I've never been a big fan of weekly serials like 'CSI,' but in 2005, when I heard Quentin Tarantino was directing a two-part episode, I couldn't have been more excited about the series. I started watching new episodes every week just to familiarize myself with the characters prior to seeing Tarantino work his magic.
'Grave Danger' begins with Officer Stokes visiting a parking lot crime scene where a pile of entrails have been found. As he pokes around the darkened lot for evidence, he's ethered to sleep by the guy who presumably left the intestines on the ground. When he finally wakes up, Stokes finds that he's been buried alive in a plexiglass coffin fitted with lights, a web cam and ventilation. The only belongings in his possession are a few glow sticks, a tape recorder, the bubblegum that was in his pocket before he was left for dead and a loaded handgun.
There isn't much he can do to escape from his end, so the CSI team drops all their current cases and places all their focus on finding Stokes alive, knowing that his fate rests in their hands. Shortly after his disappearance, a package shows up at the CSI lab with a mix tape containing hauntingly fitting songs for the occasion and a USB thumb drive that activates a secret website that displays a streaming live video feed of Stokes in the coffin and instruction on how to deliver the million-dollar ransom. Instead of playing out like a short, all-too-easily solved 'CSI' episode, 'Grave Danger' flows like a movie. In fact, I'd say it's a better movie based on a TV series than the last 'X-Files' film. If you love either 'CSI' or Quentin Tarantino, you'll surely enjoy the high stakes of 'Grave Danger.'
Having been shot shortly after the 'Kill Bill' films, when 'Grave Danger' aired, I noticed a whole lot of 'Kill Bill' in it. At the time, I thought that was simply due to having 'Bill' on the brain, but as I re-watch it now, almost seven years later, I not only see the same 'Kill Bill'-isms in it, but many of Tarantino's other trademarks.
The biggest and most easily noticeable of the 'Kill Bill' comparisons is that of a central character being buried alive with a substantial amount of screen time taking place with the man/woman in the box. The coffin sequence in 'Kill Bill' was especially claustrophobic on the big screen, but I'd go as far as to say that the enclosed scenes in 'Grave Danger' are just as fear-inducing on Blu-ray. 'Grave Danger' is not recommended for those who fear tight spaces.
Another 'Kill Bill'-ism that Tarantino applied to 'Grave Danger' is the use of converting the video to black & white to get around censors. One sequence in the episode shows a bloody wide open body during an autopsy. Had this not been in black & white, there's no way it would have made it onto network television.
It's funny how much cooler the 'CSI' characters instantly become with Tarantino behind them. Meaningless conversations suddenly turn interesting. Longer takes become prevalent. Pop culture becomes a major topic of discussion. In 'Grave Danger,' the characters talk about things ranging from Roy Rogers to 'The Dukes of Hazzard.' A poster for QT friend Eli Roth's 'Cabin Fever' is even featured on the wall at one location. But my favorite of all the pop culture references is a line that says, "You're sitting there like Jack Handy with your "Deep Thoughts" and your cup of coffee."
For Tarantino fans, Paramount has given you an awesome opportunity by adding an unlikely work of QT's cannon to your Blu-ray collection. Now we just need 'Four Rooms' to hit domestic Blu-ray and for Universal to follow suit with Paramount and give us the episode of 'ER' that he directed.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount has given 'CSI: Grave Danger' a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release. The eco-friendly two-disc blue keepcase houses both the BD-25 and DVD discs of the episode. Be warned that the generic cover art is fairly ugly. Before getting to the main menu, the only things that play a CBS vanity reel, an FBI warning, and a disclaimer about the special feature.
The 1080p/VC-1 transfer of 'Grave Danger' is surprisingly sharp and detailed for a seven-year-old episode of a television series.
The first shots of the episode - aerial shots looking down on a Las Vegas at night time – immediately show off the high quality, which never lets up. During that night sequence, you'll notice how inky and rich the black levels are without clipping, as well as how strong and vibrant the colors are without being overly saturated. The image is always clean and clear, with the exception of some intentionally grainy over-exposed shots and a handful that feature slight amounts of digital noise.
The sharpness of the video is always noticeably strong. Facial pores and follicles are defined and you'll even see individual pits on the wet dark asphalt from high-up nighttime crane shots. The sharpness of 'Grave Danger' resembles what you'd expect from a new television series episode – not one from 2005.
There aren't any traces of edge enhancement, DNR, artifacts, aliasing, or banding.
Another surprising characteristic of this Blu-ray is the audio quality. Despite the case and menu only claiming to contain "stereo" audio, both tracks are actually lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. The English track is 5.1 and the Spanish track is 2.0.
The impressive audio will first gain your attention due to its dynamic mix. Vocals, music and effects are well-blended and spread throughout all the channels. The vocal audio is always clean and clear, never trumped by the effects or music (unless as a directorial decision, which happens at least once with the mix tape overpowering all other audio). The music sounds fantastic. The Who's "Who Are You?" has (arguably) never sounded so good.
But the effects just might take the cake on this Blu-ray. Through great cinematography, Tarantino keeps the visual look of the coffin scenes from getting stagnant, but he also employs fantastic effects to hold your attention and add to the tension. The tiny sounds of sand and creatures intruding in the plexiglass casket are amplified and unique. The sounds of Las Vegas' industrial district at night are spot on. While the surrounding area is dark and lifeless, you can hear the environment from the wild night life in the distance – the sounds of traffic, helicopters and sirens.
Again, who would have expected such great audio from two simple television episodes from 2005?
You don't need to be a Tarantino fan to enjoy 'Grave Danger,' but being one only makes it more fun. You'll pick up on his trademark style throughout. (I'm not sure if the Red Apple cigarettes made it into the episodes, but I'll keep looking.) You also don't need to be a 'CSI' fan to enjoy it. The characters are established in a genuine Tarantino way that gives you more than enough to connect with them – even if this is your first time meeting them. The episode itself is clever and highly intense, even dabbling in horror territory a few times. The audio and video qualities are shy of perfect, but it's surprising how great they actually turned out. The 18-minute behind-the-scenes featurette included could have been longer, but it's just enough to keep you satisfied. For 'CSI' and Tarantino fans, 'Grave Danger' is a very worthy must-own Blu-ray. It's recommended for everyone else.