Since its debut, CSI has become a television phenomenon, enjoying immense critical and popular success as the world's most successful TV franchise - spawning two equally successful spin-off series. Season Seven of the series about a Las Vegas forensics team is the number one drama on US television for the fifth consecutive year, and was also consistently rated the number one drama among all syndicated programmes during its two-year run on syndicated television. The show has also spurred renewed interest in the field of forensic science, both on an academic and professional level.
With each season released in two halves, this second portion of Season Seven also features Lindsey being kidnapped whilst the team struggles to get her back. Catherine is experiencing family drama when her father is kidnapped, and she also comes up against mob-legend Mickey Dunn, who she'd met briefly years back. Catherine and her team follow Dunn on his killing spree although his many costume changes give the investigators a good run for their money.
Greg Sanders finds himself the victim of a street gang beating. Without backup, Greg fights a gaggle of teenagers to save an innocent man's life. In the process, Greg ends up accidentally killing one of the kids. Facing legal repercussions, Greg struggles to put the fateful night behind him. The team also deals with the new CSI on board during Grissom's hiatus - the secretive Michael Keppler. When he and Catherine stage a crime scene to trap their killer and fail to alert the rest of the team to their actions, Nick, Warrick and Sara voice their resentment.
As with previous DVD releases of CSI of all flavours, the picture is bright and colourful with a high level of detail throughout - with the opening credits over Las Vegas looking particularly impressive. Although each episode has an above average bitrate, the picture can be rather grainy at times which can then be exacerbated by some rather high levels of contrast and brightly lit scenes. Whilst image quality has slowly improved over the years, outlining problems can occur whenever there's dark and night time locations. Mind you, it doesn't help matters when the directors try to be clever by using various lense filters. Fortunately, whilst watching CSI on a large screen television can be a bit of a nightmare at times, it is not too distracting as the detail and the rich and bright colours more than make up for it.
Each of the episodes is accompanied by a 448Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack with some episodes better in the sound department than others. As a television series it's not going to rival any of the big budget action movies, but at least they've made the effort with what is basically a NICAM stereo soundtrack. Still, the soundtrack has a good all round performance with some clear and precise dialogue in the centre and front channels whilst the rear channels are used for the occasional ambient effect and the audio score. In fact, sound wise, the most effective part of the programme is the opening credits and the classic Who song Who Are You? which impressively echoes around the soundstage.
The main menu across each disc is animated with an opening credits style introduction and scored with the wonderful series theme tune from The Who. However, it's quite a short loop so after sitting on the menu for a few minutes listening to Who Are You being repeated over and over again it soon starts to annoy. Once you move to the submenus everything becomes silent - with the Episode Summary and Episode Selection menus surprisingly static and silent. Mind you, the Episode Selection menu does offer a nice transition effect - something that only slightly helps matters when you discover that there's no 'Play All' option.
Tucked away across the three discs (and possibly explaining the lack of the 'Play All' facility too), you'll find some Audio Commentaries. As with the previous DVD releases, there's only one commentary track per disc, with yack tracks available for the Law Of Gravity, Lab Rats and Living Doll episodes. Depending on the episode, and even the series for that matter, some commentaries can be more interesting than others. Again, that problem is repeated here, but the Lab Rats episode stands out more than most with the cast and director all having a good laugh whilst still managing to be informative.
Again, as with most of the other CSI releases on DVD, the extras are spread across the three discs in the collection and each episode is available with Subtitles - although they are not available on the extras. The first disc contains one of the extras, the eighteen minute The Real Crime Solvers featurette. A typical made for television looking featurette, Robert David Hall, who plays Doc Robbins in the series, goes into a real crime-lab and interviews many of the technicians. Relating to his part on the show, and including numerous clips from the show, Robert recognises numerous pieces of equipment and even manages to ask the technicians lots of interesting questions. Whilst their lab job probably isn't anywhere near as glamorous as the show portrays, it's certainly interesting viewing.
Moving to the second disc, the sixteen minute Smoke And Mirrors: Direction featurette, director Ken Fink looks at the programme direction over the past seven years. Whilst Ken is essentially doing the presenting here, three or four other directors are also interviewed and they all talk about the challenges, using special effects and various filming techniques, to ensure they keep the show looking fresh and unique from the many copycat series. Unlike most featurettes that consist of interviews, this featurette concentrates on the detail and avoids resorting to the usual all round back slapping. As such, it's another featurette worthy of a look in.
The third disc contains a further two featurettes. With plenty of clips from the series, the twenty-six minute The Evolution Of CSI Season 7 featurettes looks at how the seventh season of CSI has progressed from the earlier seasons. Because there's plenty of interviews with the cast and producers there's always going to be an element of back-slapping, but it's not too annoying. The featurette also includes the mysterious Gil Grissom sabbatical - which was in fact William Petersen having a short break to do some theatre work. However, the main unanswered question here is what if the producers had tried to refuse him the break - would he have threatened to walk if they'd refused?
The final featurette on the disc is the fourteen minute Miniature Murders featurette. With the CSI's thinking that the Miniature Murderer case is all wrapped up, he (or she) makes another chilling appearance in the show. With plenty of related clips from the show, this feature explains the background to the story and how those highly detailed scale models were constructed from the mocked up crime scenes. Whilst it's not as interesting as the other three featurettes, fans of the show are sure to enjoy the background information to the show.
Sold in over two hundred markets, CSI is also the top-rated U.S. drama in multiple international territories. The show has garnered twenty-four Emmy nominations, six Golden Globe Award nominations and won the People's Choice Award for Favourite Drama Series four years in a row. Needless to say, it's a popular and rather profitable franchise for all those involved at CBS and something the studio is keen to keep going. However, although the original series is still my favourite from the New York and Miami spin-offs, I can't help feeling that this series has now started to run out of ideas.
Sure, you've got the continuing miniature killer story line (which is a welcome addition that at least ensures the crimes are not solved every week and ultimately lead to something more exciting to keep the fans happy until next season) but there's only so many murders and crime solving can be done before people start to get a bored and want something fresher. The various producers and directors in the featurettes on the discs go to great lengths to suggest that this is the best ever season, however, I can't help but feel that this series has peaked and it's starting to lose its edge and that freshness that made it such gripping viewing in the first place.
Fortunately, the spin-offs do offer something different and continue to drive the franchise forward, but how long until they start to find themselves stuck in the mud too? I really don't want to complain about this series but, whilst watching the episodes for this review, it failed to keep my attention as much as previous releases. With the eighth season already showing on Channel Five in the UK, how much longer can the series continue? Has the time come for fresh ideas and a new spin-off series?
- Audio Commentaries
- Real Crime Solvers Featurette
- Smoke and Mirrors : Direction Featurette
- The Evolution of CSI Season 7 Featurette
- Miniature Murders Featurette