CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, despite myriad cast changes, run-the-format-into-the-ground spin-offs, and a hyper-stylization now bordering on self-parody, soldiers on in its thirteenth (2012-13) season. The series is, somehow, still relatively entertaining, its format and (mainly longtime) characters still interesting to watch as they try to unravel baffling murder mysteries with real and imagined technologies and credibility-straining theories.
I've been watching the series utterly out of sequence, but mostly alternately between early season shows missed when they were new, and more recent seasons that at once are familiar and yet in some ways unrecognizable from the show in its early days. Three of the show's better characters, played by William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, and Gary Dourdan have been gone for quite a while, Helgenberger being the most recent departure. She left near the beginning of season twelve, though Petersen has stayed on as an executive producer while making rare, often voice-only cameo appearances. Ted Danson (Cheers) and Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas) replaced Petersen and Helgenberger, respectively, with limited success.
In one of those increasingly frustrating marketing moves, several years ago CBS/Paramount released CSI's first and ninth seasons to Blu-ray, as well as the Quentin Tarantino "Grave Digger" two-parter. But no other Blu-rays have been forthcoming nor do they seem likely in the near future. Seasons 10-12, and now season thirteen are on DVD only. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - The Thirteenth Season is a compact, well-produced set offering good picture and audio, as far as DVD goes, and it includes loads of extra features, including featurettes, deleted scenes, and audio commentaries.
A crime drama/mystery series set in Las Vegas, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation generally follows two concurrent, often bizarre fatal crime scenes, with their very strangeness often functioning as the sting in the pre-credits teaser. The work is divided among the CSI lab's night shift personnel who, during season 13, includes eccentric night-shift supervisor D.B. Russell (Ted Danson); assistant night-shift supervisor Julie Finlay (Elisabeth Shue), the twice-divorced Las Vegas native who had worked under D.B. before, in Seattle; Nick Stokes (George Eads), the sensitive ex-frat boy and university baseball player who contemplates quitting at the beginning of the season; Sara Siddle (Jorja Fox), the veteran CSI who for a time became burned out, left the team and married Gil Grissom (William Petersen); and Capt. Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle), of the LVPD's homicide division who acts as liaison to the CSIers.
Also keeping busy are CSI Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda), the former DNA technician; pathologist Al Robbins, M.E. (Robert David Hall); trace technician David Hodges (Wallace Langham); assistant medical examiner Dr. David Phillips (David Berman); and comparatively new CSI Morgan Brody (Elisabeth Harnois), estranged daughter of Clark County under-sheriff Conrad Ecklie (Marc Vann).
Season thirteen of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is pretty much the same series it's been since season one: an entertaining popcorn show, slickly produced on an extravagant budget allowing for lots of glossy production value. There's much location shooting (some in Vegas, most apparently in a disguised L.A.), elaborate visual and makeup effects, good sets and music, and an extremely evocative photographic and editing style it practically owns. It is, however, showing its age and episodes run the gamut from excellent to poor.
The season opens with the fairly preposterous resolution to the season twelve cliffhanger, with D.B. outrageously bending rules in the search for his kidnapped granddaughter. Better is "Cold Blue Plate Special," the second episode of the season, with the team investigating the mass murder (body count: eight) of workers and patrons at their favorite diner (death follows them everywhere), in a show that exemplifies what CSI does best, namely confine a mystery to a finite setting and baffling set of circumstances, with the characters using their wits and technology to figure out how it all went down.
"Wild Flowers" is a visually showy episode, with investigators trying to locate one of two sex slaves who escaped her captors, the other having been gunned down at a rave in the middle of the Nevada desert. "Play Dead" is another decent show, about the murder of a police dog handler, an episode that allows Nick to bond with the initially ferocious police dog.
As has been the trend for a while, many CSI scripts put its characters at the scene of the crime as it happens, and/or make them a participant/victim/witness to a crime-in-progress or an ongoing investigation. This is overdone. They also spend a lot more time away from crime scenes and the lab, doing police and investigation work real CSIs never get near, further contributing to what's been termed "the CSI effect."
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer's high-concept approach had been a good match with creator Anthony E. Zuiker's characters and situations. The Las Vegas setting provides a glamorous backdrop of bright neon in every direction, ostentatious hotel suites, and casinos buzzing with activity 24-7, which in turn facilitate an endless supply of chronic gamblers, crooked blackjack dealers, Mafioso types, drug addicts and the like with motives for murder to spare. The extreme stylization of the show, incorporating CGI-generated tours of mutilated human bodies, POV shots of flying bullets, and visualized theories by the investigators, superimposed and often wildly animated within the same shot, was incredibly innovative when the show debuted, but over time has lost almost all of its freshness. For this reason the show's makers have amped all this up to "eleven," which much of this stylization drowning the actors. This is particularly noticeable in the lighting of the crime lab scenes, which less and less resembles a real police laboratory and more like some space platform off the third moon of Saturn.
Video & Audio
Apparently still filmed in Super 35, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation looks terrific in this 16:9 presentation. The show's signature visual style of bright primary colors, boosted film grain, desaturated (or heavily filtered) flashbacks, fluid camerawork, etc. are really an eyeful though I'd still prefer to see it on Blu-ray rather than DVD. The set packs 22 43-minute shows on the six single-sided region 1 discs. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes are state-of-the-art, and include Spanish stereo audio plus English SDH subtitles. A hard-to-get-to episode guide is buried beneath Disc 1's hub.
Supplements include six featurettes: "Tennis, Anyone?," "A Tale of Two CSI's" [sic], "Drawing Blood," "Providing Food and Shelter," "Observing the Sabbath," and "Black Sabbath: End of the Beginning Music Video." Also included is "Seth and Apep," a crossover episode with CSI: NY, and the previously released (?) "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Anatomy of a Hit." There are deleted scenes and audio commentaries on three episodes by the cast and crew. The special features, but not the commentaries, are subtitled in both English and Spanish.
Not nearly as good as it once was but still moderately entertaining, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation at its best still can deliver the goods. The transfers are fine and the supplements are bountiful. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.