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Heroes Season One HD-DVD Review

Tim Kring’s Heroes follows the lives of extraordinary people who boldly go where no ordinary man has gone before. So it’s only fitting that Universal Studios Home Entertainment is boldly taking the HD DVD debut of Heroes: Season One where no home video release has gone before.

I, like many self-professed geeks, felt the draw of Heroes from the first moment Hiro Nakamura appeared on-screen. Here is an uber-nerd tied to his cubicle who wants nothing more than to be something more. His vocabulary is littered with pop culture science fiction references and girls would just assume he keep a minimum safe distance of 10 feet. He’d be the first in line to bypass the DVD version of Heroes and snatch up the HD-DVD version, no matter how much more it cost.

I believe it was the wives and friends of geek nation who helped propel Heroes into smash hit status. We pulled them into our weekly escape and let Kring’s colorful characters and suspenseful comic book endings do the rest, no matter how cringe-worthy the acting and/or dialogue may have been. Sure, Kring may have bit off more than he could chew when it came time to save the world after saving the cheerleader. But we stuck around to the end (or another beginning), which is precisely why Universal owed us their absolute best effort when it came time to bow Heroes on HD-DVD. After all, we are the format’s primary target demographic.

Heroes originally aired in 1080i high definition and I was one of the early adopters who watched every episode in HD on its original air date. I found the broadcast picture to be choppy thanks to Dish Network’s compression, and also inconsistent in clarity from one scene to the next. This inconsistency carries over to HD DVD with an abundance of film grain in varying from light to excessive, from the first episode to the last. Scenes lit by the sun or extremely dark, such as Peter jumping off the roof in the pilot or anything filmed in Suresh’s apartment, are laced with far more grain than I’m comfortable with. I don’t recall the broadcast version displaying so many levels of grain, but my memory is a little hazy there. Detail on HD-DVD, on the other hand, is excellent and a noticeable step up from the broadcast version. The tighter scenes are brimming with detail and more acceptable levels of grain.

The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio mix is adequate for a television show without the budget of theatrical sound design. Although Universal opted not to include a lossless mix in either Dolby TrueHD or uncompressed PCM, the DDP5.1 mix is noticeably more defined and more spatial than the broadcast Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. I’m not certain including a lossless mix would have been enough of an upgrade to justify eating up additional space needed for extras.

The extras on Heroes: Season One are diverse and spread across all seven HD DVDs. From deleted scenes to U-Control to web connectivity to book-marking and custom clip creation, there’s a little something for casual fans all the way to the extreme.

Roughly 50 brief Deleted Scenes are broken up across all discs except for the final one. Many of these are only 10 seconds long and offer little in the way of interest such as a line or two of additional dialogue cut from an existing scene. Others like a series of DL in jail scenes provide intriguing backstory only hinted at in the final cut.

Spanning all Heroes: Season One discs and the majority of episodes is Universal’s proprietary interactive set of features, U-Control. Universal has clearly gone all out to offer a variety of U-Control options for this high profile release, most of which are interesting enough to activate. A question raised during the season, “Why can’t I clearly see all of Isaac’s paintings?” is answered in Artwork Presentation. This feature blows up an Isaac painting as it appears in the show for closer examination. Character Connections, as the name implies, builds a Suresh-inspired map as the show progresses depicting how each character’s path crosses with another via string. It’s fun to watch the map grow with each successive episode. Picture-in-Picture Commentaries are just that, though it’s important to note that different groups of people sit down to chat about different episodes, and the PIP-specific volume can be adjusted in the settings menu. Last, and by no means necessary viewing, is Helix Revealed, which offers little more than pointing out where the Helix symbol appears throughout the show.

Knowing which U-Control features appear in which episodes is spelled out in the Chapter Selection menu of each disc. Going a step further towards achieving top-tier disc navigation, Universal has hot-linked each feature on each episode so you can, for instance, jump right to a Helix sighting rather than wait around in random episodes in hopes one appears.

The remaining extra features are disc specific, and Disc One has what every Heroes fan has been holding their collective breaths for: the Tim Kring Extended Cut Pilot. Tim offers up an optional audio commentary for this 73-minute long glimpse into a much darker side of Heroes that, until now, had never seen the light of day. A well-acted but awkward in the overall story arc terrorist plot and an alternate introduction of Matt Parkman’s character comprise the majority of new material. Sylar, played by a stand-in actor, even makes a brief appearance long before his actual reveal many episodes later. Tim is quick to point out other snipped bits and pieces, along with delve into the technicalities of filming scenes to look more theatrical than a typical television show because he had more time to work with, and how a vast number of sets were borrowed from Crossing Jordan. Aside from removing lines that better defined the Petrelli family relationship, the cuts made were the right decision.

Disc Two is home to a pair of Internet-enabled features. First up is the Genetics Abilities Test, which has you log into Primatech as HRG to determine what your Heroes ability is. Questions such as birth date, blood type, memorization tests and personality traits last a few minutes and deliver a final verdict. With the verdict comes an access code which can be uploaded to the Heroes website to reveal additional powers information.

Downloaded program material is also accessible (with a free Universal account). It’s worth noting the Universal downloadable area does include material for Talk To Me and White Noise 2, possible hints at upcoming HD-DVD titles with imminent release announcements.

The next disc-specific feature has randomly been placed on Disc Five. Mind Reader is a simple game that has you pick a number from 1 to 99, associate it with the hero its marked by on a grid, and then wait as Matt Parkman “guesses” which Hero you picked. This is an age-old game adapted for Heroes that should entertain those new to it or kids for 10 or 15 minutes.

The remaining extras are bunched together on Disc Seven. They begin with Making-Of Heroes, a typical featurette interspersing Tim Kring comments, cast comments from Hayden Panettiere, Masi Oka, Adrian Pasdar, Ali Larter and others, and footage for less than 10 minutes. Far meatier material is available in the U-Control commentaries.

Other short Disc Seven featurettes include Special Effects, which dissects Hiro’s first time freeze scene in Tokyo; The Stunts with stunt coordinator Ian Quinn, who loves pointing out his cameos; and Profile of Artist Tim Sale, a great interview where Tim discusses how he joined the Heroes team and adjustments he made to make. Together these short featurettes run less than an hour and make for a nice bookend to the Heroes experience after weeding through all the U-Control features.

Heroes’ instant ascent to phenomenon status demanded a robust Heroes HD-DVD box set, and Universal has delivered in spades. There’s sufficient new supplemental material to keep the existing fan base happy, and scores of slick high-def exclusive material to draw in new tech-conscious audiences. Toss in a hard slip case and this package is worth every cent. Inconsistent grain issues aside, Heroes: Season One sets the bar high for Universal to top with their next geek-aimed release, Battlestar Galactica: Season One, later this year.

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Overall: 8.8

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