CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - The Ninth Season

(2009) *** Unrated
1044 min. CBS. Director: William Friedkin. Cast: William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Laurence Fishburne.

/content/films/3556/1.jpgGiven that it's a weekly television series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is mind-bogglingly well-produced, each hour the equivalent of a mini-movie. The show has been executive produced from the get-go by Jerry Bruckheimer, arguably Hollywood's most successful working producer. And the series has been able to attract feature-quality directing talent, from "Pilot" director Danny Cannon to Oscar-winning special guest directors Quentin Tarantino and William Friedkin. Friedkin returns to direct the series' milestone 200th episode during the series' historic ninth season, one which hands the leading-man baton from one erstwhile movie star to another.

Though certainly an ensemble show, TV's number-one drama has largely belonged to William Petersen, as crime lab supervisor Gil Grissom. Petersen decided it was at long last time to move on (with an eye to returning to his first love: the American theater), so Grissom does the same. In part because his literal investment in the show runs to his second job as executive producer, Petersen agreeably helped to make the transition as dramatically engaging and convincing as possible, and pleasing to the show's loyal fans. So Grissom remains the star well into the ninth season—for ten episodes—laying the groundwork for Grissom pulling the trigger on his departure. A third of the way through the season, a special two-parter brings in Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, Othello, Apocalypse Now) as Dr. Raymond Langston, a college professor and medical doctor whose expertise in serial killers contributes to a desperate investigation. At the resolution of the case, Grissom invites Langston to apply for a CSI Level One opening, and the rest is history.

Fishburne's heft and natural gravitas ensures the show's center will hold, even as it slides down the hierarchy from the top (where original series regular Marg Helgenberg takes over as boss) to the bottom. Langston is no fool, but as a CSI he is inexperienced, which allows the show to revisit the trial and error of the green CSI with the novelty of a seasoned actor. Of course, Langston proves a quick study whose contributions are all but immediately apparent. Season nine brings on another character, to replace the dearly departed Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan). Gunned down in the Season Eight finale, Warrick takes his last gasps in the Season Nine premiere, leaving a psychic wound on the CSI team. Lauren Lee Smith joins the cast as Riley Adams, a sassy CSI who takes no guff and shows no sign of being intimidated by the job, by replacing Warrick, or by her experienced colleagues, all of which makes her instantly admirable.

/content/films/3556/2.jpgIt's that kind of savvy writing that has kept CSI at the top of the ratings heap for a decade. Certainly by now, this police procedural is well entrenched in formula, but the writers continue to spin wild stories and ferret out unusual scientific angles to explore from the crime-lab perspective on an investigation. It's as much fantasy as fact, but don't underestimate the potency of that feature-quality production, which makes the most of the novel Las Vegas setting, dramatic lighting and color palette, snazzy special effects used to recreate body cavities and gunshots, sex, violence, and large quantities of gallows humor and melodrama. In short, even after nine years, CSI works hard never to be boring. That's never more apparent than in the series' 200th episode "Mascara," directed by Friedkin, a mini-crime film about murder among luchadores (masked Mexican wrestlers) that also proves personal for Langston.

In its quest to keep audiences guessing, the writers like to throw into the mix unusually structured mysteries like "Kill Me If You Can" (in which three separate crime scenes in a single night prove related) and comic escapades like the now-annual lab-rats episode "A Space Oddity," set at a science-fiction convention. The tongue-in-cheek episode features Hodges (Wallace Langham), Wendy (Liz Vassey) and the other lab rats in dream sequences resembling Paramount property Star Trek, while the plot alludes to what happens when a beloved sci-fi series gets a dark reboot a la Battlestar Galactica (BSG writer-producer Ronald D. Moore turns in a humorous cameo).

CSI attracts a good quality of guest star, and Season Nine hosts the likes of Jeffrey Tambor, Glenne Headly, Caroline Aaron, Taylor Swift, Bill Irwin, Gerald McRaney, Cynthia Watros, Bruce Weitz, Nicholas Turturro, Darren Burrrows, Liza Weil, and Patrick Bristow, among others. No guest star is ever more welcome than a departed regular, and Jorja Fox's Sara Sidle makes a splash in a few Season Nine appearances. Fox has also signed to return for five episodes in Season Ten, as a show with a new lease on life chases after the elusive 300th episode mark.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 6

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 9/1/2009

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

TV on Blu-ray has never looked better than CSI: Crime Scene Investigation does in its The Ninth Season set. Spectactularly vivid colors, sharp contrast, fine detail and texture, and strong depth contribute to the visual potency of the twenty-four episodes collected here. The show gets a bump up to 1080p (after The First Season's 1080i presentation), and the difference is palpable, partly due to improved technology in filming techniques over the intervening years. As a TV show shot under challenging conditions, CSI occasionally betrays some visual inconsistencies or minor distractions (a soft shot here or there), but fans will definitely see a positive difference between this eye-catching hi-def presentation and standard-def DVD. It's generally good advice not to watch CSI over a TV dinner, and that's doubly true when you consider the stomach-churning sound effects brought to life by the definitive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mixes here. TV surround mixes rarely show this level of precision and impact in assigning directionality and creating lively ambience. From autopsies to gunshots, CSI sounds suitably intimidating.

A strong package of bonus features surrounds The Ninth Season, including a number of Deleted Scenes scattered across the six discs.

Disc One shows off a couple of impressive extras. The episode "Let It Bleed" comes with a viewing option: the Interactive Investigatory Mode (HD). Director Brad Tanenbaum, writer Corinne Marrinan, and technical advisors Richard Catalani and Larry Mitchell comment in Picture-in-Picture video, pop-up episode trivia and "fast facts" can be accessed through a fingerprint icon, and making-of mini-featurettes accessible through a pop-up magnifying glass icon detail the making of specific scenes.

The featurette "Crime Scene Initiation" (14:44, HD) discusses the integration of two new characters into the CSI team. Participants include William Petersen, executive producer Naren Shankar, executive producer Carol Mendelsohn, Eric Szmanda, Marg Helgenberger, Laurence Fishburne, George Eads, Robert David Hall, Wallace Langham, Lauren Lee Smith, and Paul Guilfoyle.

Disc Three gives "The Grave Shift" special treatment with CSI Mode (Comprehensive Scientific Information Mode), a pop-up trivia track.

Disc Four applies the Interactive Investigative Mode to "Kill Me If You Can," while "Turn, Turn, Turn" features audio commentary by Eads, Taylor Swift and writer Tom Mularz.

Disc Five includes "A Space Oddity" commentary by Shankar, Langham, Liz Vassey, and writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle.

The featurette "Rats in Space" (27:20, HD) is a thoroughly detailed making-of about the episode "A Space Oddity," including behind-the-scenes footage and comments from Langham, Shankar, Vassey, Jon Wellner, Sheeri Rappaport, Thompson & Weddle, Archie Kao, director Michael Nankin, set decorator Erin Smith, lead buyer Adam Braid, property master Michael Lindsay, special effects make-up man Matthew Mungle, make-up department head Melanie Levitt, and costume designer Eileen Baker.

"From Zero to 200 in Nine Seasons" (18:55, HD) celebrates the series' milestone with interviews abd footage of the champagne press conference/party; primarily, we get extensive comments from Mendelsohn, Shankar, director William Friedkin, producer Dustin Abraham, Aaron Aguilera, Fishburne, Eads, Hall, creator Anthony E. Zuiker, and executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Disc Six showcases "Good-Bye Grissom" (17:39, HD), a featurette reflecting on the final days of William Petersen and his leading character. Participants include Mendelsohn, Shankar, Petersen, Jorja Fox, Eads, Helgenberger, Guilfoyle, Szmanda, Langham, and Hall.

The discs also offer BD-Live access for additional online content. It's difficult to imagine CSI fans wanting more than this set provides: stunning video quality and just about every kind of bonus feature imaginable.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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