In a slightly discrete manner, the Starz network, currently host to eight different movie channels on my cable provider, has begun to produce and air its own original content. While their choices have been a little eclectic, the most intriguing prospect was the television adaptation of the Oscar-winning film Crash. The team of Robert Moresco and Paul Haggis, who wrote the film, approved of and were involved in the show's production, so it really couldn't be so bad, right?
The show does not use the characters from the film, but a mix of some character concepts and conflicts from the film. The big one appears to involve Ben Cendars (Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet), a record producer with a history of erratic behavior, which is helped occasionally by chemicals. In Anthony (Jocko Sims, Dreamgirls), Ben has a protégé and occasional whipping boy. Christine (Clare Carey, Smokin' Aces) is a homemaker struggling to find an identity for herself as her kids begin to move away from the house and her father has moved in to recuperate after surgery. Eddie (Brian Tee, We Were Soldiers) is a former gang member and current EMT, whose friends get in trouble with Axel Finet (Nick Tarabay, When Else Fails). Axel is an undercover narcotics detective who is cheating on his wife with someone in the department. The woman, Bebe (Arlene Tur, Last Exit) is a patrolman, and her partner Kenny (Ross McCall, Green Street Hooligans 2) frequently bends the rules of police work and engages in his own extramarital affair with Inez (Moran Atias, Land of the Lost).
This makes up the bulk of the main cast, though there are additional subplots and characters that drift in and out of the Los Angeles backdrop similar to the movie. The show breaks away from the movie in the sense that there does not appear to be many redeeming qualities or optimism in the characters. The two that spring to mind in the show are Anthony, and he seems to be tolerable of Ben's eccentricities in favor of landing a record deal. The other is Eddie, who attempts to overcome circumstances that would keep him from realizing any dreams he may have. The antagonists, or at least the many unseemly ones, seem to stick to plan. Axel and Kenny are scheming, manipulative pieces of crap, and when their plans start to collapse on them, they try to weasel their way to safety until there's nowhere left to go.
But while I think the film (from what I remember of it) looks at its characters lives with a slightly optimistic tint, the show tends to look at things from a more jaded perspective, with the exception of the female characters, who all seem to be either taken advantage of or for granted. Each is trying to get out from the cloud of some poisonous relationship, including many of the supporting characters. There is no strength or chutzpah from these women, ironic in their various positions of authority. Bebe is a police officer, Christine a homemaker and de facto head of household. Inez's authority seems to be largely over Kenny, but that is more of a sexual nature.
There are some moments of intrigue that make the show worth watching. In a guest run, Tom Sizemore (Heat) plays a detective digging into Axel's secret life, and his performance is a change of pace for him. It does not possess the same type of bombast that his other performances have had; this one shows slightly more vulnerability. The way its done in the show is forced, but Sizemore pulls it off. Another smaller subplot with an immigrant named Cesar (Luis Chavez, Ocean's Thirteen) provides some of the more riveting moments in the series. Then you're brought down to Earth, to what Crash (the show) seems to possess a lot of: characters who develop in a somewhat predictable manner, their stories told with a bit of lackluster. Sprinkle in Hopper's scenes, and you're wondering what the photographer from Apocalypse Now is doing; there's nothing groundbreaking in his work here.
Ultimately, there are some moments and stories within Crash that are appealing and make you want to stick around, but if you hang in for the duration, you almost want most of the characters to get their comeuppance and, to a larger degree, for Los Angeles to fall into the ocean. Granted, most of us feel that way anyway, so if there is an urge to see this, it is because there is still some intrigue as to how the characters' fates will pan out. Then you can watch the film and just be satisfied.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Season One of Crash is broadcast in 1.78:1 and encoded with the AVC codec, and the results aren't all they're cracked up to be. The show's high-definition appearance has been shot on film and grain is noticeable all over the place, presumably to echo the creative intent. There's quite a bit of crushing in the blacks and there's not a lot of background depth, and the overall image detail is consistent with how the film first aired on broadcast television. I wasn't expecting miracles on Blu-ray, and with Crash, Starz doesn't deliver any.
Starz lists a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless track on the back of the case but instead includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround option, though it doesn't really do much for the show. Its sonic landscape consists of occasional bass music from a club, or panning in the front channels when a car zooms by. Dialogue is inconsistent from episode to episode, and while there is occasional directional effect activity, there's no immersive experience to boast after watching it. I think there could have been a little more justice done to the show with lossless audio, but the current product is bland and lifeless.
Throughout all four discs is a feature called "Character Arcs," which focuses on the individual character development through the show. These segments can be viewed in a more conventional linear form. It's nice, but it's almost like watching that re-edited Godfather II that comes on TV every so often. The other materials are on Disc Four (you'll find the series' 13 episodes on the first three discs), starting with a "Behind the Scenes" look at the show (19:25) that includes interviews with Haggis, Hopper and many of the show's cast and producers. They discuss the challenge of adapting the film for television and the people brought in for the formidable task. They cover the themes of the show and discuss what the crew hopes to accomplish, and the cast talk about their roles and the story in general. It's nothing revealing. The alternate ending to the season (3:39) was both predictable and implausible. There are character biographies for the major cast, including interviews with the actors portraying them, and a promo for Season Two (0:17) that doesn't show anything.
The first season of Crash has some interesting moments and some bland ones. It doesn't take too much from its film counterpart, so there's a bit of a pass to be given while the show tries to find its stride. Technically it's disappointing and nothing special from the bonus perspective, so I wouldn't buy it. Some of the performances merit some consideration, so give it a spin and watch the second season while you're at it.