 season comprises two volumes. Volume Three: Villains begins four years into the future, revealing the terrible consequences of the attempted assassination of secretly superpowered Senator Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar). Present and future selves of Nathan's brother Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) grapple with the right course of action, even as new threats arrive in emerging villains, including Nathan and Peter's sinister father Arthur (Robert Forster of Jackie Brown) and a spunky speedster named Daphne (Brea Grant) who plagues master of time and space Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) and his partner-in-good Ando (James Kyson Lee). Meanwhile, the series' signature villain Sylar (Zachary Quinto) remains on the prowl, serial-killing the super-powered and collecting their abilities.

Volume Four, Fugitives, reveals the influence of well-respected writer-producer Bryan Fuller, returning to the show after a lengthy absence. The plot evokes the X-Men films, as the heroes are targeted by a frightened government intent on rounding them up and incarcerating them for study and public safety. Despite the storyline's familiarity, it lends the series a greater energy and cohesion, as the core characters—including compromised scientist Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy), cheerleader Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) and her conflicted Company-man father Noah (Jack Coleman)—come together more frequently in a common goal. Fugitives also benefits enormously from the presence of veteran stage and screen actor Ċ½eljko Ivanek as Department of Homeland Security agent Emile Danko, a tough-minded character not even remotely prone to the show's typical moral hand-wringing. As compensation for a Writer's Strike-shortened Season Two, Season Three expanded to twenty-five episodes, giving ample screen time for the writers to develop each volume.

Despite numerous improvements, Heroes is still a chaotic and generally dopey show. Consistency is not one of its virtues, with powers appearing and disappearing willy-nilly and nearly every killed-off character instantly returning to the series, before he or she can be missed, in the form of a flashback, as a previously unknown twin, or by virtue of a "gotcha" resurrection. Some might also be off-put by the show's tendency toward stunt casting, though I'd say that's part of the series' self-aware appeal. Genre vets putting in time include Malcolm McDowell (Star Trek: Generations), Eric Roberts (Doctor Who), Kristin Bell (Veronica Mars), George Takei (Star Trek), Tamlyn Tomita (24), John Glover (Smallville), David Anders (Alias), Alan Blumenfeld (WarGames), Michael Dorn (Star Trek: The Next Generation), William Katt (The Greatest American Hero), Clint Howard (Star Trek), Andre Royo (The Wire), Chad Faust (The 4400), Bruce Boxleitner (Babylon 5), self-confessed geeks Seth Green and Breckin Meyer (as comic-book store employees), and Ellen Greene and Swoozie Kurtz (who played sisters on Fuller's late, lamented Pushing Daisies).

Heroes still has some way to go in restoring the cohesion of its initial run, but Fuller has helped the show to prove it's capable of hitting a stride and mining fresh stories that deepen the mythology, such as the episode "1961" (with its interment camp scenario, again proving that the past is present). One can only hope that Season Four will capitalize with even tighter writing and character development that shows more depth than breadth.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 5

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 9/1/2009

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Heroes: Season 3 comes to Blu-ray in a very impressive five-disc set bursting with bonus features. Tech specs are certainly solid, with colorful and sharp hi-def transfers and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound that demonstrates a broad dynamic range and admirable clarity. Varying filming conditions result in imagery that isn't always consistently pleasing: the image can turn soft or noisy and fluctuates in contrast. But on the whole, these transfers are the best the series has seen in any home-video format, and they're certainly nothing at which to sneeze as they deliver generally detailed results.

The most impressive bonus feature is Universal's patented U-Control, here used as a constant, multi-pronged companion to the entire season. Best of set, then, are the Picture-in-Picture options offering video commentary from cast and crew on each of the season's twenty-five episodes. Also available in U-Control is Hero Connections - Bios, with pop-up dossiers on the characters. Each disc also includes separate menu access (in the "Extras sections) to Hero Connections - Network, an interactive character map with the same bios that pop up in U-Control.

Each disc contains an assortment of Deleted Scenes, presented in standard def. (All other bonus features are in HD.)

Each disc also includes at least one featurette, though they contain spoilers, so be sure to watch the entire season before checking them out. Disc One offers up "The Super Powers of Heroes" (8:01, HD), in which stunt coordinator Tim Gilbert and stunt utility man Lance Gilbert explain and demonstrate how the series' practical superheroic effects are achieved through stuntwork.

Disc Two's "Completing the Scene" (7:52, HD) puts the focus on visual effects, with comments and demos with lead visual effects supervisor Eric Grenaudier, supervising producer Mark Spatny, visual effects supervisor Jason Sperling, 3D artist Mike Enriquez, executive producer/director Allan Arkush, compositing supervisor Chris Martin, compositor Ryan Wieber, 3D animator Daniel Kumiega, 3D animator Michael Cook, and compositor Meliza Fermin.

Disc Two also includes extensive bonus dramatic narrative material in the form of three Alternate Stories: "The Recruit" (18:02, HD) "Going Postal" (10:11, HD) and "Nowhere Man" (18:08, HD).

Another fun bonus is a "Pinehearst Commercial" (:39, HD) promoting one of the show's insidious conporations.

Disc Three delivers "The Prop Box" (5:35, HD), a very cool tour of character-organized prop storage with assistant set prop master James Clark, and the brief "motion-picture" featurette "Tim Sale Gallery of Screen Art" (1:14, HD).

Disc Four includes "Genetics of a Scene" (20:30, HD), comprising four featurettes exploring how scenes were conceptualized in pre-production, shot, and fully realized in post-production. Participants include Arkush, Martin, Greg Grunberg, director Jeannot Szwarc, cinematographer Nate Goodman, director Greg Beeman, special makeup effects artists Glenn Hetrick, Rich Mayberry and Mark Viniello.

Disc Five houses the set's most fascinating feature: "The Writers Forum" (13:24, HD), a Season Three "hindsight" conversation between creator/executive producer Tim Kring, writer/co-executive producer Adam Armus, and writer/supervising producer Aron Eli Coleite.

"Building Coyote Sands" (10:46, HD) is a making-of looking at the episode "1961," with its elaborate Coyote Sands location set. Participating are director Adam Kane, production designer Ruth Ammon, construction foreman Ken White, prop maker foreman Jim Graber, 1st assistant director Robert Scott, set decorator Ron V. Franco, art director Sandy Gentzler, 1st decorator Rich Dowaliby, special effects supervisor Gary D'Amico, Jack Coleman, and Cristine Rose.

Each disc also includes the My Scenes bookmarking feature and D-BOX capability. Heroes fans will be in hog heaven with these hours of extras and twenty-five episodes in vibrant high-def.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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