My essay is going to explore how the makers of the programme CSI use certain techniques to make CSI a popular and entertaining programme.
CSI is a popular, Emmy Award-winning television series that follows the investigations of a team of forensic scientists, as they explore mysterious deaths and unusual crimes. Something that can usually be expected of a crime-drama is a group of intelligent people who solve all the crimes and several suspects who are eventually narrowed down to one. But CSI’s mindblowing twists of plot and great range of characters makes it unlike any of the other crime dramas. CSI includes a mixed theme of humour (normally of a sarcastic or dry humour) and dark, serious atmospheres (such as when we get a preview of the crime taking place). The characters give off a very professional air from good acting and remaining calm when the scientists reach a critical point in the investigation. In CSI, there are many factors that accumulate to make it such an entertaining programme.
The episode I watched called ‘Blood Lust’ was a great example of what CSI is like. It begins with a boy being run over, and the driver being beaten to death by a gang for “trying to run away”. But when the investigators enter they discover that the crime is a lot more complicated. When the scientists find a trail of blood, they follow it and eventually end up in a park where the trail ends with a gruesome blood spatter across the floor, which suggests someone had been stabbed with a knife.
The scientists start out with a lot of ideas on how the murder happened, but as more clues are gathered (such as the gun) the episode becomes even more immersive. There is so much evidence to suggest so many different methods of the crime that viewers are going to want to stay and find out just what happened. In the end, however, the murder happened to have been committed by someone who was not suspected at all at first. This element of surprise is very engaging for the viewers. A first impression affects someone’s opinion of something for a long time, and if a viewer saw CSI for the first time it’s likely that they’d want to make a habit of it, because of the highly engaging storylines and techniques used in the programme.
CSI, unlike any of its spin-off series, is set in Las Vegas. With its free flow of cash and high-stakes gambling, Las Vegas has always been an attractive target of opportunity for organized crime. Somewhere that’s quite notorious for crimes of different kinds is the perfect place for CSI to be set; a large city like Las Vegas opens the opportunities for literally hundreds of different fictional crimes to take place in the programme. In the episode I watched there were a number of locations and settings that helped deliver the mood of the scene. The street at the start of the episode, for example, is dark and quiet. With the street being portrayed in this way it almost tells you that something bad is going to happen. If nobody is around, it must be for a reason, especially for a big city like this one. A dark and lonely atmosphere is very eerie, and this is what makes it easy to predict that a murder is going to take place.
The blood trail of the murder brings the scientists to a park, which creates a contrast; a park is a place where young children would often go to play, so you wouldn’t think that anything bad would occur there. But then it turns out someone was murdered on the basketball court, and it starts to make you think whether a child has done the murder.
‘Mise-en-scene’ is a French term that literally means ‘setting in scene’. This includes everything that is in the scene; the props, the set, the actors, the costumes and the lighting. In certain scenes of the episode different lightings and costumes are used to convey the mood of the situation. For example, when the investigator consults the young boy who’s playing basketball at his home, a lot of bright colours are used; the weather is fine, and the boy is wearing very bright clothes (mostly of the primary colours), where the investigator is wearing black, sensible clothes. This makes the boy looks very innocent, and at the same time this gives the investigator a massive sense of authority.
However, the programme-makers have designed this scene to make the boy seem innocent (even though in the end he is the one who committed the first murder). But they also discretely clue his involvement in the murder with him playing basketball at his own home, and it was on the basketball court that the stabbing happened.
Realistic props are constantly used to make the programme more believable; during the post-mortem examinations, the surgeon uses proper tools and actually cuts open what seems like a real human body. There is also a real working gun hidden beneath a mound of leaves by a tree in the park (which leads the team deeper into the investigation), and the blood spatters that create the trail back to the park are a very accurate colour, and are dried up, the way they would be if they’d been there overnight. Good props and special effects like these make the programme very realistic.
Mise-en-scene makes the programme engaging to the audience, in terms of making every scene individual; each of them have different themes and moods, and occasionally help the audience predict just what is going to happen next, which creates suspense.
The main characters of CSI are the investigation team. They all work together to solve crimes and figure out who committed the murders. A few features that all of the characters have in common is a serious and determined attitude to solving the crimes they’re appointed to. However, even though they all share the same resolute personality, they also have a dry sense of humour, which keeps comedy-loving viewers entertained as well, making the programme suitable for a wide range of audiences. It’s important that the characters appeal to a broad range of people because not all members of the target audience will want to watch a programme that’s constantly serious. Since the programme-makers have thrown some comedy into CSI, it ensures that it doesn’t become repetitive, and so it doesn’t remain sombre all the way through each episode.
I believe that even though the characters are in their own way individual, they are typical of characters from other crime dramas. What makes CSI different are its occasional jokes, gripping plots and the way every episode is set out (murder scene at the start, investigation throughout the rest).
There are a number of different camera angles used in this particular episode to convey different moods; camera angles can be used to exaggerate someone’s authority, and to make someone look small and weak. They can also be used to magnify certain features of someone or something that could change your opinion of it.
The episode starts with an ‘establishing shot’ of Las Vegas from above. This sets the scene and tells you where all the action is going to take place. Without an establishing shot, the audience may not be aware of where the characters are, and it’s distracting to have to guess.
The establishing shot at the beginning of ‘Blood Lust’ flies over a mass of buildings in the dark. This gives us an impression of just how big Las Vegas is, and explains why so much crime can happen, especially at night.
A ‘low-angle’ shot is used as well, when the man is pulled out of his car onto the street and is attacked by the mob. The camera here shows the perspective of the man who is being beaten to death. Since we are lower down that the mob in this camera angle, it makes the gang look strong and more intimidating, and makes us feel quite powerless and distressed for the man. This view is constantly switched with a close-up of the man’s bleeding face as the men punch and kick him. This communicates the agony of the man and the fury of the mob that are beating him up. It shows the audience in a gruesome way what the man is going through when really, he has done nothing wrong.
The camera technique ‘shot-reverse-shot’ is used when the team discuss the crimes in the crime lab. This is where one character is shown looking at another character, and then the other character is shown looking back at the first character. This makes the audience assume that they are actually looking at each other and speaking to one another, whereas the characters may have been filmed at completely different times. This is an efficient way of creating a conversation between two or more characters.
In CSI, the programme-makers have to consider very carefully what sounds they use. They want their sounds to be very realistic, as it makes the programme more believable. If they sued a sound that was obviously fake or distorted it would ruin the illusion. A good example of a decent sound effect is in the flashbacks when they believed the boy was knocked over by the car. As the car connects with the boy’s leg, we see an x-ray view of the bone splitting and a repulsive wet crack is heard. Also, in the flashback where the boy shoots the man with his own gun, the ‘bang’ of the gun as the bullet leaves it sounds exactly how it should, and we can also hear his skin burn with a wet crackle because his hand is rested on top of it.
At the start of the episode, the initial establishing shot is accompanied by a popular song. An establishing shot would be boring without any music. The song used is quite fast and repetitive, and the choice of this song may be to reflect the fast-moving city of Las Vegas. The song creates a lively mood at first, but everything changes when the boy is run over and the sound stops abruptly.
Diagetic sounds are where both the audience and the characters are able to hear the sound. What mostly fall into this category are physical sound effects and voices. Non-diagetic sounds are the same but none of the characters are able to hear it. Normally music and digital sound effects are classed as non-diagetic. Diagetic sounds are closer to the story and reflect things that are happening in the current scene. Diagetic sounds can be seen as more important to the plot than non-diagetic sounds. Non-diagetic sounds like music don’t always affect the plot, but they happen in response to a certain situation to help express the tone of the scene. For example, tense, progressing music in a flat key can be used in horror movies before the villain strikes. In CSI, some non-diagetic music starts when the man and the woman start to follow the trail of blood. The music here helps to progress to the scene where the trail ends in the park; it isn’t slow but it’s not fast either, and the music exaggerate a little when they find a big clue.
At the end when the boy is sent to prison for murder the music is very sad and depressing. Although the audience are aware the boy committed a terrible crime, they can’t help but feel sorry for him because of the music. They will also feel remorse for the mother, because one of her children are dead, and now she has to live with the younger being in prison.
The programme makers use a vast variety of media techniques to help make CSI the entertaining and addicting show it is now; it’s many creative uses of flashbacks, realistic sound effects and perfect camera angles all help to create a programme that’s never the same. This many techniques are the formula to makes CSI so individual and popular.