Friday, June 22, 2012

Lethal Weapon Collection Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
It’s been 25 years since the action buddy film, Lethal Weapon, became a phenomenon in its genre and spawned a legacy of films on the heels of its success.  Now Warner Home Video has debuted the ultimate Lethal Weapon Collection as a 5-Disc gift-set containing all four original theatrical releases in the series (Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, Lethal Weapon 3 and Lethal Weapon 4).  The franchise, directed by Richard Donner (Superman, Goonies) and starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as L.A. detectives Riggs and Murtaugh, is one of the most successful in film franchise history, with a worldwide box-office gross and home entertainment sales totaling more than $1 billion.  The Lethal Weapon Collection includes four featurettes (released for the first time in the US) about the genesis, legacy and making of each film in the franchise. Also included are deleted scenes, outtakes and two music videos; one starring Sting and Eric Clapton.  Lastly, also included are two hours of 2010 cast interviews with Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Rene Russo, Joe Pesci and Richard Donner.  The magic is back!

Films (5 out of 5 stars)  
When I think of my favorite action movies the list narrows down to the Indy and Bond films along with Die Hard and the Lethal Weapon series. Each of those series was groundbreaking in its own way but Lethal Weapon was unique in several different ways.  It reinvented the “buddy cop” movie and it did so through some brilliant characterizations but also by pairing a black man with a white man which was something new but has been copied many times since then in different configurations in movies like Rush Hour or Shanghai Noon.  Another factor that set the Lethal Weaponmovies apart was that each one of them contained a serious message amidst all of the fun and thrills.  The first film showed the consequences of drugs, the second showed the ugly side of drugs and apartheid, the third delved into the destructive effects of gangs, and the fourth shone a light on human trafficking.  These messages weren’t browbeaten into the audience but they were there and they provided some extra heft to these action/comedy films.
Let’s run down the list of this fantastic franchise:

Lethal Weapon (1987) (5 out of 5 stars) 

The series starts strongly as two Los Angeles cops are forced to work together. There’s the veteran cop Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) who is a happy well adjusted family man who is planning his retirement and a young narcotics officer Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) who has become suicidal after his wife’s death.  Both of them want to check out in different ways and their early interactions are combative and testy.  The police force believes that Riggs is trying to get a psycho suspension, but Roger soon discovers that Riggs truly does need help and that changes everything.  They start to become friends and Roger soon learns just how loyal a friend he is when Riggs helps him rescue his kidnapped daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe) by some vicious drug smugglers (Mitchell Ryan and Gary Busey).
Lethal Weapon was unlike anything that had audiences had seen before which was exactly what screenwriter (and future director of Iron Man 3) intended.  It was edgy, silly, dark, funny, and action-packed at different points and it’s a credit to Richard Donner and his cast that they were able to balance so many different tones.  The characters of Riggs and Murtaugh were also fully fleshed out with believable quirks , flaws, and a basic humanity that was rare in action movies.  It was exactly that kind of uniqueness that attracted Gibson and Glover to the movie.  As Gibson said, “This particular story was a cut above others I had passed on, because the action is really a sideline which heightens the story of these two great characters.  I picture Riggs as an almost Chaplinesque figure, a guy who doesn’t expect anything from life and even toys with the idea of taking his own.  He’s not like these stalwarts who come down from Mt. Olympus and wreak havoc and go away.  He’s somebody who doesn’t look like he’s set to go off until he actually does.”
For Glover, the role of loving family man was also a draw since he wanted something different from his abusive role in The Color Purple.  As he later said, “Aside from the chance to work with Mel, which turned out to be pure pleasure, one of the reasons I jumped at this project was the family aspect.  The chance to play intricate relationships and subtle humor that exist in every close family group was an intriguing challenge, as was playing a guy turning 50. Murtaugh’s a little cranky about his age until everything he loves is threatened.  His reawakening parallels Riggs.” The fact that two disparate characters like Riggs and Murtaugh can form a friendship was both touching and done with real emotion and humor.  Considering the fact that after first meeting and being pressured by Murtaugh, Riggs attempts to kill himself and is only stopped by Roger’s quick action, by the end of the movie, you feel the connection between Riggs and Roger and Riggs is essentially adopted by Roger’s family which allows him to not quite vanquish his inner demons, but to keep them at bay enough that he no longer is suicidal.

Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) (5 out of 5 stars) 

The first sequel sets up a pattern followed by the remaining two of starting the movie off in the middle of the action.  We catch up to Riggs and Murtaugh in the middle of a car chase (in Rogers’s wife’s station wagon no less) and the movie quickly re-establishes the characters and the action-driven humor that made the first movie so successful.  When the car they are following crashes, they discover a trunk full of illegal gold Krugerrands, which points to an Apartheid South African connection.  They are warned off the case by Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O’Connor) who was sent by Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) who happens to be the minister of affairs for the South African Consulate.  After being attacked, Riggs and Murtaugh are taken off of the investigation and reassigned to protect a federal witness named Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a motor-mouthed accountant who is in witness protection after deciding to inform on his money laundering clients.
It’s not long before an assassin arrives at the hotel room disguised as room service and tries to kill Leo which leads to another spectacular fall in the series as they crash through the window to drop into the pool below.  They discover that Leo was also laundering money for the Rudd and his men so Leo takes them to the house he delivered the money to and they see the assassin from the hotel there, which suddenly ties their two cases together.  Later when they arrive back at the house with back up to arrest the men, Arjen Rudd and his henchmen claim diplomatic immunity which prevents them from being arrested.  Despite being ordered to stay away from Rudd, Riggs sneaks into the South African consulate and catches the name ”Alba Varden,” which triggers something in Roger’s memory but he can’t place it.  Determined to unnerve Rudd, Riggs starts to follow and harass him and at the same time starts to see Rudd’s secretary Rika van den Haas (Patsy Kensit), who not only opposes her country’s apartheid policies, but she also dislikes her boss as well.
Rudd finally decides to eliminate Riggs and Murtaugh and he sends assassins to both of their homes to kill them. Relaxing at home, Roger watches an old birthday video and notices that Alba Varden is actually the name of a ship that he saw anchored at the docks.  Murtaugh is then attacked at his home while Leo is kidnapped by Rudd’s men.  Over at the beach, two helicopters filled with men with machine guns start shooting up Riggs’ trailer with Riggs and Rika inside it.  While Riggs and Murtaugh escape with their lives, not everyone is so lucky and the pair take it personally. They leave their police badges behind and return to Rudd’s house to rescue Leo and for some payback. It won’t be long before the South Africans realize what a mistake it was to cross the line with Riggs.

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) (5 out of 5 stars)

With Murtaugh’s much talked about and planned for retirement now three days away, the last thing Roger wants to do is put himself at risk, but with Riggs as his partner there isn’t any other option.  The movie opens with the pair arriving on the scene of a building where a bomb has been discovered.  The bomb squad has been called in but Riggs convinces Roger that they won’t arrive in time so it’s up to them to defuse the bomb.  When Riggs cuts the wrong wire and the entire building is blown up, Riggs and Murtaugh are demoted down to traffic cops.  While fooling around, the pair notice an armored robbery in progress and move in to stop the thieves.  Riggs jumps into the stolen armored car with the thieves while Roger follows behind in another armored car.  Once again showing that few movies can match the Lethal Weapon movies for fun and exciting car chases, we watch Riggs take out the thieves one at a time while Roger fends off the amorous driver of the second armored car.  They are successful in stopping the robbery and thanks to that success, the two are reinstated as detectives which allows them the freedom to investigate the attempted theft more.
Unknown to them, they’ve inadvertently involved themselves into the middle of an internal affairs investigation that’s led by Sargeant Lorna Cole (Rene Russo).  Cole has been investigating a suspected dirty cop named Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson) who she believes is stealing police impounded automatic weapons and selling them on the black market through intermediaries.  Later, some of those guns fall into the hands of a local gang whose drug deal was interrupted by Riggs who came to arrest them.  When one of the gang members hits Riggs in the head with a board and starts firing his machine gun at them, Murtaugh is left with little choice but to fire back in self defense, killing the young man who Roger discovers is a friend of his son’s.  Taking it hard, Murtaugh avoids his family and starts getting drunk to help him block his feelings of guilt.  When Riggs comes to boat to help his friend, they verbally and physically attack each other with their shared grievances.  Roger is upset about killing his son’s friend, while Riggs is upset that Roger is planning to retire and leave him.  Gibson and Glover do a remarkable job of conveying their character’s turmoil while at the same time delivering the character driven comedy that made the series what it was.
As if the two didn’t have enough trouble, Leo is still around and now a real estate agent who is trying to sell Roger’s home but is doing a poor job since he likes to point out all of the damage done from their earlier misadventures at the house (a car crashing through the wall, bomb damage in the bathroom, etc.).  While he is still annoying and high maintenance, Leo proves his worth and helps them once again when he recognizes Travis and leads them to a hockey game where they attempt to capture Travis. They fail and one of the young rookies is killed by one of Travis’ armor piercing bullets known as “cop killers”.  Leo comes through once more, by telling Riggs and Murtaugh that Travis owns a construction site that he uses as a front for his business.  Determined to catch Travis once and for all, Riggs, Murtaugh, and Cole arrive at the site to take on Travis and all of his henchmen.

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) (4 out of 5 stars)

While the first three movies in this franchise are all fantastic, the fourth one is the weakest link in the series but that’s not to say that it’s not entertaining.  Even being the worse film in the series it’s still a lot better than a lot of other movies, but when compared to the stellar first three it pales in comparison.  The problem with Lethal Weapon 4 is the script and not the actors, although the film feels a little top heavy with the addition of even more new characters.  Having Riggs, Murtaugh, Murtaugh’s family, Lorna Cole, and Leo Getz already, that’s a lot of people that the script has to service.  Adding Chris Rock to the mix just makes it even harder for the film to keep it’s focus on the reason it was successful in the first place – Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
It starts off in the now classic fashion, in the middle of the action where Riggs and Murtaugh are facing an armored man with a flamethrower who seems intent on burning Los Angeles down.  This opening scene is great and the chemistry between Gibson and Glover is still put to great use as Riggs convinces Murtaugh to strip down to his underwear to distract the arsonist.  Once again, a lot of the fun of this franchise is watching Riggs talk Murtaugh into embarrassing himself in some fashion whether it’s doing a karate kick to a water bottle or exposing his girdle and their combined reactions are sublime.  It would feel mean-spirited if a lesser actor than Glover was in the role, but Glover makes it clear that while Murtaugh may be embarrassed, he also sees the humor in it and can laugh at himself.
This go around Riggs and Murtaugh are investigating a Chinese immigrant smuggling ring along with the eager to please rookie Detective Lee Butters (Chris Rock), who spends most of his time trying to make Roger happy which unnerves Roger.  Every one but Roger knows that Butters has secretly married Roger’s daughter Rianne and that she is nine months pregnant ans that he’s just sucking up to prepare for the future.  How that fact escapes a good detective like Roger is beyond me but there it is.  Riggs and Cole are still together and expecting their own child soon.  They have been discussing marriage in a roundabout way but neither one can fully talk about it directly.  Riggs, Murtaugh, Butters, and even Leo (who is now a private detective) are investigating the Chinese Triads after discovering a ship trying to smuggle in Chinese slave laborers.  Murtaugh finds a family trying to escape in a dinghy and takes them to his home since he views his help as “freeing slaves.”
Their investigation leads them to Chinatown where they talk with the local crime boss named Benny Chan (Uncle Benny), who refuses to talk and tells them to leave his restaurant.  Before they leave, they meet Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li) who is there as the Triad’s enforcer.  Leo is hired to find out more information about Uncle Benny (and to keep him out of the way), while they follow their own leads.  When Hong (the father of the family that Murtaugh rescued) contacts his uncle, the triad invades Murtaugh’s house and ties everyone one up and sets the house on fire.  These guys have obviously never seen Lethal Weapon 1-3, otherwise they would have known better than to make this personal with Riggs and Murtaugh.

Video (4 out of 5 stars)  

All of these movies look better than their earlier releases.  The movies look progressively better as the series goes on but I was happy with all of them.  With the first one getting a brand new transfer and the others getting improved along with the third’s first appearance in high definition, fans should be very happy with this set.
Lethal Weapon (4 out of 5 stars) 
In a nice gesture, Warners has included a new fully remastered 1080p (1.85:1) transfer of Lethal Weapon that is a lot better than the previous two high definition transfers that have already been released.  Colors look much better in this transfer over previous ones and the black levels look much more solid and inky.  Contrast has also been improved along with a sharper clarity throughout.  There are still a few soft looking shots but this transfer is a lot better than my previous HD-DVD release.
Lethal Weapon 2 (4 out of 5 stars)  
This 1080p (2.40:1) transfer is also better than its previous release with a sharper image and without the digital defects of the earlier release.  This transfer looks clean and the digital noise has been removed without leaving the humans looking waxy.  Like its predecessor, the contrast has improved as has the black levels which now look suitably dark.  Colors a lot stronger as well, with each of them being clearly defined and unsaturated.  Flesh tones look natural and appealing throughout.
Lethal Weapon 3 (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 
Making it’s high definition debut, Lethal Weapon 3 arrives with an excellent 1080p (2.40:1) transfer that looks fantastic.  The transfer offers some excellent clarity and detail with every detail on display in impeccable high resolution.  Colors are bold and nicely balanced and the black levels are deep and dark.  The level of detail has increased quite a bit from the previous two films and fans will be happy to finally see this on Blu-ray.
Lethal Weapon 4 (5 out of 5 stars)  
And last but not least, we get a new high definition Lethal Weapon 4 transfer and this movie appropriately looks better than the previous three as it is the most recent one.  This 1080p (2.40:1) transfer is stunning and looks even better than it did in the theater when it was originally released.  The level of detail in this transfer is astounding, as we can see every hair, wrinkle, and texture in razor sharp focus. Colors are striking and jump off the screen, especially during the colorful Chinatown sequence.  Black levels are pitch black and the contrast is spot on.  This transfer is quite a bit better than the previous release and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Reviewing the audio for all four films is a lot easier since they are all excellent.  Each of them offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and much like the video for each, they are all very good but improve with each installment.
Lethal Weapon (4 out of 5 stars)  
The first film received a remastered mix much like the video, so it sounds better than the previous release.  This mix is much more dynamic than my HD-DVD version’s and there seems to be more directionality as well.   Dialogue is clear and intelligible and the sound effects sound much improved and immediate.  This is definitely a step up from the previous releases.
Lethal Weapon 2  (4 out of 5 stars) 
Lethal Weapon 2 has also been improved over its previous release with a lot more activity and a 5.1 mix that seems better balanced.  The front channels deliver dialogue that is clear and intelligible, while the rear channels provide excellent directionality and ambiance.  The sound effects also sound excellent and there”s a lot of nice atmosphere to be found in this mix.  The collapse of the stilt house sounded especially good in this new version.

Lethal Weapon 3  (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 
Despite never having been released in high definition before this, this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix sounds fantastic and it really shows off the effects and the music by Eric Clapton, Sting, and Elton John which sounds incredible.  The dialogue is clear and this mix offers an impressive dynamic range for both high and low frequency effects.  The rear channels add quite a bit of atmosphere and power to the sound effects as well as some excellent ambiance.  When those buildings come down, you you will feel it!
Lethal Weapon 4 (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)  
The fourth Lethal Weapon movie offers much like its video counterpart, the best quality of the set.  This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix utilizes all of the channels better than the previous three and offers the most active and engaging mix as well.  The front channels provide clear dialogue that isn’t drowned out by the sound effects or by the music.  The rear channels really kick it up a notch and offer some all encompassing ambiance that darts about the room.  Gunshots, explosions, cars, and destruction swirl about the room in an effective display of sound design. The music once again sounds great and is well balanced with the rest of the mix.

Extras (5 out of 5 stars)  

There are some great extras here for the fans and some of it has been recycled from previous releases and some of it is brand spanking new.  For some reason, there’s a mix of high definition and standard definition extras here which is puzzling.  Fortunately, the new fifth disc of interviews is in high definition and it represents the best extra in the set. I wish Warners had included some digital copies of the films though.
Movie Disc Extras:
  • Lethal Weapon
    • Audio Commentary – Director Richard Donner offers a pretty dry commentary for the film that he still loves but has clearly forgotten the details of its production.  Donner spends much of the time simply commentating on the action on screen but he does offer some good stories and his approach to the franchise.
    • Music Video - Honeymoon Suite’s video for their song “Lethal Weapon.”
    • Deleted Scenes – We get fourteen deleted scenes which includes some good ones and some that weren’t really needed.  They are: ”Breakfast,” “Morning Ritual,” “At the Range,” “In the Line of Fire,” “Questioning Dixie,” “Home,” “Wanna Jump?,” “Swimming Pool Shootout,” “Home for Dinner,” “Kiss Goodnight,” “Watch Television with Me,” “Caught,” “Kidnapping” and “Busted.”
    • Trailer - The original theatrical trailer
  • Lethal Weapon 2
    • Audio Commentary – Richard Donner returns and this time he really seems to not want to be there.  It’s a shame that he doesn’t watch the movie and prepare some thoughts in advance since this will be the historical record left after he’s gone.  Once again, there’s a lot of pauses and silence but if you hang in there you do get some good stuff.
    • Stunts & Action – A four minute look at two different action scenes and we learn how they were choreographed.
    • Deleted Scenes - Only three deleted scenes are added for this release and they are: ”Trish’s Car,” “By the Numbers” and “What’s the Water Like?”
    • Trailer- The original theatrical trailer
  • Lethal Weapon 3
    • Audio Commentary – Donner returns and this time he’s ready to have fun.  He’s also helped by someone else who asks him questions and reminds him of what happened which helps a lot.  Donner is in good spirits on this track and it makes for an enjoyable listen as he talks about the actors, his process, and what he was trying to achieve.
    • Deleted Scenes - We get three scenes including: ”Doggie Heaven,” “Interrogation” and “Did You Forget Something?”
    • Music Video - A music video with Sting and Eric Clapton performing the fantastic title track “It’s Probably Me.”
    • Trailers - We get the teaser and theatrical trailers this time around.
  • Lethal Weapon 4
    • Audio Commentary - At long last, Donner is surrounded by people that actually worked on the movie with him including producers J. Mills Goodloe and Geoff Johns (who went on to big things in DC Comics). This time around, Donner is the old pro and he does most of the talking which is great since he clearly remembers this fourth installment much more than the previous three.  I highly recommend listening to these last two commentaries because they offer the most bang for the buck and Donner is a genial host to listen to on those.
    • Pure Lethal! New Angles, New Scenes and Explosive Outtakes - This was probably the best extra on here until the fifth disc of interviews was added.  This featurette runs over thirty minutes and although it’s mostly EPK footage, it’s hosted by Danny Glover and it offers interviews with the cast and crew and fans will like it.
    • Trailer - The theatrical trailer is included.
The exclusive fifth disc offers some brand new interviews that were recorded in 2010 at Richard Donner’s house.  The footage filmed has been broken up into four pieces that run around thirty minutes each and represent the best extras in this set. I loved watching this entire disc and fans of the movie should buy this set just for it.
  • Psycho Pension: The Genesis of Lethal Weapon - We learn about the film’s origins with interviews with the writer Shane Black along with Richard Donner, Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and the producer Joel Silver.
  • A Family Affair: Bringing Lethal Weapon to Life - This is basically a continuation of where the first one left off.  While the cast and crew from the previous installment are present, this time we also hear from Rene Russo, Joe Pesci, Chris Rock, and more of the production crew including the cinematographer, stunt coordinator, and the production designer J. Michael Riva who sadly just passed away.
  • Pulling the Trigger: Expanding the World of Lethal Weapon -  The same group of people talk about the sequels to the original and how they came about and the messages that were included within them.  The focus is mostly on the second and third movie in the franchise.
  • Maximum Impact: The Legacy of Lethal Weapon - The cast and crew now talk mostly about the fourth installment and Jet Li’s speed and prowess.  They also discuss how movies have become too dependent on CGI and how the Lethal Weapon movies were the last action blockbusters that were filmed doing stunts and effects as real as possible.  They even briefly discuss the possibility of doing a fifth one but I seriously doubt that will happen even though I would be the first person in line if they did.  Chris Rock is seriously wanting it to happen too.   It was touching to see the big three guys (Donner, Gibson, and Glover) back together again and they obviously still enjoy each other’s company.

Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)  

I love these movies and it’s impossible to copy the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.  Their amazing portrayals of very different men originally forced together only to become as close as family provides the heart of these movies.  This franchise has some of the best action sequences around and also some extremely funny moments.  The Lethal Weapon series is like taking the best action movie and combining it with the best comedy movie and keeping the best from both.  Other movies may try to copy the concept (even Warners is trying to reboot the franchise without Gibson and Glover), but none of those efforts will ever match the magic of the originals.  Now that we finally have all four of the movies on Blu-ray and in this awesome new set, I hope it will gain even more new fans. Now with new and improved audio and video transfers and a new disc of retrospective material, this Lethal Weapon Collection is a must buy!
Order your copy today! 

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