While Jerry Bruckheimer has gained fame after producing several major-budget film hits ("Armageddon", "Pirates of the Caribbean"), the producer has also extended his reach into television, providing viewers with shows that bare the same intense pace and visual spark that his films have become known for. Although "Amazing Race" (which is thankfully now on DVD) and "Without a Trace" have been small-screen hits for Bruckheimer, none of the shows that he has been involved with have hit with as much impact as "CSI", a crime series that has spawned two spinoffs and even a video game.
Based in Las Vegas, "CSI" focuses on a team of investigators who are called in each week to solve a murder. They include Gil Grissom (William Petersen), Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan), Nick Stokes (George Eads), Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) and Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox). Although the repetitive structure of the series can sometimes get a little monotonous, each episode is presented as a tightly structured and well-scripted mystery, with information sparsely parcelled out. Interviews are conducted, clues are tracked down and we spend time in the lab, where we're presented with all manner of gross props. Piece-by-piece, we learn about the hows and whys of the crime.
Given the ratings of CSI, the show can afford to utilize unusually high production values. Special effects are often used to give viewers an idea of the forensic science that's being discussed, while the show's look - both in production design and cinematography - rivals that of many feature film productions. Is it too glossy? Well, it's Las Vegas.
The show's scripts often delve into technical terms and scientific explanations, but I do credit the writers for making the explanations easy to understand without making it seem as if the show has just stopped to spell things out for the audience. Multiple plot threads are also interwoven with skill and assurance.
"CSI"'s talented cast certainly also stands out. Helgenberger's icy charm is wonderfully compelling, as she delivers her lines with great timing and confidence. William Peterson is also superb as the lead. The show's supporting cast is terrific and actors taken in for episode-specific roles are also exceptionally well-chosen.
Season 7 of the series was a particularly standout year for the show, with excellent storylines and strong performances. The season starts with "Built to Kill", a 2-parter that begins a thread that will last throughout the season. In the episode, the CSIs are confronted with the work of the "miniature killer", a suspect who creates incredibly detailed miniatures of the crime scenes, left for investigators to decipher. Catherine's daughter is abducted and she learns that she may be a target.
Other highlights of this season include: "Double Cross" (Grissom and Sara continue their secret romance, and find themselves discussing their views on religion during a case with a crime scene in a church), "Happenstance" (identical twins are murdered on the same night), a 4-episode ((12)Sweet Jane, (13)Redrum, (14)Meet Market, (15)Law of Gravity,) guest role for Liev Schreiber, who plays Michael Keppler, the temporary replacement for Grissom; "Fallen Idols" (Grissom investigates the disappearance of a high school basketball star and his girlfriend), "Leapin' Lizards" (several suspects in a murder case are members of a UFO club who believe that aliens are trying to conquer humanity) and "Living Doll" (as they get close to solving the miniature murders, Sara vanishes.) Kevin Federline guest stars in "Fannysmackin'".
(1-2)Built To Kill Part 1&2, (3)Toetags, (4)Fannysmackin, (5)Double Cross, (6)Burnout, (7)Post Mortem, (8)Happenstance, (9)Living Legend, (10)Loco Motives, (11)Leaving Las Vegas, (12)Sweet Jane, (13)Redrum, (14)Meet Market, (15)Law of Gravity, (16)Monster in the Box, (17)Fallen Idols, (18)Empty Eyes, (19)Big Shots, (20)Lab Rats, (21)Ending Happy, (22)Leapin Lizards, (23)The Good The Bad & The Dominatrix, (24)Living Doll
VIDEO: "CSI" is presented by Paramount in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which is the show's original aspect ratio. The presenation is of the highest quality, with very few concerns. Despite the show's length, the episodes have been spaced out very reasonably across 6 dual-layered DVDs. Sharpness and detail remained totally first-rate, with excellent sharpness and detail consistently present throughout the episodes, even in low-light situations.
I did notice what appeared to be slight grain and a couple of instances of minor shimmering, but I did not spot any instances of compression artifacts or other faults. I was also surprised at how well the presentations handled the Las Vegas color palette, with colors appearing bright, well-saturated and not smeary or otherwise flawed in any way.
SOUND: "CSI" is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. These tracks are not the all-out assault that the sound mixes associated with Jerry Bruckheimer productions usually are, but they do provide a very enjoyable and often rather impressive listening experience. Surrounds, while not constantly employed, are often called into use to provide light ambience, some musical reinforcement and even some more noticable discrete sound effects. Aside from the satisfying amount of activity and detail, I was also impressed at the dynamic range, smoothness and clarity of these soundtracks, as many TV-on-DVD shows that offer 5.1 soundtracks don't have this level of audio quality.
Commentaries are included on "Built to Kill: Part 1" (Naren Shankar and Ken Fink), "Fannysmackin'" (Richard Lewis - not the comedian - and Dustin Lee Abraham), "Living Legend" (Martha Coolidge and Matthew Mungle), "Sweet Jane" (Naren Shankar and Ken Fink), "Law of Gravity" (Carol Mendelsohn, Richard Catalani and Richard Lewis), "Lab Rats" (Brad Tanenbaum, Sarah Goldfinger, Wallace Langham, Jon Wellner, Liz Vassey, Sherri Rappaport and Archie Kao) and "Living Doll" (Ken Fink and Naren Shankar).
The commentary tracks are generally excellent, as they give the viewer a clear idea of the production difficulties involved in the specific episodes, as well as some of the fun or interesting behind-the-scenes tales and small tidbits.
Also included on the last disc are a series of featurettes, including: "Inside 'Built to Kill'", "Miniature Murders", "Who Are You?: Inside "Living Legend", "Las Vegas: The Real Crime Solvers", "The Evolution of CSI - Season 7", "Smoke and Mirrors - Directing Feature Television".
Final Thoughts: "CSI"'s seventh season sees the cast continuing to offer stellar performances, and the "Miniature Killer" storyline that runs through the season is haunting, tense and memorable. The DVD presentation offers excellent audio/video quality, as well as the usual solid set of extra features. Recommended.