Paramount // 2001 // 1025 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // May 12th, 2003
People lie, but the evidence never does.
CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been a runaway hit for the past three seasons, one of the first bona fide hits for that network in a number of years. It has proven stiff competition for NBC's once unbeatable Thursday night "Must See TV" lineup of vapid comedies, providing an intelligent, dramatic alternative for the adults in the audience.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Complete First Season brings us back to the beginning and introduces us to the skilled, dedicated professionals of the Las Vegas Police Department Crime Lab. Vegas may be working to clean up its image and attract family vacationers, but there remains plenty of darkness and mayhem to remind us all that Sin City has a nasty dark side. The CSI team sees the worst that humanity has to offer, at all levels of society from streetwalkers and drug dealers to the wealthy denizens of high-priced suburbs.
The calm center in this storm of violence and tragedy is Gil Grissom (William Petersen, Cousins, Manhunter), the stoic, resolutely logical head of the crime lab. Grissom is more than a boss to the rest of the criminalists; depending on their mood, he can be confidant, father figure, Jedi master, or annoying philosophy professor.
Like any premiere season, this first year of CSI takes some time to establish the various characters and relationships. It is an evolutionary process. At first it is not Grissom, but the hard-bitten Captain Brass (Paul Guilfoyle, Air Force One) who runs the crime lab; after a young CSI recruit is killed in the line of duty, Brass goes back to homicide and Grissom becomes the boss. He brings in Sara Sidel (Jorja Fox, Memento) to conduct an impartial investigation; over the course of the season, Sara evolves from a resented intruder to an essential portion of the CSI unit. Straight-arrow Nick Stokes (George Eads) strikes up an unlikely relationship with a hooker (Krista Allen, Emmanuelle in Space) whom he busts for robbing her clients; over a number of episodes, her fate threatens Nick's career as an investigator. Smooth-talking Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan, Alien Resurrection) fights to set himself free from a gambling addiction and the influence of a crooked judge who knows too much about his habit. Ex-stripper Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger, Species) fights to keep a balance between her life in the morbid world of the crime lab and her private life as a single parent, trying to protect her young daughter from the horrors she sees on the job every night.
It is also clear that the characters were still evolving in the minds of the writers as the series began to air. Grissom starts out as breezier, more happy and outgoing, than the quirky, almost monk-like scientist that has become so familiar to fans of the series. Brass, starting out as head of the CSI division, comes across in the pilot episode as a hostile, unsympathetic character who seems more an adversary to Grissom than an ally; over the season, he becomes the police figure with whom the Crime Scene Investigators can depend.
These characters evolve over the course of a season filled with fascinating cases and well-crafted plots. Many of the cases are taken in part from real-world headlines or even urban legends; most of the time, they are devilishly complex and very satisfying for the audience. CSI has made a name for itself with its unblinking depiction of murder and mayhem, clever plot twists, and attention to the details of forensic science.
(For a complete synopsis of each episode, please consult the link to the official CSI website at CBS Television, or check out TV Tome for even more information.)
In hindsight, it is a wonder that a forensics-oriented show like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation didn't appear a lot sooner; networks like The Discovery Channel and TLC regularly devote entire evenings to violent crimes and the scientists who solve them. Given the popularity of these reality-based shows, it was only a matter of time before someone recognized both the dramatic potential and ready-made audience for a fictionalized version.
However, to keep the audience from drowning in technical jargon, a show of this nature must focus on writing and characters. In particular, the very talented cast does an all-around excellent job in keeping the human element in the foreground. It helps that the writers have given them realistic characters to play, with a full set of human strengths and flaws, but the great acting of everyone involved is one of the essential keys to the ongoing success of CSI.
This DVD collection presents all 23 episodes of CSI's first season, spread across six discs. Picture quality is kind of frustrating. As the old nursery rhyme says, when it is good it is very good, and when it is bad, it sucks. The strange thing is that darker scenes, such as the many shots of the Vegas skyline and the Strip, are excellent; every light bulb stands out. Normal daylight scenes, on the other hand, tend to crawl with grain or picture noise. Throughout the episodes there appears to be some occasional edge enhancement, and some noticeable aliasing from time to time. Colors are rich and fully saturated; blacks in particular are perhaps a bit too saturated at times, causing some loss of detail in dark or shadowed areas. Other colors are intentionally altered by the use of filters for portions of various episodes.
The audio is impressive also. CSI is a show that makes excellent use of sound editing to create a heightened audio perception. Seemingly minor sounds, like bullets being loaded into a gun, carry an extra weight and impact that gives them a new importance. The audio on this DVD does a good job of conveying this in a Dolby 2.0 Stereo environment. Sounds of all kinds, from music to dialogue, are sharp and clear. On the other hand, while these DVDs do as good a job with CSI's complex sound environment as can be expected from a stereo mix, a 5.1 mix would have been preferable to fully convey all of the complexity and subtlety of which the show is capable.
In addition to the episodes on Disc Six, there is a small selection of extra content. Character profiles are provided for a selection of the main characters; these are informative and longer than one might expect, but, being static text screens, are relatively unimpressive. The "CSI -- Who Are You?" music video is a nice showcase of the series' classic rock theme song, and features some interesting flashbacks from various episodes, but is for the most part uninformative and bland.
The one piece of extra content with some real meat to it is the featurette entitled "CSI -- People Lie...but the Evidence Never Does." This featurette explores the motivations and ideas behind the series as a whole and the individuals who contribute to it. A wide range of contributors is represented here, from executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer to the technical advisors. One such technical advisor, Elizabeth Devine, sums up exactly why we find the stories on CSI so fascinating when she comments that there have always been whodunits on television; a "howdunit" is something new that grabs our attention. The featurette runs for 19 minutes, and also allows the cast time to reflect on the nature of their characters, their fictional profession, and the human interactions at the core of the series.
Great series, intriguing stories and characters, fair to middling DVD presentation and minimal worthwhile extra content. That about sums it up.
If you're a CSI fan, you'll love having this collection of first-season episodes on your shelf. One note of warning: the DVD version does feature some harsher language than I remember from seeing the episodes on television. I don't mind that sort of thing, but there are those who might. Of course, if you're into watching detailed reenactments of murders and other violent crimes, including the great CGI "wound-cam" perspective, chances are the occasional cuss word isn't going to put you off very much.
Not guilty! This is a decent, though underwhelming, DVD presentation of one of the hottest series on TV today. This is a great place to start, especially if you are a latecomer to the series and missed some of these initial episodes when they originally aired.
We stand adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2003 Erick Harper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 1025 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Character Profiles
* "Who Are You?" CSI Music Video
* Featurette: "CSI -- People Lie...But The Evidence Never Does"
* Series Info From TV Tome