In 10 Words or Less
The CSIs battle a sinister foe and their own demons
Loves: The CSI franchise, the Las Vegas version, Gil Grissom, the Miniature Killer storyline
Likes: Mysteries, Liev Schreiber
Dislikes: Repetition in the franchise, Michael Keppler
Hates: Catherine Willow
The Story So Far...
Gil Grissom (William Peterson, Manhunter) leads a team of criminologists working the beat in Las Vegas, where the crimes are a bit more involved than the usual stuff that makes the 11 o'clock news. His crew uses the full breadth of forensic science to solve murders and more, while their stories are told with true visual style, excitement and a healthy dose of humor as well. In recent seasons, the action has gone beyond the crime scene, to delve into the characters' lives and the dynamics of the team.
This is the sixth season of "C.S.I." to be released on DVD. The first two sets were released in March and September of 2003, respectively, while the third and fourth collections followed in March and October of 2004. All caught up, it takes about a year to get a new set. DVDTalk has reviews of all six sets: Season One | Season Two | Season Three | Season Four | Season Five | Season Six
In my review of season six of "C.S.I.," I noted that "one of the things that's great about "CSI," as opposed to shows like "Lost," is the way you can jump into just about any episode and enjoy it on its own merits."
Well, I'll have to take that one back. Season Seven saw the introduction of a new kind of "C.S.I.," as the series tried true long-form storytelling this year, spreading one case over the length of the season, and into the next, while trying a couple of new ideas along the way. There were still plenty of one-shot stories and oddball cases, like "Leapin' Lizards," mixed throughout the run, along with some strong subplots, like all the previous seasons, but if you stuck around from the beginning until the end, you were treated to a deep, engaging story that took several twists and turns and held serious consequences for the team.
The main focus of the season is the Miniature Killer, a serial murderer who leaves behind tiny perfect replicas of the crime scene, complete with hand-crafted bodies and creepy little clues that puzzle Grissom and his squad. The idea of a criminal obsessed with the perfection exhibited in the models is frightening for criminologists who rely on even the smallest amount of sloppiness on the part of the bad guys. The killer is also the first real foe the team has faced since Paul Millander in Season One and Two (unless you count the Gordons in Season Six (which I don't.) When you have such a successful team like Grissom's, putting them up against a serious challenge, even if it is the kind of incredible supervillain that only exists in fiction, helps raise the level of drama. That the answers aren't cleanly discovered in 60 (or more precisely 44) minutes just makes it that much more interesting, especially since the game changes when you think it's all figured out. The non-sequential progression of the case, which sees clues discovered during the course of their everyday jobs, making the case increasingly surprising. Not having the final piece to the puzzle on this set (as it wraps up in Season Eight) is frustrating, since if you don't watch on TV, it will be a year until you can find out what happens.
Beyond the many episodes involving the Miniature Killer, there's plenty more to enjoy in this season, including a four-episode arc that brings about the moment "CSI" fans have been speculating about and dreading for years: Peterson leaving the show. Thankfully, it was just a small hiatus, as Grissom takes a sabbatical to teach in Massachussets, but it gives a glimpse at a world without Grissom, and it's not one that's particularly appealing to visit. Smartly, the creators didn't attempt to replace Gil, and instead brought in a different, yet similar kind of CSI in the form of Michael Keppler, played by Liev Schreiber (The Manchurian Candidate.) A street-tough, yet soft-spoken scientist, Keppler has a dark, mysterious background that follows him to Las Vegas and an outsider's perspective, giving the show plenty to work with as it crafted something of a "CSI" miniseries in the middle of a season. Schreiber does everything you could ask for in creating Keppler, developing a believable, tragic character quickly and fitting in with the remaining cast well, even if he could never be Grissom. He was an excellent choice for a limited run on the show, but one wonders if he would have been better received if he had been introduced outside of the world of Las Vegas.
Former lab analyst Greg (Eric Szmanda) also gets some spotlight this season, starting in the harrowing "Fannysmackin'," in which a gang of thugs brutally assault random people in Las Vegas. Heading to a crime scene, Greg stumbles onto the attackers in the middle of another beating, and attempts to break it up with his truck and lights. When one of the attackers confronts him, he hits him with his car, killing him, and leaving himself open to a savage beating at the hands of the rest of the gang. The physical pain is just the beginning for Greg, as he soon finds himself embroiled in legal matters related to the assault. The way his story plays out is effective and truly frustrating, considering he was just trying to help another person, but when the series goes back to the well again later in the season, it feels a bit stretched out. Greg's traumas aren't the only ones suffered by the team, as Sara has it tough in "Empty Eyes," and Catherine's year gets off to an awful start in the first episode, before her past continues to haunt her. The Grissom/Sara relationship started at the end of Season Six develops further here, but with Grissom missing for four episodes, it's a slow burn that only really picks up speed toward the end of the year.
With the lengthy Miniature Killer story and the Grissom/Keppler swap, the Seventh Season seemed to be all about doing things differently. Two episodes exemplify this, "Toe Tags" and "Lab Rats." "Toe Tags" centers around a group of dead people in a morgue, who talk about how they ended up there, with the solving of their cases going on in the background. It's a veryfolksy, off-beat way to tell the usual " CSI" stories, though it doesn't feel "just right" in comparison to the other episodes. "Lab Rats" is more in line with the other shows, but with its focus on the lab's support staff, it has a unique feel that makes it extremely memorable and extremely enjoyable. Watching lab tech Hodges (Wallace Langham) "lead" the other techs in attempting to solve the Miniature Killer case for the CSIs is a great deal of fun, as it takes the concept of a "clip show" and twists it to give the excellent supporting cast a chance to shine, and plays off Hodges' ego, feeling a bit like a junior-league detective gang. When the show gets "goofy" it's a welcome break from the traditionally dark and serious nature of the series.
The guest casting in this season is way more star-powered than it has been in the past, starting with the season premiere, which features Danny Bonaduce, John Mayer, Sean Young and the cast of Cirque du Soleil's "Ka." Kevin Federline takes a turn in Las Vegas, impressing few, along with DJ Qualls, Julie Hagerty, Enrico Colantoni and Ally Sheedy and the return of Melinda Clarke as Lady Heather. While all these big names spend some time in Sin City, the show hands the keys to two big names playing major roles. Roger Daltry, the lead singer of The Who, plays several characters in "Living Legend," powering the episode, while Ned Beatty plays a hometown dentist in "Sweet Jane," making the character of Dr. Dave one of the best in the series' history. The guest appearances aren't limited to the cast though, as Martha Coolidge (Real Genius) takes the helm to direct two episodes. It's impressive that the show is still gaining momentum after seven years and two spin-offs, and that trying something new is less about running out of ideas and more about telling an interesting story the best waypossible.
The 24 episodes in Season Seven are spread over six discs, with a seventh disc for the extras, giving everything a proper amount of space. Like "CSI: Miami," "CSI" has followed the lead of "CSI: NY" and changed to slipcased book-style packaging, with four disc trays in a cardboard folder, three of which are double-sided. The crime-scene tape package wrapper makes a return also this season.
The discs feature animated anamorphic main menus that follow the same design as previous seasons, with options to select episodes, adjust languages and check out the special features where available. Audio tracks are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 English and Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish, but there are no subtitles, only closed captioning.
The visually-inventive series gets a proper presentation on DVD, with anamorphic widescreen transfers that are clean and gorgeously lush, with vivid color and an extremely high level of detail. There's no noticeable digital artifacts, but oddly, a few minor specks of dirt were noticeable. The thing is, the show plays with film stock and special effects so frequently, there's no way to know if the dirt wasn't a style choice. Considering the overall level of quality, they get a pass here. Check out the look of "Law of Gravity" to see how beautiful the series can look.
The audio remains incredibly solid, taking advantage of the Dolby 5.1 tracks to create a deep soundfield. Though there's nothing dynamic about the mixes, they are strong and bold, and anytime someone gets shot, you're bound to jump. The dialogue is tight and clear, and there are some important sound cues that are recreated wonderfully.
once again, there's seven audio commentaries this season, but the episode selections are just about perfect, hitting the most important shows, including the premiere and finale, Greg's assault, the make-up heavy "Living Legend," the introduction and exit of Keppler and the unique "Lab Rats." The only thing needed is an eighth track, as only one of the two episodes in the two-part premiere has a commentary, which is pretty much a crime. Though none of the main cast participates this time around, and there's some lack of variety in the voices, the "Lab Rats" track lets the techs have their say, in an entertaining and lively commentary. The other tracks are informative and well-done, though some of the chats, like the first one, can get a bit quiet in spots.
The track breakdown:
"Built to Kill, Pt. 1": writer/producer Naren Shankar and producer/director Ken Fink
"Fannysmackin'": writer/director/producer Richard Lewis and writer/producer Dustin Lee Abraham
"Living Legend": director Martha Coolidge and special make-up artist Matthew Mungle
"Sweet Jane": Shankar and Fink
"Law of Gravity": writer/producer Carol Mendelsohn, writer/consultant Richard Catalani and Lewis
"Lab Rats": producer/director Brad Tanenbaum, producer/writer Sarah Goldfinger, amd actors Wallace Langham, Jon Wellner, Liz Vassey, Sherri Rappaport and Archie Kao
"Living Doll": Shankar and Fink
The seventh disc holds the remainder of the extras, which is made up of six featurettes, totalling almost 99 minutes of material, none of which are in any way fluffy EPK crap. Up first is "Inside 'Built to Kill'" (nine minutes), which focuses on the participation of Cirque du Soleil in the season premiere, with plenty of on-set footage and interviews with both shows' casts and crews. The title's a bit misleading, as there's much more in the episode than Cirque, which is all you learn about here (though Cirque fans won't be complaining. "Miniature Murders" (14 minutes) is an overview of the series' main storyline for the season, including the construction of the models at the center of the story. It's a fascinating idea and the featurette explores the intense effort from all involved.
"Who Are You? Inside 'Living Legend'" (15 minutes), as the title would suggest, focuses on Daltry's involvement in the titular episode, in looking at how the story was constructed and produced, while also talking about the show's theme song. Interviews with Daltry, Coolidge and members of the crew flesh out a quality behind-the-scenes examination that includes footage of the make-up effort.
The camera is turned on the real life CSIs in "Las Vegas: The Real Crime Solvers" (18:24), in the latest in the "CSI" DVD trend of using the cast, here Robert David Hall (Dr. Robbins), to host a comparison of the fiction of the show and the reality of the job. These segments have been consistently impressive, as the actors have done a solid job of standing in for the audience, asking interesting questions and bringing things down to layman's terms, while the featurettes cover fascinating concepts in the field of forensics. Doc Robbins maintains the level of quality as he explores the workings of the lab, including controlled substances, firearms, fingerprints and DNA. Sitting down with the real CSIs, the origins of the show are talked about, including the inspiration for Catherine Willows and the effects of the series' popularity on their job.
Back to the show, "The Evolution of 'CSI' Season Seven" (26 minutes) pulls back and looks at the series as a whole, and how it has changed, in terms of the characters, stories and look, and where it currently stands. The cast and crew share their thoughts in a number of interviews, which are supplemented by on-set footage. The seventh season gets the focus here, especially the Keppler storyline, as the results of the evolution are given more play than the process. It's interesting to hear Jorja Fox's comments on the series, considering her decision to leave the show.
The final extra is "Smoke & Mirrors: Directing Feature Television" (16:30), a look at the direction on the show, and the attempt to create the look of a feature film in a weekly television show. Interviews with several of the series' directors point out the challenges that have arisen since "CSI" raised the bar and so many shows have followed suit, and the thought that goes into creating a consistent, yet innovative look and style. The participation of Coolidge gives an "outsider's" perspective, in what's a good show of respect for the people running the show behind the camera.
The Bottom Line
The seventh season of "CSI" took some risks and came away stronger for it, with the most complex, engaging case in the series' history, an in-show "miniseries" that told a heartbreaking story outside of the show's established mythology and a few off-kilter tales that expand the concept of a "CSI" episode. The only downside is the lack of a conclusion, as the story carries over into Season Eight. The DVDs look and sound wonderful, and the extras are the best the series' has received to this point. If serial dramas or entertaining mysteries with fully-realized casts are your thing, this is a great set, which fans of the series will absolutely need to check out.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.