Warning: This article presumes that you have watched all four seasons of Heroes. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
I’m now seriously starting to wonder what I’m going to have to watch next season, as all of the US TV hour-long dramas that I was watching are now ending this year. At least 24 is heading into cinemas with the upcoming movie, so we can still get more Jack SackTM action after that ends in a couple of weeks.
The one I’m probably most sad about is actually Heroes, which has just been announced for cancellation. While rumours are already starting of a mid-season TV event to finish the whole thing off, the cinephile in me thinks that it would actually work best if the Heroes of the small screen made the jump to the big screen. Here’s why:
1. A proper budget for the special effects
There have been some stunning images throughout the series, not least of the possible apocalypses which never came to pass. But there’s an inherent problem in a series with super powers – viewers expect to see the super powers being used as often as possible. While later seasons got creative with new powers that didn’t require any money to be spent (Doyle’s puppetry power, the power that Sylar picked up to discern if you were lying), a lot of the powers of the original actors – all of whom bar Nathan were still series regulars at the end of the fourth season – required visual or make-up effects to make the powers work, so there was always going to be a limit to how much they could be seen onscreen.
As time went by, more and more time was spent showing the characters moving around, and often losing their powers or having them inhibited in some way. Now while this was great for increasing dramatic tension when done right (or for inducing viewer head-slapping when done wrong), it increasingly felt like the Heroes became less and less super as time went on.
2. There needs to be a really big fight
The most notable example of that was season 1. This was when Heroes was touted as one of the best things on TV – mainly because, for that first season, it was. The quality of the concept, the writing and the plotting had all been top notch, and everything was building to a major confrontation in the last episode. The sense of anticipation when watching that trailer before the episode aired was enormous.
And then… the episode itself aired. And concept, writing and plotting all went out the window. Having built to just that confrontation that everyone expected, with all the major players gathered in Kirby Plaza, the series dropped the ball completely. In the space of a few minutes, in which most people made bad choices, or simply forgot how their own powers worked, it was all over, and we were launched headlong into the next chapter, which then split them up and made a succession of bad choices.
What was missing from the whole series was a major confrontation where everyone got to use their powers in a sustained period of confrontation. For a generation raised on comic books where this was the norm in almost every issue, and for a series which called out its comic book roots so readily, this was a major problem. Make a movie, and the chance to redress the balance is there.
3. There can be a real sense of jeopardy, and we can thin out the character base
By season 3, the roster of major characters, both with and without powers, was huge. This presented a problem, in that it became increasingly difficult to give anyone a sustained story arc, other than a few major players. One of the most annoying aspects of the series, and sadly other multi-character shows seem to have fallen into the same trap, was to set up a cliffhanger with a character in one episode, and then not to pay off that until a couple of episodes down the line.
In 1998, South Park ended its first season with a major cliffhanger on the identity of Cartman’s father. When the show returned for its second season, the first episode didn’t resolve the cliffhanger at all, instead featuring a Terrance and Phillip special, ‘Not Without My Anus’. Those who didn’t get the joke, and even a few who did, were incensed about having to wait another week for the resolution. When a series makes a habit of doing this, sometimes even waiting a couple of episodes before getting back to the story, then most if not all of the sense of drama and anticipation gets killed. Not a problem for a two hour movie – keep the characters together and tell a single, conventional, three act narrative.
But more than that, there needs to be a sense of jeopardy for the characters. The only major character ever to die was Nathan in four seasons, and that sense of risk helps to keep drama alive. (Of course, sometimes it can go too far the other way. *cough* 24 *cough* Torchwood *cough*) But actually feeling that one or two of the regulars might be in mortal peril, and might not make it through to the other side, would revitalise the story-telling.
4. Maybe we can get Bryan Fuller to write it
There was only one writer who ever really understood characters and motivations. There was only one writer who knew how to create tension. There was only one writer who properly understood how to make Hiro and Ando fun without making them look like idiots. And there was only one writer who probably got bored of being the only one, and went off to do his own thing, not once but twice. And that was Bryan Fuller.
The best episode of season 1? Company Man, which revolves entirely around the Bennet family and fills in and rounds their characters believably. The best episode of season 3? Cold Snap, where a second tier character does bite the dust, and we feel an emotional connection to events. The man who seemed to know why things weren’t working? Give this man a big budget, and let him write the movie.
5. Because in two hours, the characters can only be so dumb
One of the series’ main failings was the repeated process of the characters putting themselves in (non-fatal) danger by being rash, impulsive or just plain stupid. Poster boy for this process was Peter Petrelli, who in the last three seasons rarely missed an opportunity to do something idiotic quickly when stopping and thinking would have avoided a problem.
By the end of season four, it was almost becoming too predictable. Seeing Sylar walled up in Matt Parkman’s basement, Peter goes and gets himself stuck in Sylar’s mind – the man who killed his brother and is a serial killer, don’t forget – without stopping to think for one second about what would happen if he did, based on the fact that he had a premonition thanks to taking his mother’s power without asking (or thinking), and despite the fact that the series had proven as early as season 1 that these dreams don’t have to come true? The sad thing is, the moment he walked into the basement, you knew just what he was going to do.
But having 12 to 18 hours of drama over the course of a season requires characters to get stuck up narrative dead ends for a while, just to ensure resolution at the right time. Heroes just played the stupid card a little too often for its own good. At least in a two hour movie, the opportunities for this happening are lessened, simply by the time constraints if nothing else.
6. Because they’ve forgotten how to make good X-Men movies
A group of people who may be the next stage in human evolution, uniting for a common good against enemies who also have similar gifts, and those gifts may be perceived as super-powers by mere mortals? Well, that’s X-Men Heroes, isn’t it?
While the two Bryan Singer X-movies were good and excellent respectively, and in the second shared a lot of common traits in terms of character and plotting that also made the best of Heroes good, the brand may have been irrevocably damaged by the poor quality and reception of the third movie and the Wolverine prequel. Even the very sensible decision to recruit Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, fresh from their moderate success with the excellent Kick-Ass, may not be enough to save it now.
And even if it is, there’s room for more than one bunch of super heroes in this world. With a dedicated and inbuilt fan-base already there, it even cuts down on the marketing costs a little, allowing just a bit more Bang! and Kerpow! to reach the screen. So maybe it’s time to allow that other bunch to pull on the spandex (actually, maybe not spandex), gear up those powers and fight for our world in a cinema near you. NBC, you know it makes sense.