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 had better come out on DVD soon!) 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 one spinoff currently on the air, another in the works 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), Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle), 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 (see also: NBC's enjoyable new drama, "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.
This third season of "CSI" holds plenty of highlights, including the Emmy-winning "Fright Night", where the team must investigate the death of a prize fighter and a jewelry store robbery; "Revenge Is a Fish Best Served Cold", where drag racing may be covering up a death; the 90-minute special "Lady Heather's Box" (which featured contributions from all of the show's writers; "Forever", where a horse trainer is found dead on a plane transporting her horse and "The Accused is Entitled", where a defense team includes Grissom's mentor.
47. 3- 1 302 26 Sep 02 Revenge Is Best Served Cold
48. 3- 2 301 3 Oct 02 The Accused Is Entitled
49. 3- 3 303 10 Oct 02 Let the Seller Beware
50. 3- 4 304 17 Oct 02 A Little Murder
51. 3- 5 305 31 Oct 02 Abra Cadaver
52. 3- 6 306 7 Nov 02 The Execution of Catherine Willows
53. 3- 7 307 14 Nov 02 Fight Night
54. 3- 8 308 21 Nov 02 Snuff
55. 3- 9 309 5 Dec 02 Blood Lust
56. 3-10 310 12 Dec 02 High and Low
57. 3-11 311 9 Jan 03 Recipe for Murder
58. 3-12 312 16 Jan 03 Got Murder?
59. 3-13 313 30 Jan 03 Random Acts of Violence
60. 3-14 314 6 Feb 03 One Hit Wonder
61. 3-15 315 13 Feb 03 Lady Heather's Box (90 minute)
62. 3-16 316 20 Feb 03 Lucky Strike
63. 3-17 317 13 Mar 03 Crash and Burn
64. 3-18 318 3 Apr 03 Precious Metal
65. 3-19 319 10 Apr 03 A Night at the Movies
66. 3-20 320 24 Apr 03 Last Laugh
67. 3-21 321 1 May 03 Forever
68. 3-22 323 8 May 03 Play with Fire
69. 3-23 322 15 May 03 Inside the Box
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 edge enhancement, 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.
EXTRAS: Before moving on to the supplements, I must note the packaging and general presentation. Paramount has done a very fine job on the menus, which feature some animation between menus and are very well-organized. Also of note is the packaging: the discs are housed in a durable, hard plastic slipsleeve case that easily slides out of the larger container. I get a lot of complaints about box set packaging and discs falling loose in transit from readers, so it's nice to see a set like this that looks as if it can easily stand up to shipping. There's even a little "police tape" wrapper to keep the case closed.
Filmmaker commentaries are included on the episodes: "Revenge Is Best Served Cold" (Danny Cannon and Anthony E. Zuiker), "The Accused Is Entitled" (Ann Donahue, Elizabeth Devine and Ken Fink), "Fight Night" (Richard Lewis and Naren Shankar), "Snuff" (Ann Donahue and Ken Fink), "Random Acts of Violence" (Danny Cannon and Naren Shankar) and "Lady Heather's Box" (Naren Shankar, Richard Lewis, Anthony Zuiker and Josh Berman).
Venturing onto the last disc in the series, viewers will find a series of featurettes under the "Special Features" section. The first one is a 9-minute tour of the police station by the production designer. Given that I greatly appreciate the show's production design and look, I found this feature to be enlightening both in terms of creating the look of the series and attempts to create small details ("Wanted" posters that are actually photos of former crew members) in order give the sets a lived-in flavor and history.
"The CSI Shot: Making It Real" is a nearly 12-minute featurette that goes into detail about how some of the show's remarkable visual shots are accomplished. Director Danny Cannon and creator Anthony Zuiker are among those interviewed in this piece, and we hear and see how these amazing sequences go from concept-to-completion.
"The Writer's Room" is a 12-minute piece that profiles some of the writers that work on the series. The writers of the show are interviewed and discuss their experiences working together on some of the season's episodes and go further into the process and challenges of structuring and creating an episode.
"CSI: Moving Into Season 3" is an enjoyable overview of how the show has evolved, a look at the characters and what happened in this third season. Finally, "CSI Field Lab" is a series of brief looks at some of the equipment that has been brought together for the series by the show's technical advisor, who is featured. These were brief pieces, but they were focused on providing good insights and information, never seeming "promotional".
Final Thoughts: Overall, I found "CSI" to be an enjoyable series, with excellent performances from the cast and episodes that were tightly-paced, intelligently written and compelling mysteries. Paramount deserves high praise for this third season set, which offers excellent audio/video quality and a very good helping of supplemental features. Recommended.