June 3, 2012

Blu-ray Review: Lethal Weapon Collection

The Lethal Weapon series is one that I always liked but it has been quite some time since I watched any of the movies in the series. Fortunately for me, Warner Brothers has gone and released a new set containing all four films along with a fifth disk containing new documentaries. On top of that, the movies have all received spiffy new transfers, which improve upon the individual 2006 Blu-ray releases.

Disk 1: Lethal Weapon
Lethal Weapon pairs veteran detective Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) with the suicidal crazy Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson). Murtaugh is feeling the weight of the job and Riggs is suffering from his Vietnam experience combined with the recent loss of his life. Together they find themselves mixed up in a drug smuggling ring.

This movie is an absolute blast. Action from start to finish, characters that are actually develop and are interesting, and an overall energy that cannot be denied. Beyond that, there is a dark edge, an aura around the Riggs character. Watching him act suicidal, unhinged, and so dedicated to the job is pretty amazing, especially when placed next to the world weary family man that is Murtaugh. Seeing the natural relationship develop is not something you see everyday, especially in an action film. It was also fun seeing Gary Busey in a movie where he matters. I think the last time I actually saw him in a movie he was voicing a killer cookie (no joke).

Lethal Weapon is a movie that holds up and is better than my memories give it credit for. There is something to be said about the combination of character, action, and practical effects is rather exhilarating. It is no faint praise to say director Richard Donner and writer Shane Black crafted a defining moment in the evolution of the buddy comedy. It is also notable as Gibson's first major American film following the Mad Max films.

Audio/Video. The 1.85:1 frame looks really quite good. One of the keys is to not freak out when you see the opening stock shot, it does not look particularly good and this is likely the best it is going to look. The rest of the film is quite solid, it is not perfect and there is plenty of grain evident, but colors are all sharp and there is a good level of detail, although shadows do seem to get a little muddy at times. The overall look is very distinctive as a film from the 1980's and that is a good thing. I really like the film-like quality of the grain and the not quite modern look of the transfer.

Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that sounds quite good. The dialogue is clear and centered with a strong score that uses the surrounds to nice effect. I particularly liked the gunshots, they have a very distinctive sound, in particular the scene where Murtaugh goes to save his daughter and Riggs makes us of a sniper rifle. Definitely not a modern track, but still sounds quite good.

Extras. There is a commentary track with Richard Donner that has a couple of interesting bits but feels a bit forced as he seemingly needs to be prodded to talk about the movie in between stretches of silence. There are also 30-minutes of deleted scenes, a music video, and the original trailer.

Disk 2: Lethal Weapon 2
While the original is a defining moment in the buddy film, Lethal Weapon 2 takes what was delivered in the first film and builds upon it. It uses the formula for the skeleton of the story, but rather than follow it point to point and blow for blow it is further developed. I am not sure it outdoes the first one, I really like the dark edge it has, but there is something to be said about the Riggs/Murtaugh dynamic and how it has grown from the first film. One is still world weary and thinking of retirement and the other is still fraught with issues and a little unbalanced, but they still manage to work together as if from the same family and go right after the bad guys.

The sequel feels bigger and bolder than the first. The action sequences have increased, there are some crazy car chases, and the personalities are all bigger and louder. Still, there is an element of familiarity and the relationships all feel genuine. Even the introduction of the little lovable loudmouth Leo Getz (played with plenty of verve by Joe Pesci) works, giving the central duo somebody else to play off of and thereby further developing their relationship.

As for the bad guys, they really help make the movie. South African dignitaries dealing with Krugerrands and money laundering, stuff that Getz is to testify about. Well, Riggs and Murtaugh find themselves right in the middle of their nefarious dealings, leading to some big action and plenty of laughs.

Richard Donner and Shane Black (along with screenwriter Jeffrey Boam) have managed to make a sequel that stands next to the original as a great movie. It is another example of an action movie that manages to have characters that are actually interesting.

Audio/Video. The video is presented in a ratio of 2.35:1 and looks really good. It is a step up from the first film and takes more advantage of the high definition format while still retaining a film-like look. Colors are nice and sharp, well saturated, blacks are solid and fare better than the first films transfer. Standout scenes include the helicopter attack on Riggs trailer and the car chase that ends with a surfboard (you know the one).

Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and much like the video upgrade from part one to part two, the audio is also a step in he right direction. It still sounds like an 80's era movie, but that is not a bad thing. Score uses the surrounds effectively, as do other ambient filled scenes, like those in the police station. Gunshots and explosions still fire with great effect and dialogue is nicely centered. The sound shines early in the movie, just check out that opening car chase with its gunshots, sirens, horns, screeching metal, and Riggs yelling!

Extras. There is another commentary from director Richard Donner and he may be a good director, but he is not good with the commentary. He doesn't have a lot to say, there are long gaps, and he still sounds like he'd rather be elsewhere. The extras are bolstered by a scant few cut scenes, a vintage featurette about the action, and the original trailer.

Disk 3: Letha Weapon 3
The third film in the buddy cop series drags the franchise kicking and screaming into the 90's. The wonderful back and forth banter of Riggs and Murtaugh is still there, but it doesn't feel quite as natural and off the cuff as the first two. It is still funny and well done, but they seem to be relying on their skill and the expectations of the formula than on the continuation of a continuing to develop partnership.

Lethal Weapon 3 relies a lot on explosions and chases, all expertly done. While the action and quick banter makes for an entertaining movie, it is not exactly as great as it was the first two times around. The dark edge of the first film seems to be all but gone. Sure, Riggs still acts crazy, but the legitimate suicidal edge of the first has dissipated.

This third time around also features a pretty weak villain. We have a former LAPD lieutenant working as an arms dealer. While he may be a bit of  letdown from the South Africans of part two, it kind of fits with the movie which feels more familiar and formulaic than the first two. Still, they do manage to retain interest by way of the actors ability to work the material. There is also the new cast addition, part two added Joe Pesci (who reprises his role here), part three gives us Lorna Cole (Renee Russo), an Internal Affairs officer who initially suspects our heroes of wrongdoing before ultimately teaming with them.

The third time may not be the charm, but it is hardly  bad movie. Not every movie needs to be as defining as the first two, but it does need to hold our attention and make the on screen action worth watching. Richard Donner does the deed with a script by Jeffrey Boam and Robert Mark Kamen (who would go on to do better work with producer Luc Besson). Lethal Weapon 3 is fun but less filling.

Audio/Video. The ratio is 2.35:1 and much like the transfer of the second was a leap over the transfer of part one, part three surpasses both of them. Detail is really good, close ups reveal great detail, blacks are rich, and colors are bright and vibrant. This is a nice example of a catalog title taking advantage of the increased definition. Although, I would not be surprised if the source material was in better shape. I guess it doesn't really matter, you don't need to watch too long to be impressed. The opening bomb defusing and resulting explosion look really good.

Once again, the audio is a step ahead of part two's. It is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and features crisp dialogue, effective use of the surrounds, and some nice sound effects with the gunshots again sounding great. The sound does not have that distinctive 80'e feel that the first two have and is certainly a bit more modern sounding.

Extras. Another Richard Donner commentary. It is a step up from the first two, but I still don't feel his heart is really into it. There is the occasional interesting tid bit, but I am not sure it is really worth sitting through unless you are a die hard fan. There are a couple of deleted scenes, a music video featuring Sting and Eric Clapton, and the original teaser and theatrical trailers to round out the extras.

Disk 4: Lethal Weapon 4
Eleven years passed between the release of the first film and this last entry in the franchise. The first set a high water mark for the buddy comedy with big laughs, big action, and a dark emotional edge. The second one kept the freshness flowing and added a new element in fast talking Leo Getz. The third one was still good, but felt like it was a bit more on auto-pilot and added IA office Lorna Cole. This fourth entry still manages to be entertaining, but the auto pilot is fully engaged and the human elements that made the earlier entries work so well are blown up to comedic proportions.

This time out the dynamic duo of Riggs and Murtaugh, with a little help from newly minted PI Leo Getz and a young hotshot detective Lee Butters (new supporting addition Chris Rock), are investigating a Chinese smuggling ring. Chinese are being brought to America and sold as slaves. Murtaugh takes a personal interest in the case, even rescuing a family. On top of that, there are more human elements like multiple pregnancies, secret marriages, potential marriages, and old age creeping up on them.

Everything feels a bit forced and a just a little too much. I do not hate the movie, but they probably should have stopped while they were ahead rather than milking it for a few more dollars. With that said, there is something notable about this sequel, it introduced American audiences to Jet Li. That's right, this was his first American movie. He doesn't say much, but he does have some good screen presence as the muscle for the bad guys.

So, while the movie does have its fun moments and wraps up some the threads opened in the original, it is not nearly as entertaining as the previous entries. The world weariness of Murtaugh has infected the rest of the movie and everything feels kind of tired, warn around the edges, and lacking in edge. To be sure, there are still a few good action sequences, like the opening shootout with the guy wearing armor and holding a flamethrower (funny to note, the sequence feels very reminiscent of an early scene in The Empire Strikes Back), and the freeway chase that finds Riggs being dragged from a trailer on a sheet of plastic.

Audio/Video. The 2.35:1 ratio presentation is just as good as the excellent part three transfer. Colors are bright and blacks are dark and there is a really good level of detail throughout. I did not really notice any issues, save for a little noise when they encounter the Chinese slave ship. It is a minor nit in what is a really good looking transfer. It doesn't take long for the transfer to show its worth, the opening scene with the flamethrower guy is rather vibrant, showing off both color and black levels.

Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and it performs admirably. Much like the part three mix, this sounds really good, makes nice use of the surrounds, has always clear dialogue, and excellent explosions and resonating gunshots.

Extras. There is a commentary featuring Richard Donner, producer J. Mills Goodloe, and associate producer Geoff Johns. This is the best one of the bunch with the three discussing all aspects of the production and not letting much down time seep in. Too bad the others were not this good. There is also a behind the scenes bit that runs thirty-one minutes and covers the entire series, hosted by Danny Glover. Finally you have the original trailer to round out the package.

Disk 5: Bonus Material
This fifth disk contains four new documentaries covering the series.

Psycho Pension: The Genesis of Lethal Weapon. Running 24-minutes, this featurette gives a fascinating look at filmmaking in the 1980's, the more freewheeling nature of everything. There are interviews, new and old, with Donner, Glover, Gibson, and writer Shane Black, among others. It is really interesting to watch this.

A Family Affair: Bringing Lethal Weapon to Life. This 30-minute featurette looks at the creation of the characters and the world of the film. Interviews with all of the players reminisce on life on the set, relationships and collaborations. I was particularly intrigued by the talk of the scene centering on Riggs suicidal nature.

Pulling the Trigger: Expanding the World of Lethal Weapon. Home video proved that they had big franchise potential. This takes a look at how they had to go about making the world bigger, creating new obstacles and problems for he characters. Even mention how Riggs was supposed to be killed, as written in the original screenplay, of course that didn't happen. This runs 30-minutes.

Maximum Impact: The Legacy of Lethal Weapon. Initially focusing on the fourth entry, this 22-minute featurette takes a look at the lasting legacy the series have. They reminisce on the social issues and the effects the films have had on the cast members. I love when Gibson talks about working with Jet Li.

Bottomline. There you have it, all four films in one nice box set. By now, I am sure you are tired of reading about them and hopefully you want to stop reading and go watch some of them. I had a blast revisiting these movies, I had forgotten just how great the first couple of them were. Now, when you go looking for it, don't go looking for Gibson and Glover, look for the box with the conveniently labeled stick of dynamite because we all know how defining that image is for the series. Yes, that is sarcasm, it is a poor packaging decision. Fortunately, what matters are the movies themselves and the cover art does nothing to diminish them nor does it indicate similarly shoddy quality inside. This is a nicely put together package the movies are a blast.


Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Lethal Weapon Collection on Blogcritics.

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