Artisan // 1989 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Sean Fitzgibbons (Retired) // August 21st, 1999
If society won't punish the guilty, he will.
The big screen adaptation of one of Marvel Comics' darkest books is brought to DVD by Artisan. Fans are left with a sub-standard DVD and an action film that doesn't quite live up to expectations.
When I collected comic books religiously I rarely purchased titles that were not from Marvel Comics. Although I loved Spiderman, The X-Men, and Daredevil, The Punisher was never a comic that I enjoyed. A little too dark for me in most instances, the punisher himself, Frank Castle, was never a character I could identify with. On the other hand, Spiderman skillfully displayed a superhero that had to juggle both his super powers and his personal life. The comic continued to deliver the message that with great power there also comes great responsibility. The punisher, however, does not have any super powers, he just uses man made technology to his own benefit and would seemingly kill without remorse.
Despite my lack of interest in The Punisher as a comic book, the film adaptation of the comic seemed to be promising. The film, which follows the Marvel comic book loosely, is the story of Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren), a police officer, who watches his family perish in a car bomb explosion. The bomb was placed in Castle's car by the mob, in hopes of eliminating the pesky cop. Having lost everything he loved, and seeing a lack of justice in the world, Castle slips into obscurity while everyone believes he has died in the car explosion; everyone except for Castle's former partner (Louis Gossett, Jr.). Over the span of the next five years, organized crime suffers severe losses at the hands of a vigilante killer, Castle, who goes by the alias "The Punisher."
With most of the Mafia eliminated, Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbe) takes charge of the mob, just as the Japanese Mafia comes to town. Seeing the weakened Mafia that Franco is leading, the Japanese Mafia resolves to take Franco over; but Franco won't go out without a fight. As the two Mafias vie for power, the Japanese Mafia abducts all the children of Franco's Mafia members and holds them for ransom. Keeping out of the Mafia war, Castle no longer can sit on the sidelines as the abducted children remind him of his dead family. Risking his life and exposure as The Punisher, Castle leads a rescue mission to save the kidnapped children; and heads towards the battle of his life.
The Punisher receives decent treatment on DVD thanks to Artisan Entertainment. Video transfer on the disc, presented at 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, is very good. The black level is fairly consistent, flesh tones are very accurate, and the colors are solid with no bleeding (even during the final scenes with an extreme amount of red lighting). Meanwhile the mono audio track (not Dolby Surround as listed on the box) is rather trying. However, the dialogue and music comes out crisp and clean in most instances, and this track is definitely one of the better mono tracks out there (see Mad Max for a bad track). Artisan delivers its standard feature package for The Punisher with a theatrical trailer, production notes, and cast and crew information.
The Punisher is not a film you will tell your friends about. The acting is just a step above most B-films, the production value of this film looks to be no higher than $10,000, and the story is outlandish (of course). Still, the film keeps you watching for an hour and a half. It's one of those films you could sit down to watch on cable during a rainy Saturday afternoon with nothing else to do.
Artisan could have done a little bit better with their production of this DVD. I detected occasional grain while watching the film and the colors in the transfer seemed a bit faded. You can attribute these facts to age, but the film is only ten years old, whereas MGM has released the 17 year old Poltergeist and made it look amazing.
Containing only a mono track, naturally there are some audio quibbles I have with this disc. There is little separation of sounds during the film and large action sequences come out of the center speaker as a gush of loud noise. If Artisan released this film with a Dolby Surround track, as the box states, it would most likely have cleared these problems up.
Fans of the comic book who have yet to see this film will probably want to give The Punisher a rental look, and there's no better way to do it than on DVD. Otherwise, the disc does not help to redeem this artistic and economic bomb of a film.
Artisan and The Punisher are sentenced to be stretched on the rack.
Review content copyright © 1999 Sean Fitzgibbons; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Production Notes
* Cast And Crew Information