Warner Bros. // 1987 // 117 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // June 6th, 2000
"Did you ever meet anybody you didn't kill?"
"Well I haven't killed you yet."
The first of four action movies that became a franchise, Lethal Weapon is one of my favorite action movies. A great buddy picture, an edgy Mel Gibson (Braveheart, Conspiracy Theory, Ransom) at the top of his form, a scary villain, and a tight story combine to make a great movie experience. Warner has revisited this title, along with the second and third in the series, with a new transfer, an astounding DTS track, and extra footage making this a "director's cut." What's not to like?
This first entry in the Lethal franchise was the most intimate and personal of the films. It was mainly a two-man show; introducing Martin Riggs (Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover, Lonesome Dove, Predator 2, Grand Canyon) as new and unlikely partners trying to solve a case. The case seems like a simple suicide at first, but things move quickly to escalate as it becomes clear some very serious military style people are involved in a case much bigger than it appeared.
The police work on the case part of the film works fine; but what carries the film is the characters. Martin Riggs, still in his grief over the death of his wife, is suicidal and on the edge; taking enormous risks to catch the bad guys without a care for his own safety. Half the force thinks he's crazy; the other half that he's trying to draw a psycho pension. After one too many of those near death experiences, he is transferred to partner with an experienced detective who can keep him out of trouble. Roger Murtaugh would seem to be that man; he's 50 years old and just wants to have a nice simple time until his retirement. Unfortunately the combination of a murder investigation and having Riggs for a partner quickly puts those ideas of comfort and security to rest. Murtaugh provides the stability of the partnership while Riggs provides much of the action and the comic relief.
Yes, one of the things that makes the Lethal Weapon series special is the humor. Never taking itself too seriously, it manages a lighthearted camaraderie and some very funny scenes within an action police picture. If anything, this first movie is the most serious, but that isn't saying it isn't without plenty of chuckles. Director Richard Donner (Ladyhawke, Superman, Conspiracy Theory) has a keen ability to get just the right mix of emotion, fun, and action in this series. As I said, this first one was the most intimate; with Riggs struggling with some serious emotional problems. The film reflects that in its use of the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, rather than the 2.35:1 of the lighter, more action-oriented sequels. I should also mention that one of the great strengths in this film is the result of an excellent screenplay by Shane Black (The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight) that keeps enough twists, humor, and action to keep things interesting. Black and Donner worked well together in this and the second of the series.
I'm not going to talk overly much about the movie itself. This film has had such a huge success, especially in home video and cable, that few action fans have not seen this movie. Suffice it to say it is one of the best action movies around and also puts a very human face on the characters.
Alright, so you've seen the movie; maybe you even own the first DVD release. Why the new disc and what does it offer? Well, the first disc came out in March '97 and was one of the first discs around. We've had the advances in authoring and compression techniques of the last three years since then, and the pervasiveness of dual layered discs. Now this new anamorphic transfer has more room on the disc and the picture quality shows. Colors are well saturated without blooming or bleeding; detail is sharp and well delineated. The source print is surprisingly clean and free of nicks or scratches, though a few are present. Overall this is a great looking picture, with the only minor flaws being a hint of grain in some shots and a bit of loss of richness in the color due to age.
Another great reason to get this disc is the new DTS soundtrack. It offers even more clarity, openness, and punch than the already great Dolby Digital track. Both came from the same four-channel master so the main difference is in the mix, but the boost in the LFE track also comes into play, giving explosions just that much more punch. I've never heard the movie sound this good, even in the theater. In both tracks surrounds are used aggressively with pans, reverberations, crashes, explosions, and gunshots coming from all corners. Dialogue is always clearly understood without need for extra boosting of the center channel. I could mention some definite looping can be heard, but that is simply part of the film. Top rate sound adds definite value. The terrific musical score by Michael Kamen, David Sanborn and Eric Clapton has a great deal of clarity, warmth, and depth that I'd never noticed before as well.
Less of a bonus but still very nice is the additional footage in this new director's cut. About seven minutes of extra footage has been restored, mostly some early character development but also an additional ear the main characters and director, a few text screens about the final fight scene, and the theatrical trailer (in anamorphic widescreen and mono sound) is included.
So far as the movie goes, I can nitpick a little bit here and there. The whole final fight scene, while exciting and well choreographed, goes a little too far over the top, as does the set up for it. I won't give it away for those who don't know, but I thought they were a little cavalier with a couple cop's lives and the house. It required you put your brain on hold, which the movie didn't force upon you nearly so much earlier. That doesn't stop me from enjoying the movie on perhaps my tenth vitch this one up, along with the others if you liked them. If you've not seen any of the films before, get this one and then decide if you want to continue along in the series. I'll bet you will.
All involved with the film are acquitted without prejudice. Warner is commended on a fine disc, but certainly this was the time to bring out the special edition. I'd hate to think that it takes three releases of the same film to get a special edition with extras. This film deserved such treatment.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast and Crew Info
* Production Notes