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”I found a thumb.”

For the fifth season cliff-hanger of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Quentin Tarantino dabbled in the world of dramatic television once again, his previous effort being the first season E.R. episode Motherhood, televised almost exactly ten years before. Directing a teleplay by Naren Shankar, Anthony E. Zuiker & Carol Mendelsohn—which was adapted from his own story—he was nominated for an ‘Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series’ Emmy, but lost out to J. J. Abrams for his work on the pilot of, err, Lost.

Released to DVD on 10th October 2005 by Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment, it is presented here in its original two-part form. We take a look at the disc while trying to avoid any major spoilers for those of you who haven’t seen it yet...

CSI: Grave Danger


”Breathe quick. Breathe slow. Put your gun in your mouth and pull the trigger. Any way you like. You’re gonna die here.”

Nick Stokes is having a quiet night. The usual graveyard shift duties of visiting crime scenes, getting fingerprints, sifting through know, the usual stuff. The rather disgusting pile of intestines could so easily have been Warrick Brown’s problem, but coin tosses never go your way when you want them to.

Unfortunately, a coin toss is the least of Nick’s problems and one sick cop looking the other way mainly because he doesn’t like the look of the intestines (do you think I’ve said the ‘I’ word enough yet?) gives the perpetrator a chance to spring his elaborate set-up.

Waking up somewhat alarmed in the back of a van only to be drugged again, Nick wakes up for perhaps his final time. He has been buried alive in a Perspex coffin with only a few light-sticks, a tape recorder, and his own gun for company. It’s not long before he’s screaming like a little girl with a scraped knee, but then how would you react?

Having been split up to work different shifts, the original team come back together to try and find Nick before it is too late, their only clues being the trail of the van and a website which worryingly shows a live feed of Nick with a rapidly reducing timer. The demand? $1,000,000 in twelve hours or it’s goodbye Nicky boy.

CSI: Grave Danger
For those of you familiar with CSI you’ll be happy to hear that this is up there with the best episodes. The team dynamic is up to its usual standards, and the clues aren’t exactly telegraphed but they are there if you listen. There are, however, a couple of surprising left turns in the plot—not least the ending of the first part which does leave you wondering where Grissom and the gang go next. The repercussions of the team watching the live feed, and some generally sub-standard Perspex don’t really leave Nick with much to laugh about either.

For those of you who are here because of the words ‘Directed by Quentin Tarantino’ (and let’s face it, that is the blatant selling point being used here), then you shouldn’t be too disappointed either. There are enough nods to his own films and to those of other directors—a straight Indiana Jones dialogue rip-off being one of them—to keep QT fans happy, and the tension is kept humming along throughout. Little bits of humour pepper the feature and it would be interesting to know just how much of Tarantino’s original story was left intact after the usual staff writers geared it properly to the characters.

Like a lot of CSI stories there isn’t really a cliff-hanger at the end, but there are a fair few loose threads left dangling, one of which I suspected only to learn that I was spot on and it would be followed up on in season six (not that I’m being smug or anything). And Grissom’s work on an identical twin serial killer case is never mentioned again after the first few minutes with no clue as to the resolution.


Presented in its original ratio of 1.78:1—anamorphically enhanced of course—the graveyard shift gives the transfer a little challenge with plenty of night scenes. Most of these are well lit, however, and detail is quite high even on the tarmac at the beginning of the first episode. Colour reproduction is well done, not only in the night scenes but out in the desert where the colour range is epitomised by a stunningly clear blue Nevada sky. Blacks are nice and deep, but the lighting in some of the internal shots can produce a tendency for hair and clothes to merge with the background.

CSI: Grave Danger
Problems are minimal, but there is the tiniest amount of edge enhancement visible. Pixel crawl is also evident in a couple of places, with blinds being their usual pesky selves and a flyover shot of Las Vegas leaving the Wynn Hotel looking like there may be some ants on the outside. Overall though, even with an average bit rate for both episodes of just under 5Mb/s it all looks okay.


A nice full-rate Dolby Digital 5.1 track accompanies the anamorphic transfer. Being a mostly subtle TV show the sound design is still quite good here with the surrounds carrying the night time traffic and bits of radio chatter. Reproduction is good across the scale, with the emphasised bass-line in the opening titles and the typically dramatic ‘crime drama’ music coming across well. What really impressed me though were the nuances in the track, such as the quiet whirring of the fan in the coffin and the sound of the wind whistling through the warehouse in the desert at the end of part one.

This is a good, atmospheric track that serves its purpose, with little in the way of the trickery used in some productions just to make use of the surrounds. Vocals are clear and precise, and the subwoofer adds just enough meat to the mix.

CSI: Grave Danger


The only ‘extras’ available here are a couple of bonus episodes, no doubt placed to engender a desire to see more CSI and CSI: Miami.

The first episode is actually the one that started this burgeoning franchise. Pilot (43m20s, 4:3, Dolby Digital Stereo English, English subtitles) includes almost all the familiar faces. Eric Szmanda hadn’t made it to the opening titles yet (or The Who for that matter) and Jorja Fox is nowhere to be found—Chandra West instead plays an apparently disposable rookie. Exhibiting the multiple threads that pepper every episode of the series, this one deals with an apparent suicide, a suspicious ‘home invasion’ fatality, and a man waking up to find he has been robbed after a bit of short-lived infidelity. A minor investigation of a robbery also has serious consequences for the team.

The second bonus episode is the first stand-alone episode of CSI: Miami (the ‘pilot’ being the CSI season two episode ‘Cross Jurisdictions’). Golden Parachute (42m40s, Anamorphic 1.78:1, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, English subtitles) sees David Caruso’s team called into action when a plane goes down in the Everglades, killing everyone but the boss of a major insurance firm. As you might guess, things don’t quite add up, with a body five miles from the main crash site and the pilot apparently having been shot.

Quality-wise CSI: Miami benefits from being a ‘proper’ episode of the show, with the anamorphic picture and 5.1 sound both good efforts. The CSI episode, while only 4:3—and a bit grainy at that—with plain, old, stereo sound, may lose out presentation-wise but conversely is the better of the two in the way of story (and acting too, but that may only be my opinion). Both episodes could also have had better presented subtitles, as it appears no attention has been paid to stopping them overlapping the on-screen credits—something that doesn’t occur in the main feature.

As a side-note, both episodes have a better average bit-rate than Grave Danger—coming in at just under 6Mb/s each. It may not have been necessary, but you would think that it would have been the other way around. Oh, and there’s a nice, non-skippable (on my PC anyway) anti-piracy ad when you put the disc in.

CSI: Grave Danger


This is a solid if not entirely original piece of television but given that this will no doubt appear as a two-parter on the fifth season DVDs I am a little surprised that this has not been presented as a straight eighty-minute ‘movie’. The surprise ending of part one may account for it, but if there is nothing here that is different to the eventual box set release what is there to tease the public into buying it.

The high price tag may put off even the most hardened of QT or CSI fans, and with the disc features being so minimal so as not to include even chapter selections or a ‘Play All’ function it is difficult not to recommend waiting for the box set. There will be those that won’t be bothered about getting the whole season and will storm out and get this—each to their own and that—but for me a Tarantino commentary would have made this a ‘must buy’ and anything less is just a crime if you are to release this on its own.