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Warner Home Video presents
Murtaugh: You ever mey anybody you didn't kill?
DVD ReviewThe original Lethal Weapon, which spawned the popular franchise, was one of the first pictures to be released on DVD in 1997, so it's probably no surprise that it makes an encore appearance as one of the first entries on HD-DVD from Warner. The popularity of the movie and its sequels, combined with the exploding star status of Mel Gibson, make it a perennial favorite. The teaming of Gibson, Danny Glover and director Richard Donner doesn't hurt, although this action-packed first entry is a much more serious affair than its more farcical sequels. The presentation here is of the original theatrical cut, not the "director's cut" containing several additional scenes (though they do appear in the special features section)
L.A. detective Roger Murtaugh (Glover) has just turned 50 when he learns he is to be assigned a new partner, Martin Riggs (Gibson). The problem with Riggs is that his wife was killed not long ago in a car crash, and he's suicidal. Having a suicidal partner with an itchy trigger finger is a recipe for disaster, and Murtaugh is understandably leery of the arrangement. But duty calls as an apparent suicide of a hooker is revealed to be a murder, leading to a major heroin operation run by ex-Special Forces General Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan) and his henchman Joshua (Gary Busey).
What puts this picture a notch above your standard-issue buddy cop picture is the character of Riggs. Combining the darkness of suicidal depresssion with an off-kilter Three Stooges sensibility, the character provides a depth and pained humanity to the otherwise exceedingly standard proceedings. It certainly helps that Gibson imbues the character with a vividly manic depressive life. He particarly shines in the set piece in which he is sent to try to talk a jumper off the ledge, ending up going out on the ledge and taking a dive himself. The interplay between Riggs and Murtaugh's 16-year-old daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe) works pretty well as he is both bemused and flattered by the girl's attention.
The polar opposite is a key point of the buddy movie, and it's emphasized by having the leads bear initials that are mirror images. Murtaugh's busy and happy family man counterpoints with Riggs' despondent and lonely life in a trailer. The accommodation of Riggs into Murtaugh's life is slow and grudging but develops in a fairly natural manner, bonding through life-threatening situations. The torture sequence at the end feels gratuitously nasty, and both Gibson and Glover respond with miraculous recoveries to take on the final climactic chase sequences. To be fair, those sequences are admirably staged, other than a ridiculous martial arts exhibition between Gibson and Busey.
Busey returns as one of another in a long line of psychopaths, repeatedly referred to as an albino for no reason other than to upset albinism lobbies, since he doesn't appear to have that afflication in the least beyond a head of white hair. He takes on the part of Joshua, a G. Gordon Liddy, with his usual nasty glee, running off the rails into cartoonish villainy on occasion. The film is somewhat dated by the repeated reference to both his and nearly all of the other major characters' Vietnam service. The script seems to be trying to make a point about both good and bad being derived from the Vietnam experience, but it's fairly incoherent. Better to just sit back and enjoy the ride and shut off the brain for this one.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: After so many attractive and beautifully detailed transfers on HD-DVD, this one comes as a shocking disappointment. It bears quite a few resemblances to the original 1997 transfer, leading one to suspect that the HD transfer may also date from that period. It's quite soft, with almost no shadow detail, just like the original release. Colors are quite a lot more stable, and Murtaugh's finely patterned plaid jacket is no longer a mess of shimmering and moiré, but there's not a lot more to be said in favor of this somewhat embarrassing release. The 1997 source print has been cleaned up some, with the speckling and dirt removed (although the Warner logo at the beginning is even dirtier!). Grain is poorly compressed, with quite a lot of shimmer, sparkle and instability throughout. It's particularly bad during the night sequences. Definitely not a reference HD disc.
Image Transfer Grade: D+
Audio Transfer Review: The audio for this picture has always had a good impact, and the DD+ 5.1 English track carries on the tradition well. There's plenty of surround information that makes for an enveloping viewing experience that sets the mood well. The firing range sequence and gunshots have all the oomph that one might want to hear, as do the several explosions that pepper the running time. Hiss and noise are nominal.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: The four deleted scenes total nearly five minutes in length. These are mostly character bits for Riggs that emphasize his loneliness, though there is one scene featuring Murtaugh solo at the firing range. They add a bit to the proceedings but on the whole just get in the way of the momentum of the story. There's also a trailer that looks significantly worse than the feature.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsOne of Warner's most reliably performing video releases comes to HD in a shabby transfer that doesn't demonstrate the possibilities of the format very well.
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