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"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" The First Season Blu-ray Review

Buy CSI: The First Season on Blu-ray Disc from Amazon.com CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Season One (2000-01)
Show & Blu-ray Details

Creator: Anthony E. Zuiker / Regular Writers: Anthony E. Zuiker, Ann Donahue, Josh Berman, Carol Mendelsohn, Andrew Lipsitz, Elizabeth Devine, Eli Talbert

Regular Directors: Danny Cannon, Richard J. Lewis, Kenneth Fink, Lou Antonio, Thomas J. Wright

Regular Cast: William Petersen (Gil Grissom), Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows), Paul Guilfoyle (Captain Jim Brass), Gary Dourdan (Warrick Brown), George Eads (Nick Stokes), Jorja Fox (Sara Sidle)

Recurring Characters: Eric Szmanda (Greg Sanders), Robert David Hall (Dr. Al Robbins), David Berman (David Phillips), Gerald McCullouch (Bobby Dawson), Marc Vann (Conrad Ecklie), Joseph Patrick Kelly (Officer Joe Metcalf), Sheeri Rappaport (Mandy Webster), Skip O'Brien (Detective Ray O'Riley), Judith Scott (Dr. Jenna Williams), Pamela Gidley (Teri Miller), Madison McReynolds (Lindsey Willows), Glenn Morshower (Sheriff Brian Mobley), Reginald VelJohnson (Dr. Philip Kane), Krista Allen (Kristy Hopkins), Chandra West (Holly Gribbs)

Notable Guest Stars: Jolene Blalock (Laura Garris), Milo Ventimiglia (Bobby Tyler), Dakota Fanning (Brenda Collins), James Avery (Preston Cash), John Getz (Richard Ziegler), Austin Nichols (Adam Walkey), Samantha Harris (Charlotte), Rainn Wilson (Guy in Supermarket)

Running Time: 1026 Minutes (23 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Widescreen / DTS HD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
BD Release Date: May 12, 2009 / Season 1 Airdates: October 6, 2000 - May 17, 2001
Five single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50s); Suggested Retail Price: $89.99
Slimline Blue Keepcase with Two Interior Trays

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Crime shows have long been a staple of television, flooding the airwaves nearly as much as medical dramas. They received a significant resurgence, however, at the turn of the new millennium. Now it's nearly impossible to tune into primetime without running into a series from this genre. The show to thank for that would be "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation". Following a team of researchers who solve cases via science and evidence, this weekly drama became a smash hit nearly overnight upon its 2000 debut. At the time of this writing, it has just finished its ninth season. While this is a remarkable feat in and of itself, what's even more impressive is the fact that it garnered two successful spin-offs ("CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY") that are also still on the air.

While it technically has an ensemble cast, "CSI" puts the character of Gil Grissom (William Petersen) a bit more into focus than the others. Gil has a genuine passion for science and uses this to discern forensic evidence. Whether it be something as common as a fingerprint or as bizarre as a toenail, anything left behind can be used to track down a murderer. The other team members include single mom Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), the ill-tempered Captain Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle),
The first season cast of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" -- from left to right, Paul Guilfoyle, Jorja Fox, Gary Dourdan, George Eads, William Petersen, and Marg Helgenberger.
gambling rebel Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan), former jock Nick Stokes (George Eads), and the no-nonsense Sarah Sidle (Jorja Fox). They all stand by the often-quoted mantra "the evidence never lies."

"CSI"'s greatest strength is in its storylines. Sometimes the crimes are mundane and other times they're outrageous, but they always unfold in a fascinating manner. Usually, it's difficult to foresee the ending. When the ending finally does arrive, it does so in a manner that makes sense rather than coming so far out of left field that it rings false. Dialogue is nice and snappy and with a good wit about it. A program about forensic science could end up being awfully dry and alienating, but the writers and actors keep things fresh without talking down to the audience. The production values are also excellent. With an executive producer like Jerry Bruckheimer onboard, one expects a slick, visually stimulating production, and that's exactly what one gets here. The presentation is dynamic enough that it's easy to forget this is a television series; most of the content could pass for a feature film.

With so many strengths, it's difficult to find a true weakness. The biggest one of this first season deals with the characterizations. Each team member has a distinctive personality, but rarely is it revealed why they're that way or what makes them tick. Only Catherine and Warrick are given satisfying backdrops to play off of. According to the bonus material of this set, the creators were afraid that if they showed too much of the characters' personal lives, it'd make the series feel more like a standard drama and less realistic. While they may be true, focusing almost exclusively on the professional side of things makes it harder to invest in the characters, and they end up feeling driven by the plot as opposed to vice versa.

"CSI" features more than enough positives to overcome some slightly aloof key players. Its storylines are well-crafted, the scripts both entertain and inform, and the technical aspects of the production are top notch.
It's easy to dismiss crime dramas when there's such an abundance of them, but a viewing of the first season of "CSI" shows why it's lasted as long as it has, and with two spin-offs, to boot.

Paramount released "CSI" to DVD six years ago and has since issued Seasons 2-8 plus six seasons of "CSI: Miami" and four seasons of "CSI: NY." Last week the studio gave the franchise its first high-definition set with the Blu-ray debut of The First Season. A quick look at its 23 episodes is followed by critique of this release.

Disc 1

1. Pilot (45:25) (Originally aired October 6, 2000)
A corpse is found holding a suicide message tape in a bathtub. The testimony of a man who claims to have murdered a drunkard to protect his family is questioned.

2. Cool Change (43:19) (Originally aired October 13, 2000)
After a man wins millions, he's pushed off of the lavish, multi-story hotel in which he's staying. The death of a new team member is investigated to give the rest of the group closure.

3. Crate and Burial (44:10) (Originally aired October 20, 2000)
A woman is buried alive in the middle of the Nevada desert while a ransom is phoned in. A girl riding on her scooter late at night becomes the victim of a hit-and-run incident.

4. Pledging Mr. Johnson (44:45) (Originally aired October 27, 2000)
Two fishermen find a severed leg out in the middle of a lake. An insecure college student has seemingly hung himself after being denied entry into a fraternity.

Disc 2

5. Friends and Lovers (45:21) (Originally aired November 3, 2000)
When a young man is found naked and dead in the desert, the clues lead back to a club that sells drugs to teens. The dean of a school is brutally bludgeoned in his own office.

6. Who Are You? (45:22) (Originally aired November 10, 2000)
A cop is accused of murdering a civilian without provocation. The skeletal corpse of a woman is found deep within the cement foundation of a house.

7. Blood Drops (44:48) (Originally aired November 17, 2000)
An entire household, save for two sisters, is discovered dead from a bloody massacre. The boyfriend of one of the sisters is accused, but the stories and evidence don't match up.

8. Anonymous (44:38) (Originally aired November 24, 2000)
A crime identical to the one from the pilot episode is committed, possibly by the same person. An unconscious man is taken to the hospital after his car careens downs a hill.

9. Unfriendly Skies (44:51) (Originally aired December 8, 2000)
When a first class passenger is killed on a flight to Las Vegas, every person onboard the plane becomes a suspect. Unfortunately, everyone interviewed tells a different story.

The two leads of "CSI" give a dark, atmospheric examination room pose. She (Marg Helgenberger) was nominated for an Emmy in Season 1, he (William Petersen) wasn't. Former jock Nick Stokes (George Eads) and his lab-coated friend (Eric Szmanda) take a break from their microscopic work to smile for the camera.

Disc 3

10. Sex, Lies, and Larvae (45:07) (Originally aired December 22, 2008)
A corpse is found in the middle of the desert, and only the larvae infesting it can help in solving the case. Meanwhile, a priceless work of art has gone missing.

11. I-15 Murders (43:09) (Originally aired January 12, 2001)
A serial killer leaves a note confessing to the murders of five women in various supermarkets. The sibling of a murder victim claims his brother was killed by a burglar.

12. Fahrenheit 932 (44:59) (Originally aired February 1, 2001)
When a prisoner accused of murdering his wife and child seeks help from Grissom, the case re-opens. A sports-gambling teenager is uncovered dead inside his car.

13. Boom (45:24) (Originally February 8, 2001)
Pieces of a bomb that's killed one victim and injured others must be pieced back together to identify the creator. Nick becomes a suspect when a woman he's with dies.

14. To Halve and to Hold (43:55) (Originally February 15, 2001)
A human bone found in the desert is traced back to a man whose wife claims he's still alive. The death of a male stripper is linked to a bachelorette party thrown.

Disc 4

15. Table Stakes (45:24) (Originally aired February 22, 2001)
At a charity fundraiser event, a woman turns up dead in a swimming pool. A dead man inside of a glass elevator may have had ties to the mob.

16. Too Tough to Die (43:25) (Originally aired March 1, 2001)
A Jane Doe is raped, beaten, and shot before going into a coma. The shooting of a man by his neighbor leaves behind disconnected evidence and conflicting testimonies.

17. Face Lift (45:16) (Originally aired March 8, 2001)
Before he can crack open the safe of a pottery store, a burglar is forcefully assaulted and killed.
The ashes of a woman are discovered, but the location surround them is intact.

18. $35K O.B.O. (44:05) (Originally aired March 29, 2001)
The evidence from the murder of a couple outside an upscale restaurant is washed away by rain. An apartment building collapses and kills three elderly women.

19. Gentle, Gentle (45:25) (Originally aired April 12, 2001)
The infant of a well-to-do family is kidnapped, and a ransom note is left in the crib. The baby's body is uncovered near a golf course, and the parents become suspects.

Disc 5

20. Sounds of Silence (45:25) (Originally aired April 19, 2001)
A deaf man becomes the victim of a hit-and-run accident, but it's revealed that he was already dead prior to this. Five people in a coffee shop are slaughtered by the mob.

21. Justice is Served (43:35) (Originally aired April 26, 2001)
A jogger is apparently mauled by wild animal, but his liver is missing. A carnival becomes a crime scene when the body of a six-year-old girl turns up.

22. Evaluation Day (44:25) (Originally aired May 10, 2001)
A severed head ends up in the trunk of a car the same day Grissom has to evaluate the team. The convicted felon from a previous episode witnesses a prison homicide.

23. Strip Strangler (45:26) (Originally aired May 17, 2001)
Grissom and his team are forced to collaborate with the FBI regarding a high-profile serial killer. When Grissom's frustration takes off him the case, the others fill him in.

VIDEO and AUDIO

"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" - The First Season comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is remarkable in the fact that not only was the series broadcast in 1.33:1, but the 2003 DVD release maintained that framing. While some programs shot in 16x9 are clearly framed for 4x3 (resulting in dead space on the sides), that isn't the case here. It clearly works better in the widescreen ratio as the full screen clips found in the bonus material feel rather cramped.

As for the image quality itself, it's pleasing and yet a bit of a perplexity. It looks as through the transfer was artificially sharpened. Details are astounding, but there's a harsh digital sheen present. Bizarrely enough, little-to-no edge enhancement or ringing accompanies this. It's possible that this could be the result of the source itself, as even the SD clips carried over from the DVD look similarly severe. Other than that, the image is flawless. The somewhat oversaturated color timing of the program is preserved here, as is the intentional film grain, neither of which is distracting.

The DTS HD 7.1 surround soundtrack is also strong. Dialogue is clear and concise. Sound effects aren't present often (other than Las Vegas ambience), but when they are, they're dynamic. The many musical cues through the season give the track most of its life and are the aspect that truly utilizes the full surround system.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

This Blu-ray of "CSI" comes with a decent line-up of supplements, most of which are new. The first of these are the promos. There's one original promo for every single episode in this set, averaging about 23 seconds each. The only exception to this is the pilot, which features a collection of six launch promos (2:41) heralding the debut of the series. All other promos are spread out so that one can choose to watch one before delving into that respective episode. It seems so logical for films to include their trailers, and it should be equally logical for series sets to include original promos. These are an excellent inclusion for both nostalgia and completeness' sake.

Next comes an unaired director's cut of the pilot (47:03) (HD). The differences between the aired and unaired versions amount to little more than extra dialogue. Though it neither harms nor helps the episode, it's good to have here, especially in the same quality as the original episode presentation. This can be viewed with optional commentary by director Danny Cannon. Unfortunately, because it's been so long since he's viewed the pilot, he spends most of the track watching in silence, even acknowledging this at one point. A few good notes pop up, but most of these can be found within the other supplements. It's certainly not essential listening.

Six deleted scenes (9:55) are spread throughout the set to accompany their corresponding episodes. Only the first two, taken from the pilot and not put back into the director's cut, are presented in HD. Cannon returns to comment on these two, proving to be more enlightening than on his actual episode track.
Most of the deleted scenes wouldn't have affected the stories very drastically and were likely cut more for time than anything else. They're interesting to see, regardless, and good to have here.

The rest of the supplements are found solely on Disc Five, starting with generic promos (2:47). These six ads aren't specific to any one episode, instead advertising the show in general. Like the episode promos, they're a treat to view, especially since they feature exclusive footage.

A gag reel (3:53) may disappoint those hoping for some zany antics in direct contrast to the show's drama. While there's some silliness to be had, it's mostly just the actors flubbing up their lines.

The sole feature ported over from the DVD release is "CSI - People Lie... But the Evidence Never Does" (19:13). All of the main cast members, along with crew members like Jerry Bruckheimer and creator Anthony E. Zuiker, appear in this featurette comprised of sound bites and episode clips. Most of the comments are broad and promotional, with only some interesting character reflections by the actors standing out. It's good to have for comprehensiveness, but there's little value besides that.

Much more satisfying is "CSI Season One - Rediscovering the Evidence" (27:54) (HD). Created specifically for this Blu-ray release, the piece interviews everyone found in the previous feature along with other crew members and executives. While the former featurette seemed designed as EPK material, there's little at stake now that the show has made its mark, and therefore the comments are more honest. The genesis of the series is recounted along with the various production difficulties that followed it. It's well-made and packs in lots of information in a relatively short amount of time.

Finally, an unskippable trailer for "Star Trek: The Original Series" - Season One on Blu-Ray starts off Disc One and can be accessed again in the bonus materials.

Two minor supplements from the DVD aren't carried over here. First is a collection of character profiles, which isn't surprising considering how rare text screen features have become.
CSI collection of products
The other is a music video of the theme song, The Who's "Who Are You?", set to series clips. While it's marginally disappointing not to have them here, they aren't really crucial to this new set.

The main menu contains a montage of clips (mostly coming from the pilot) set to the series theme song. The pop-up menu interface is designed like computer files. Each episode is listed with whatever relevant promos or deleted scenes underneath. Annoyingly, there's no "Play All" feature for each disc's episode selection.

All five discs come housed in surprisingly slim Blu-ray case. Inside are two trays (holding Discs 2-4) while Discs One and Five are placed on the side interiors. The inner sleeve art is valuable in that it contains a lengthy disc breakdown, listing all the episodes and bonus materials in order of appearance. Less effort is shown, however, in Paramount's signature gray disc artwork.

Have no fear -- Dr. Gil Grissom (William Petersen) and his magnifying glass are on the case. =Gil, Catherine, and Captain Brass look over a crime scene as part of their investigation for clues.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

With crime dramas in high demand, it's all too easy to write off "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" as something routine and ordinary, but a viewing of this first season proves it's anything but. There's a reason why it's lasted as long as it has and why it's garnered spin-offs and so many imitators. It showcases well-thought-out story work with smart dialogue and a professional presentation. The characters may not reveal a great deal about themselves here, but that problem is rectified in later seasons and doesn't prohibit this season from entertaining.

The Blu-ray set is a significant upgrade from the 2003 DVD. The level of detail present in the image may be a bit much, but it's preferable to the DNR (digital noise reduction) other titles have been exposed to. Audio is robust and accurate, and the supplements have more positives than negatives. This high-definition release is recommended without hesitation to fans of the series, even if they already own this season on DVD. It's also recommended as at least a rental to those who enjoy crime-solving and yet have somehow missed this show.

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Reviewed May 18, 2009.



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