The quintessential '80s cop buddy picture, Lethal Weapon knows its audience perfectly and gives them everything they could want. Right off the bat, the first scene opens with boobs, drugs, and violence. How's that for a hell of a mission statement? The movie makes no pretensions of being great art, but offers a fun mixture of action and humor that has held up well over the past two decades.
By this point, the film is such a pop culture touchstone, the reference by which most movies in its genre are measured, that pretty much everyone has seen it at least once. It's had a near constant rotation on broadcast and cable TV over the years, usually in a hilariously censored version that replaces the copious profanity with phrases like "holy shoot" and "flippin' airhead". For those who have trouble keeping the plots of the various sequels straight, this is the one where we're first introduced to crazy, suicidal cop Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and his straight-laced, "I'm too old for this shit" partner Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). After a sexy model takes a dive off her apartment balcony, the girl's apparent suicide is ruled a murder when it's discovered that the cocaine she'd been snorting was poisoned. This is somehow tied to an old family friend of Murtaugh's and a drug-smuggling operation run by former Special Forces military who were involved in the Air America scandal during Vietnam. The big baddie of the piece is Mitchell Ryan (Greg's dad on Dharma & Greg), and Gary Busey plays his psycho henchman Mr. Joshua.
Looking back on it nearly 20 years later, the parts that have dated the worst are some of the most entertaining. Gibson's huge blow-dried mullet is spectacular, Glover carries around an awesome mobile phone the size of a toaster connected to its own diesel-powered generator, and stick around through the end credits for a sublimely cheesetastic theme song. The dialogue and plot by ace action movie scribe Shane Black are corny and ridiculous in exactly the right measure, and I'll be damned if everything in this movie doesn't click. Gibson and Glover have great chemistry, Richard Donner's direction is slick and exciting (aided by superproducer Joel Silver), and the action scenes are supremely macho. The big climax involves an utterly pointless fistfight that will have you cheering both in spite of and in appreciation for its absurdity. Lethal Weapon is the type of movie that never grows old despite familiarity. There's a good reason it was a huge box office hit that spawned a string of sequels and countless imitators.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Lethal Weapon debuts on the Blu-ray format courtesy of Warner Home Video. The studio previously released the film on HD DVD in June of this year. Both editions contain only the original 1987 theatrical cut of the film, not the longer Director's Cut that Richard Donner assembled in 2000.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Lethal Weapon Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression on a single-layer 25 gb disc. The movie's theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio has been slightly opened up to fill a 16:9 frame with negligible impact to the composition.
All things considered, the transfer looks pretty good for a modestly budgeted movie from 1987. The source elements are clean and in fine shape. The picture's a little grainy, but the grain is well rendered and doesn't look noisy. Colors are solid, though not necessarily eye popping. Fine object details seem a bit soft for HD, but aren't too bad and the disc is still a clear upgrade over standard DVD.
On the downside, the image looks somewhat dim, with contrasts dulled on both the high and low ends. Shadow detail is only mediocre during dark scenes, and the picture has a minor but noticeable presence of edge enhancement ringing in several sections.
Also problematic, like the HD DVD before it, Warner authored this Blu-ray disc from an older HD master originally transferred in 1080i format and only recently deinterlaced to 1080p in the studio. Unfortunately, at the time the master was struck, heavy vertical domain filtering was applied to reduce the appearance of aliasing and interlace artifacts on 1080i TVs. The process has the side effects of losing vertical resolution detail and introducing jagged artifacts and shimmer in diagonal lines when reassembled to 1080p or other progressive resolutions. It's still better than standard DVD, but not nearly as good as the best that High Definition can deliver.
The Lethal Weapon Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 at a high 640 kb/s bit rate that should be the equal of the HD DVD's Dolby Digital Plus track.
Despite the 5.1 encoding, the sound mix retains most of the flavor of a typical Dolby Surround track from the mid-'80s. The music comes across pretty strongly, but fidelity as a whole is dated. Gunshots sound particularly hollow. Dialogue is frequently drowned out by the score, and in many scenes the ADR dubbing is blatantly apparent. The track has fair surround use for a movie of the period but isn't all that aggressive by modern standards. Directional steering to the split surround channels available in 5.1 is rarely attempted, and bass activity is only modest. For Lethal Weapon, the disc sounds pretty good. Just don't go in expecting modern audio razzle dazzle.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - French DD 2.0.
All of the bonus features on this Blu-ray title are recycled from the DVD edition and are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression.
Missing from the DVD are some text production notes and cast & crew bios. They aren't a significant loss.
- Deleted Scenes (5 min.) – Approximately 5 brief scenes (they're not edited with clear beginnings or endings) previously integrated into the film for the Director's Cut have been presented here separately in Standard-Def anamorphic widescreen. Most of the footage neither helps nor hurts the film, though there's a pretty interesting interaction between Riggs and a hooker. For some reason, a sniper scene found in the Director's Cut has not been included.
- Theatrical Trailer - This clip is hilariously dated and corny.
Lethal Weapon still entertains even after innumerable repeat viewings. The Blu-ray disc offers decent though flawed picture quality that's a step up from the DVD but not as good as the best HD. It still merits a recommendation.
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