Warner Bros. // 1987 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // March 22nd, 2007
Two cops. One carries a weapon. The other is one.
Two high-definition formats. One sees red. The other is red.
Let the Blu's begin.
The 1980s brought on the bona-fide blockbuster action picture, brimming with plenty high-paced thrills, incredible stunts, and a soundtrack-filling dose of contemporary scores and pop/rock hit songs. Beyond this, the decade also formulized the concept of the "buddy cop" caper, an adventure that swerved in and out between hair-raising excitement and off-the-cuff comic relief. At the forefront of the spin-off genre came Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, emerging as the consummate coupling where opposites attract. With capable Richard Donner behind the camera, the 1980s were off and running with the rapid-fire action/comedy, Lethal Weapon.
The film has now been dipped several times, initially to launch the 5 ½-inch home video format and now to usher in the high-definition maturity of the media. But if you've seen one of the HD offerings, can you find much difference on the Blu-er side of the fence? Let's find out.
Since this court has previously reviewed the alternate HD DVD format of this film, we'll ask the court reporter to read back the section of that transcript that captured the film synopsis details:
If there's anything a bitter cop can't stand, it's being paired with another bitter cop. So goes the plight of Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover, Saw), a family man who just wants to keep a little sanity in his day-to-day exploits and becomes easily agitated when anything threatens the peace around him. Along comes "anything" in the form of the unkempt and wild-eyed Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson, The Road Warrior), who seems certifiably psychotic, schizophrenic, and generally disagreeable due to the recent loss of his beloved wife. Murtaugh would like to simply curl up in the bosom of his loving family, while Riggs wants nothing more than to curl up and die. Call these two what you will, but the LAPD has just called them "partners."
Immediately, Murtaugh wants out of this assignment after Riggs parades his death wish while talking down a jumper from a 6-storey demise -- in a most irregular fashion. Just as Murtaugh openly questions Riggs' motives -- does he want to die or just draw a psycho pension? -- the two are forced into an unwanted camaraderie when they go up against a drug smuggling ring headed by ex-military General Peter McAllister (Mitch Ryan, Judge Dredd) and his own psycho-under-thumb, Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey, Predator 2). Suddenly, everything around the two literally explodes as they struggle to put down the drug lords. And all Murtaugh really wanted was a peaceful 50th birthday celebration. Damn.
End of transcript reading.
While Lethal Weapon was a smashing success in its day, the question that arises is whether it ever achieved the quasi-classic status that would make it suitable for another look, especially when being offered up as an early release in the high-definition realm. The good news is that the film does hold up well and still entertains some two decades later. Shane Black delivered a screenplay that dutifully introduced and subsequently explored the characters of Riggs and Murtaugh through various high action situations. Using the trial-by-fire method of character development, Black playfully employed extreme encounters to reveal the real men behind the badges. Glover and Gibson made the most of the opportunity, emerging as a pairing that would propel them -- and the franchise -- through three sequels. Humor is played well between the two actors, and Director Richard Donner resists becoming heavy handed with the proceedings. The result was a picture that charmed audiences and left them wanting more of Riggs and Murtaugh (and more is exactly what they got).
As noted during the examination of the HD DVD release of Lethal Weapon, it's intriguing to see this particular film tapped again to help launch another home entertainment technology. Stated previously, Lethal Weapon was among the first DVDs mastered in 1997, at that time called upon to help proliferate the original format. When high-definition technology arrived, Warner Brothers again chose Lethal Weapon as an early title, supporting both high-def formats. If you're wondering whether a squabble between the two versions is about to erupt, forget it; this release sports the same VC-1 encoded transfer as found on the HD DVD edition. Therefore, the picture quality looks virtually indistinguishable from its red-cased counterpart, offering a 1.85:1 image that delivers spot on colors, hues, and highlights. Details are well rendered, giving a the film a more dimensional look than was ever possible in the Standard Definition releases. The opening title sequence -- the nighttime pan over the smoggy Los Angeles basin -- is just as soft and grainy as on the HD DVD, and the same interior sequences still appear a bit subdued. As noted prior, these shortcomings appear to be attributes of the original source material and not new imperfections caused by the high-definition mastering, blu or red. Audio is well rendered in a 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix, on par with the HD DVD disc and easily surpassing the prior SD disc's DTS mix. Directional effects are improved here and the low-end channel plays a more active role than before. The excellent score from Eric Clapton, Michael Kamen, and David Sanborn is nicely represented, and dialog always remains clear and intelligible. For a film of this age, the high-definition treatment has definitely improved its replay value.
As with the HD DVD disc, this Blu-ray edition offers the same paltry extras, namely the seven minutes of scenes that had been re-inserted in the Director's Cut release, viewable here outside of the film proper. A widescreen theatrical trailer is also included.
Is this latest release of Lethal Weapon just a shameless triple-dip with intentions to merely pry more hard-earned cash from the wallets of Blu-ray enthusiasts? Certainly, that could be an argument with merit, yet the film arrives as one of the better movies to be released to the new format to date. Most important, this remastering gives action film fans a chance to become reacquainted with an excellent entertainment experience from twenty years back, reminding them they should expect more than just CGI bombast and over-baked heroics when choosing to view a cop-thriller. Truthfully, this film is a sight for sore eyes.
If it's been a while since you took a look at Lethal Weapon, look again. This high-definition enhancement gives it a new vibrancy that adds that extra boost to make it a worthwhile viewing.
The facts are the same, even though the prosecution purports this is a different case to be tried. Color has no bearing in this courtroom and, as such, this Blu-ray release of Lethal Weapon maintains the same innocence as its red-cased kin.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Additional Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer