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HTF Review: Law & Order: Criminal Intent - The First Year

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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Jason Perez

Jason Perez

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Posted October 25 2003 - 05:55 PM

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Law and Order: Criminal Intent – The First Year













Studio: Universal

Year: 2001-2002

Rated: Not Rated

Box Set Length: 17 Hours 23 Minutes

Aspect Ratio: Full-Frame (4:3)

Subtitles: English (Captioned), French, and Spanish

Audio: English - Dolby Surround; Spanish & French – Dolby 2.0







NOTE: The bonus features for this set are located on Disc Six!!!

A unique combination of courtroom drama and gritty detective work, the original Law and Order series developed quite a following, and was ultimately successful enough to have a couple of “offspring” much as the highly regarded Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) series did. Although I must say that I was impressed by the few episodes of Law and Order that I caught, grad school never left me much time to religiously watch any particular television series. As such, I never became a hardcore Law and Order fan the way my brothers and some of my friends have.

Like its predecessor, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Law and Order: Criminal Intent is a spin-off of sorts from the original Law and Order series, which has been recognized for its excellence with multiple Emmy awards. As was the case with Law and Order: SVU I had never seen an episode of this series until I received the set from the good people at Universal Home Video. As such, I was initially under the assumption that Law and Order: Criminal Intent was a true spin-off, but it seems that I was a little off base.

In the special features that accompany these “first year” sets, the creator of both Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent, Dick Wolf, makes no bones about these programs being separate and distinct from the original Law and Order series. He is also quick to point out that Criminal Intent veers away from the some of the elements that gained the original series widespread acclaim and a legion of loyal fans to blaze its own trail. I think he is right, but no matter how you see these two Law and Order programs, it is mighty impressive how successful each series has been, based entirely on their own merit.

Criminal Intent revolves around the cases tackled by the Major Case Squad, a division of the New York Police Department that investigates the most high profile crimes. This series also differs from the original Law and Order, in that it focuses almost exclusively on the investigative processes employed by the detectives to catch criminals, at the expense of the courtroom drama that plays a significant role in the original program. Perhaps more importantly, this series has distinguished itself from its brethren by approaching the crimes from the criminals’ point of view. Since I had never seen an episode of this series before, I was really intrigued by this idea.

Now that I have seen how this plays out firsthand, I think that getting to see the motivations behind the criminals’ actions adds an interesting dynamic to the crime/drama genre. Sure, at first I was skeptical, because if you see the crime being committed, a lot of the mystery surrounding the case is gone (which is one of the elements that made the few episodes of Law and Order I saw so great). In the final analysis though, I am happy to report that this deviation from the formula plays out better than I could have expected it to, adding a great degree of complexity to the show by allowing for a more refined exploration of both the “bad guys” and the “good guys”. The episodes also unfold in a much more cerebral fashion than the episodes of the previous spin-off, Law and Order: SVU, which is a good thing as far as I am concerned. We didn’t need another carbon copy of the original Law and Order anyway, did we?

Since Criminal Intent can’t rely on plot twists as much, because we usually see the crime take place, the series rests on the shoulders of the actors, particularly those of
Vincent D’Onofrio, who is fantastic as Detective Robert Goren. Unlike Law and Order: Special Victims Unit , I thought the rest of the cast was equally up to the task of delivering an intriguing hour of crime/drama in spades. Of course, this is a subjective matter, but the characters in Criminal Intent are much more appealing to me than the detectives in SVU, and the series itself has a far more “real” and engaging feel about it. Indeed, I think Law and Order: Criminal Intent overshadows its sibling, Special Victims Unit, in just about every regard, which is saying something, because that series is certainly not bad by any means.

Another plus for Criminal Intent is that the partnership between Goren and Alexandria Eames (Katherine Erbe) is extremely plausible, and the actors play off each other beautifully. Goren is the intellectual, methodical detective, and Eames brings an earthy, “human” touch to the show. Their chemistry really drives the series, which was rock-solid from the very first episode, entitled “One”. Remarkably, I did not detect any of the opening season jitters that plague most new shows in any of the eight episodes I watched. Criminal Intent came out of the gate hard and fast, and drew me in immediately with its polished, professional nature, and the sheer magnificence of the cast. Superlatives aside, this is a great television series. It is just a shame there are not more like it.

Now I know I said I was going to try and catch some future episodes of Special Victims Unit in my review for that set, but with Criminal Intent, there is no doubt! In fact, I might just have to pick up that Tivo unit I have been eyeballing for some time now. This show is that good!!!

The following is a brief description of each episode included in this box set (information obtained from Universal’s press release). Please note that the eight episodes I watched are denoted by the three asterisks preceding the title.

DISC ONE:
*** “ONE” - (Episode 1-1) Airdate 930/2001
Carl Atwood and his girlfriend Gia have enlisted three people to help them plan and execute a major jewelry heist: Carson, fresh out of a Canadian prison; Nathan, an expert in phony identification; and a muscular Serbian named Zivkovic.

“ART” - (Episode 1-2) Airdate 10/7/2001
When a museum curator and an art authenticator are found dead in what seems to be a murder-suicide, the police suspect an art forger is the real culprit.

“SMOTHERED” - (Episode 1-3) Airdate 10/14/2001
A wealthy family’s problematic son is the prime suspect in the investigation of his murdered fiancée, a recovering drug addict who was pregnant.

*** “THE FAITHFUL” - (Episode 1-4) Airdate 10/17/2001
The killing of a church sexton leads to a case involving a priest, the secret life he had with the killer, and an innocent third party for which Goren feels enough pity that he puts the prosecution in jeopardy.

DISC TWO:
“JONES” - (Episode 1-5) Airdate 10/21/2001
The detectives become suspicious when an abusive lawyer’s girlfriends keep turning up dead.

“THE EXTRA MAN” - (Episode 1-6) Airdate 10/28/2001
When a European con man is found beaten to death, the detectives look for investors that he swindled.

*** “POISON” - (Episode 1-7) Airdate 11/11/2001
A mysterious “angel of death” poisons a series of hospital victims with cyanide, and the detectives suspect a nurse who fits the typical profile.

“THE PARDONER’S TALE” - (Episode 1-8) Airdate 11/18/2001
The deaths of a reporter and his fiancée, gunned down on orders, leads the detectives to investigate political bribery involving the governor’s office.

DISC THREE:
“THE GOOD DOCTOR” - (Episode 1-9) Airdate 11/25/2001
A plastic surgeon reports his wife missing, but Goren suspects the man killed her.

*** “ENEMY WITHIN” - (Episode 1-10) Airdate 12/9/2001
The death of an eccentric banker in his 90th-floor apartment leads the detectives to investigate his professional contacts and family members.

“THE THIRD HORSEMAN” - (Episode 1-11) Airdate 1/6/2002
The killing of an abortion doctor who was shot in his own apartment sends the detectives on a search for the sniper before someone else becomes a victim.

“CRAZY” - (Episode 1-12) Airdate 1/13/2002
A psychiatrist who provides testimony at criminal trials lays down an insanity defense to hide his obsession for his younger girlfriend after revealing to her that he hired a corrupt detective to murder her brother-in-law, who had allegedly abused his own daughter.

DISC FOUR:
“THE INSIDER” - (Episode 1-13) Airdate 1/27/2002
A wealthy young woman’s father threatens to make trouble for the owner of a nightclub she frequents. Later the next morning, after a night of drug use at the club, the woman is found at a boat garage with the corpse of her father.

“HOMO HOMINI LUPUS” - (Episode 1-14) Airdate 3/3/2002
An embezzling executive refuses to cooperate with the detectives after his wife and two daughters are kidnapped by a loan shark as collateral on a huge debt.

“SEMI PROFESSIONAL” - (Episode 1-15) Airdate 3/10/2002
The detectives investigate the murder of a judge’s girlfriend and hope to link a ratty little ex-con with ties to another rival judge to the slaying.

*** “PHANTOM” - (Episode 1-16) Airdate 3/17/2002
A recently paroled bank robber’s murder puts detectives on the trail of the victim’s social-climbing sister, who has a romantic connection to a man living a double life as a bogus United Nations economist.

DISC FIVE:
“SEIZURE” - (Episode 1-17) Airdate 3/31/2002
Detectives retrace a murder victim’s steps and begin to suspect an inmate awaiting the death penalty, known as the “Motel Ripper”, and his devoted and obsessive accomplice, who is employed by a neuropsychiatrist studying aberrant behavior.

*** “YESTERDAY” - (Episode 1-18) Airdate 4/14/2002
The body of a woman who had disappeared some 20 years earlier turns up after two brothers put their house up for sale.

“MALEDICTUS” - (Episode 1-19) Airdate 4/21/2002
Goren and Eames investigate the murder of a Russian mobster’s daughter who was about to write a revealing book.

*** “BADGE” - (Episode 1-20) Airdate 4/28/2002
Evidence leads Goren and Eames to believe ex-cops may be responsible for the murders of a city auditor and his family.

DISC SIX:
*** “FAITH” - (Episode 1-21) Airdate 4/28/2002
When a wealthy publisher is murdered, the detectives go to investigate a young author for a link, but they soon come to believe the author doesn’t exist and that the publisher was killed because he sensed a scam.

“TUXEDO HILL” - (Episode 1-22) Airdate 5/10/2002
The case of a corporate executive under suspicion for murdering her plumber boyfriend also involves a disgruntled shareholder who is reporting the company’s financial improprieties.





SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Presented in its original full-frame (4:3) aspect ration, Universal has provided a nice transfer for each of the episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. More precisely, flesh tones are rendered accurately, and colors are generally vibrant and sufficiently saturated. Shadow detail is also consistently above-average, thanks to deep, inky blacks.

Much like the appearance of the episodes in the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit set, the image does appear a tad soft at times, and fine detail in the background of scenes is a little lacking. However, the transfer looks very good overall, especially for the release of television product, perhaps a hair better than the generally solid transfer for Law and Order: SVU. As is the case with that series, Criminal Intent is obviously produced with great care, which is evident in the final product. Fans of the show should find very little to complain about. Nice job Universal!!!




WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The Dolby Digital Surround mix for episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, effectively reproduce the source material. Dialogue is crystal clear, and easy to discern throughout, and the moody synth/piano score is spread throughout the soundstage nicely, providing a nice ambience. If you are looking for active surround use, or powerful low bass, let me tell you that you will find little of either, but that should come as little surprise, since this program is primarily dialogue driven.



EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


**Law and Order – Criminal Intent: The Beginning:
This 21-minute long featurette is interesting, well-produced, and quite informative, thanks to interview with the principal cast members, series creator Dick Wolf, and Executive Producer Rene Balcer. Among the things that I found most interesting was how the producers managed to secure the services of Vincent D’Onofrio, who already had a successful film career, and his demands in return for joining the cast. A nice addition to this set, and a must-watch for anyone who likes this series!



SCORE CARD

(on a five-point scale)
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Extras: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Overall: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image



THE LAST WORD
From the episodes I have seen, Law and Order: Criminal Intent appears to be an outstanding (if not the best) entry into the Law and Order franchise. Fans of sophisticated, intriguing crime/dramas filled with plot twists should find this set more than worthy of a purchase! Like Special Victims Unit, this program’s thoughtful approach to mature and challenging material make it a refreshing alternative to some of the mindless drivel the networks are bombarding viewers with these days (e.g. almost any reality show, afternoon “court” show, and most sitcoms).

As far as presentation is concerned, Universal has done right by the series for its DVD release, bringing a quality transfer and respectable audio track to our home theaters. The informative Criminal Intent: The Beginning featurette is just the icing on the cake.

With all due respect to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, which is a pretty good show in its own right, if I had to choose between these two box sets, I would pick Law and Order: Criminal Intent for its superior characters, fascinating cases, and unique approach to the crime/drama genre. Seriously folks, this is a fantastic series, and I would be genuinely surprised if it disappoints viewers who lean toward this type of program. Highly recommended!!!


Stay tuned…



Release Date:
October 21st, 2003
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#2 of 3 OFFLINE   Shane_Anthony

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Posted October 25 2003 - 10:44 PM

Another excellent review Jason. Good Job! Posted Image

#3 of 3 OFFLINE   Jenna

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Posted October 27 2003 - 04:21 PM

Quote:
Among the things that I found most interesting was how the producers managed to secure the services of Vincent D’Onofrio, who already had a successful film career, and his demands in return for joining the cast.

I was surprised to hear that D'Onofrio was cast in this Law & Order spinoff...feeling that his vast talent couldn't be contained on the small screen. I believe his wife was instrumental in his accepting this role, as she wanted him to have a "steady gig" so that he could spend more time with his family and less time in remote locations. Now that there's a rumored divorce pending, it will be interesting to see how long he participates in this role. I wish him well, and hope that he sticks it out - as he's the best thing to happen to "cop shows" in a long time.

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