Warner Bros. // 1987 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // July 17th, 2006
Two cops. One carries a weapon. The other is one.
If sneaking a retro-peek back into 1980s cinema has you fearful of being confronted by the likes of Diana Ross & Brooke Shields and Endless Love or Billy Ocean & two Corys and License to Drive, recall that there were some higher points of the decade. Consider Eric Clapton & Danny Glover & Mel Gibson and Lethal Weapon. Helmed by the increasingly capable Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman: The Movie) through an irresistible script by Shane Black, Glover and Gibson emerged as the most captivating "buddy cop" duo since Friday & Gannon, Reed & Malloy, or Stone & Keller.
Go ahead and take another look this quirky yet quintessential cop caper that proves there are some things to admire about the 80s -- even with Mel's "big hair."
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 simply to 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."
Murtaugh wants out of this assignment after Riggs parades his death wish while talking a would-be jumper down from his six-story perch. This episode leaves Murtaugh openly questioning Riggs's 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.
Much has already been said about Lethal Weapon, the box office smash of the 1987 pre-summer season. It thrilled audiences with its endless stream of high-action situations perfectly matched by impeccable character development. Black's screenplay was patient enough to fully explore its two principals, properly flesh out the ancillary characters, and ultimately give the audience a reason to care about the explosive events that rained across the screen. This served as the material that allowed Glover and Gibson the opportunity to shine, their grating differences spurred by their diverse experiences and opposing personal values. With a light sprinkling of humor, deliberate and never over-done direction of Donner, and the precise performances of Glover and Gibson, Lethal Weapon caught audiences off guard -- to their absolute delight.
It's curious to see this film again released to the home video market, this time serving as an early entry in support of the new high-definition format, HD DVD. Back in 1997, Lethal Weapon served a similar duty, then helping to proliferate the standard definition DVD launch. Between then and now, a second SD release was offered in 2000, billed as the "Director's Cut" and featuring an additional seven minutes of re-inserted scenes, previously left on the cutting room floor. So, as a triple dip, then, is this film worth another look?
Serving as Warner Home Video's fifteenth HD DVD release, this newest mastering of the 1987 favorite gives good reason to take another look, both for long-time fans as well as for those who have forgotten how truly satisfying and entertaining an action picture could -- and should -- be. The image quality is superb as it delivers spot-on colors, hues, and highlights. Details that you couldn't see in previous releases (such as store signs in the far background) are easily discernible here. This transfer, framed at the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, isn't reference quality, though. The titles sequence featuring a nighttime pan over the smoggy Los Angeles basin is soft and a bit grainy and some of the interior shots are likewise lacking in the razor sharpness early adopters have come to enjoy from the new format. These deficiencies, however, seem attributed to the actual source material and not to be construed as being due to an apathetic mastering. Quite the contrary, the many daylight scenes are highly detailed, vivid, and enjoyably dimensional.
As for the audio, this new release likewise satisfies with an enlarged soundstage delivered in the Dolby Digital-Plus track. Directional effects are more pronounced beyond the former SD release's DTS mix and the LFE channel gets a better workout at the appropriate moments. Most enjoyable are the aforementioned contributions by Eric Clapton (along with Michael Kamen and David Sanborn), with a perfect bluesy-jazz score that is perfectly balanced and significantly enhances the viewing -- and listening -- experience.
Extras on the disc include 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 on board.
But 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 HD enthusiasts? Certainly, that could be an argument with merits, 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.
Sure, you've probably seen Lethal Weapon before, likely several times. But, if it's been a while since you rode along with Murtaugh and Riggs, here's your opportunity to enjoy one of the brighter moments of 80s movie-going. Highly recommended, especially in HD DVD.
Review content copyright © 2006 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Additional Scenes
* Theatrical Trailers