Lethal Weapon (1987)

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Released 10-Jan-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1987
Running Time 105:05
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Richard Donner
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Mel Gibson
Danny Glover
Gary Busey
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Michael Kamen
Eric Clapton


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
Dutch
Arabic
Spanish
Portuguese
German
Romanian
Bulgarian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, very mildly
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Lethal Weapon is the film that broke Mel Gibson on the American actors' circuit. It is also easily the best of the Lethal Weapon series for a number of good reasons. First, it is vaguely realistic in that the characters aren't mistaking themselves for comedians at every turn. In fact, if the truth be told, this is the only Lethal Weapon film where the syrup content doesn't outweigh the spice content. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the characterizations, especially of Martin Riggs. Another plus is the complete and utter absence of Joe Pesci. Now, don't get me wrong - I love Pesci's acting in films such as Casino or Goodfellas, but he also needed to be told that he just doesn't have what it takes to be a comedian. Okay, so there's still the sort of humour (if you can call it that) which tends to make you wish the next person who used it would spontaneously combust, but to nowhere near the same extent to even the most passable sequel. Anyway, as for the plot, here it is: Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is a Los Angeles homicide detective who once served in Vietnam. He's the type of guy who likes to take things slowly and not get himself into too much trouble. Imagine his despair at being assigned Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), a man who has nothing to lose and no reason to live, as a partner. Riggs, of course, is also a Vietnam veteran, but he has the advantage of having been given some really extra special training. Together, they manage to create enough mayhem to make a man like Paul Verhoeven proud. It's such a pity that through bad script choices and underuse of potential dramatic elements the sequels quickly became way too much of a good thing.

    Anyway, I'll continue with my description of the plot. Together, Riggs and Murtaugh investigate the somewhat mysterious death of a young prostitute named Amanda. As luck and a good script would have it, this particular prostitute is the daughter of Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins), a man who saved Murtaugh's life in Vietnam on one occasion. As a further matter of fact, this same man is rather heavily involved in a drug-running ring with other Vietnam vets being led by a man credited only as The General (the character's full name is General Peter McAllister, and he is played rather woodenly by Mitchell Ryan). His lieutenant, who is only known throughout the film as Mister Joshua (Gary Busey), is like a vicious sort of Anti-Riggs. The climactic fight sequences in the last twenty minutes of the film are especially enhanced by his presence. However, nothing in the film compares to the sequence in which The General, after having lost his driver to a bullet and having been hit by a bus, finds himself trapped in a wreck with several about-to-detonate grenades. Thrills and spills might not quite come in abundance with this film, but when they do come, they're very intense. Did I also mention that this instalment has the best story line?

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Before we go any further, I'd like to mention that I have recently given my personal equipment a radical overhaul. I now have a new 80cm television with some wonderful features, a new TV stand, a new amplifier, and a new subwoofer. Personally, I cannot think of a better film to be the first I review using this equipment than Lethal Weapon (well, I can, but most of them are currently Region 1 only). Having used both the old television and new television to view this film, I can say that whilst the video transfer is not reference quality, it's a lot better than what I would expect from a film that has been neglected in favour of more saleable (not to mention more vapid) sequels.

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement.

    Given the film's age, this transfer is remarkably free of artefacts. The occasional speck of dirt shows up on the negatives here and there, and there's that lovely speck of water on the lens of the camera to give away the age of the film, but otherwise, this is an excellent transfer. Apart from a line on the film at 64:05, film artefacts went unnoticed. The most telltale sign of the film's age lies in the lighting setup, where flares from the sun show up regularly, and Mel Gibson's hairdo (of course). If haircuts and technology were truly timeless, then one would be forgiven for thinking that they were looking at a film of very recent vintage. Shadow detail is remarkable for a film of this age, as is the sharpness and the lack of low level noise. Most of the details that were lost in darkness on the VCR version of the film have been rescued from the depths on this DVD. This makes Warner Brothers' failures with other Lethal Weapon films, and other films from the mid-to-late eighties, all the more frustrating. Film-to-video artefacts were mild, coming from the usual suspects. The occasional car grille showed a little aliasing here and there, as one would reasonably expect. It was rather hard for me to tell if the occasional losses of definition in background details were bona fide artefacts or just hangovers from the 1987 photography (it's more likely to be the latter). However, when all is said and done, this film has come out exceptionally well from the digital treatment. The only sequence in which the quality of the photography is not optimal is the climactic hand-to-hand fight between Riggs and Mr. Joshua, and this is only because clarity was a secondary consideration when it was originally photographed.

(Addendum March 27, 2000: One moderate MPEG artefact occurs during the conversation between Martin and Roger after the dinner with the Murtaughs, at 47:28. It consists of some pixellation on the screen that may or may not be a digital dropout. This only occurs for half a second at most, and is not enough to deduct points over in spite of its noticeability.)

    Like a lot of Warner Brothers titles, the subtitles only bear a passing relation to the actual dialogue. While they are helpful during moments when the dialogue isn't quite meant to be understood, they are otherwise a pain. The subtitles are offered in a choice of English, French, Italian, Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Romanian, Bulgarian, English for the Hearing Impaired, and Italian for the Hearing Impaired. Would it really be asking too much, Warners, for subtitles that are fully concurrent with the screenplay?

Audio

    Again, the audio quality defies the age of the film. Warner Brothers must have been taking very good care of this film for the day when it would be re-released in digital form. A rare display of foresight, as it were. Three languages are offered, all in Dolby Digital 5.1: English, French, and Italian. Since I don't speak the other languages at all, I merely listened to the English track. Dialogue seemed to be reasonably clear at all points, although there was a lot of muttered speech in some post-violent sequences which could not be made out without the assistance of subtitles. The film doesn't suffer any for this, but it is a rather annoying throwback to the Mad Max series that I personally could have done without. Thankfully, these instances are rare within this film, and do not detract from the overall quality of the dialogue.

    Audio sync doesn't appear to be a problem on my trusty Grundig, although it appears that a lot of allowances were made in the principal photography of the film for any such difficulties. A lot of the speech occurs when the principal characters are off-screen, obscured by props, or in the midst of rapid movements. The only times when this doesn't occur was during the introduction of the characters, and the classic dinner sequence. However, a problem avoided during principal photography is perfectly fine as it won't stick out like aliasing during the non 16x9 enhanced version of The Thing. The surround channels were mainly used to support the music and special effects. The subwoofer worked hard to support the gunshots, explosions, impacts, and music. In other words, it got a reasonable amount of exercise from start to finish.

    The score music by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton is very good for contemporary music applied to film. It is difficult to imagine the Lethal Weapon series without it, although it still fails the ultimate test of film music - making the listener unable to believe that either the music or the film existed before one another. In any case, I've certainly heard much worse soundtrack music in my lifetime, so I'll leave this lot be.

Extras

    As we have come to expect when Warner Brothers release a film of such fine vintage, there are no extras. Not even a menu that is actually themed around the film. Given that Warner Brothers have also followed Columbia's lead (or is that the other way around) and increased the price of their DVDs by five dollars, this is just not on. The scene selection menu is also really pathetic, with only access to nine of the film's actual chapters available. Warner Brothers, there is one thing I want you to get clear, regardless of all the other complaints I have: this limitation of scene selection menus is just not on.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     It's a tough ask, this one. Normally, this many extras would sway me to state that the Region 1 version is the one to go for, but the usage of dual-sided formatting there, combined with their NTSC formatting, does not appeal to me. Unless you are a fan to the point of obsession, I think sticking with the Region 4 version will be just fine.

Summary

    Lethal Weapon is a good piece of action film that has stood the test of time (and of bad sequels) quite well. Although the presentation leaves a little to be desired, it is certainly worthy of purchase.

    The video quality is excellent, especially in comparison to the VHS version that hasn't been seen on store shelves for the better part of a decade. A houseguest I had over recently happily confirmed this fact by comparing a freeze-frame of Mel Gibson's buttocks with how she remembered the VHS version.

    The audio quality is also excellent by virtue of comparison, especially with the Dolby Digital remix. The use of a subwoofer alone puts a floor on the sound effects that makes the film just that little bit more exciting.

    Now, one would think, given how much money the Lethal Weapon franchise has made Warner Brothers, that they would be gracious enough to provide us with one measly extra. An audio commentary by Mel Gibson would have been especially welcome given how pivotal in his career this role was.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Sunday, January 30, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDGrundig GDV-100, using Composite output
DisplayPanasonic 80cm. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersPanasonic S-J1500D x2, Sharp CP-303A x2, Sony SS-CN120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer

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