Dr. Michael Baden is a former New York City forensic examiner who has provided expert testimony in a few high profile murder cases since beginning his career decades ago. HBO has decided to capitalize on his interesting career and as such, here we are with Autopsy: Postmortem With Dr. Michael Baden, an hour long special that allows the good doctor to wax nostalgic about some of the more interesting cases he's investigated.
The feature starts off with a look at the JFK assassination, where Baden, who was called in to serve on a Senate committee on assassination in 1978, explains how much of this horrible event remains a mystery because of what he believes to be honest mistakes that were made shortly after Kennedy was shot. We get a look at some historical footage from the event as well as from the 1978 hearings in which Baden was involved. From there we move on to the O.J. Simpson case where some truly gruesome crime scene footage shows us just how brutal Nicole Simpson's murder really was. In addition to some news report footage we also hear Baden explain how his testimony for the defense didn't prove O.J.'s innocence, it simply proved that the prosecution's theories were not infallible.
From there we head to the Chelsea Hotel to look into the deaths of Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon. After an unintentionally hilarious two-minute crash course in the history of punk rock and the Sex Pistols' role in that scene, we get a look at the murder scene where Nancy was found dead. From there we learn of Sid's incarceration and his eventual death from a heroin overdose. Baden doesn't really elaborate too much on this case, though he does mention that Sid's mother is the one who got him the smack that killed him.
After that grisly bit of news, Baden discusses the mysterious case of the Romanov family who were assassinated during the Russian revolution. While most of the family members' bodies were found in the late eighties, two of the children remain a mystery, their whereabouts unknown. This is an interesting segment despite the fact that it involves a fair bit of speculation, as it reaches back over a hundred years and demonstrates the importance of DNA testing in solving older cases. Last but certainly not least, Baden talks about the after effects that have shown up in the NYPD and FDNY officers who were first on the scene when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed on September 11, 2001. We hear from a police officer who has developed lung disease and learn about a young fireman who passed away from similar symptoms thanks to improper equipment and the inhalation of chemicals and dust at the site.
Each one of these segments is interesting in and of itself but due to the condensed nature of the feature, we really only scratch the surface of each incident. Baden is obviously a very intelligent man with a lot of fascinating experience under his belt and one has to wonder why HBO didn't commission him to do a full hour on each of the cases that he only touches on here.
Autopsy was made for TV so it shouldn't shock anyone to see it presented here on DVD in a fullframe presentation. While this material has, unfortunately, not been flagged for progressive scan, it's otherwise as decent as you'd expect it to be. Some of the archival clips are definitely in worse shape than the studio shot material with Baden but that's to be expected and obviously isn't a fault of the transfer or the encoding. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and color reproduction looks pretty accurate. A bit of aliasing pops up here and there but aside from that, the image is fine.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix is basic but effective. The vast majority of the feature is made up of interview footage and narration, so don't expect a whole lot of channel separation here, and honestly, Mono would have been just as effective. That said, everything comes through nice and clear and there aren't any problems with hiss, distortion, or level fluctuations. Optional closed captioning is included in English and an optional Spanish language dub track is included, also in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo.
Aside from a basic menu screen, this DVD is completely barebones and entirely devoid of extra features, which is a shame as Baden is obviously an interesting guy who has worked on some very important cases - as such, you'd think there'd be a wealth of supplemental material to include, but no dice.
Autopsy: Postmortem With Dr. Michael Baden is absolutely worth a watch for the burgeoning true crime buff as it lends some expert insight into some high profile cases. That said, seasoned aficionados will have probably already learned the majority of what is covered here and while the location footage is morbidly fascinating, this documentary is too brief to serve as anything but a primer. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.