The Punisher

The Punisher (2004)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: John Travolta
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Video, Game Trailer

"Those who do evil to others – the killers, the rapists, psychos, sadists, will come to know me well. Frank Castle is dead. Call me the Punisher." Those who are familiar with the hit Marvel Comics series will know Frank Castle very well starting with his first appearance in "The Amazing Spiderman". Back in 1989 director Mark Goldblatt attempt to successfully adapt the famous comic book to screen. Starring popular 80’s action star, Dolph Lundgren, it seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately due to some legal complications with Marvel, the trademark skull that was associated and most recognized with The Punisher could not be used. Written by Boaz Yakin (Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) didn’t help matters either. The film quickly disappeared from theaters and vanished amongst the many low budget action pictures shot throughout the 80’s. (Note: It is available on DVD from Artisan.)

In 2003, where comic book adaptations are now getting the respect and budget they deserve, and filming rights are being snatched left, right and center, Lions Gate Pictures purchased the rights to again bring the character of Frank Castle back to the screen – this time being more faithful in their translation. To play the character Frank Castle, Tom Jane (Deep Blue Sea, Dream Catcher) was cast, along with screen legend John Travolta to play villain Howard Saint. Is second time the charm? Well for the most part the film is very faithful to the book. Key characters, elements and sequences remain intact. The acting is quite good. Tom Jane does an excellent job creating the very dark, emotionally tormented character of Frank Castle. John Travolta and Will Patton bring believability to the long-term friendship that both characters have had. It further strengthens that when specific events develop further into the film. And being that this is Jonathan Hensleigh’s first time in the director’s chair, he does a good job with the small budget he was given.

The video presentation of the film has a large number of flaws. First off if you go to chapter 5, which is in Aguadilla Bay, Puerto Rico, keep a close eye at the sky. Especially when they’re walking down the beach. There is an incredible amount of noise that is immediately noticeable on screen. And around the 0:15:10 – 0:15:29 time index look in the upper right corner of the screen it looks like small blacks lines are scratched into the print. And all throughout the film, the image has a soft look to it. Colors seem fairly accurate though. And blacks are generally good, especially the details of The Punishers outfit. But unfortunately this is still one of the worst looking current DVD transfers I’ve seen. I can always understand if the film is older than 15 years, but not when it’s less than a year.

Audio is an improvement though. Near the beginning of the film, dialog seems to be a little boxed in. Midrange frequencies seem to have an over abundance of chestiness to them. But don’t fret. This is only noticeable in a small portion of the film. The rest of the film is an explosive, hard-hitting experience. The Punisher wouldn’t be The Punisher without lots of guns and explosions. The entire <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 EX soundtrack is very active. I was impressed with how nicely they were able to pan sounds around the room without noticing gaps. Surround channels are very active. One particular scene in the film involves approximately 30+ cars exploding and never once does the sound compress. This isn’t "The Matrix" though. No matter how good the sound quality is other bigger action films are a lot more memorable. Also the main theme is repeated far too many times for my liking.

As far as extras are concerned, this disc has some nice ones. First off Artisan gives us a <$commentary,commentary track> with Director Jonathan Hensleigh. They also give 2 deleted scenes, with optional commentary, that don’t really add anything to the film. The longer of the two delete scenes only involves a relocation of a scene that already appears in the finished cut. We also get a Music Video for the tune "Step Up" performed by Drowning Pool and a quick trailer for the video game. What is most interesting are the Featurettes. The first is called "Keepin’ It Real: The Punisher Stunts." This is a sweet documentary on all the stunt work involved for most of the major action sequences in the film. What’s interesting is all the stunt work is real and not helped with CGI. Also Tom Jane did most of his own stunt work. The best fight scene in the film, which involves a HUGE Russian, has some amazing stunt work plus no doubles were used. The second is called "War Journal: On the Set of The Punisher." This is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. Items such as the limited 28 million dollar budget, the fact that the film needed to be shot is only 50 days are discussed. One large battle sequence could not be completed for the film because of the budget. Because of this a lot of script changes had to be made mainly because the film was created based around this scene. It’s definitely worth a watch. Up next is "Army of One: The Punisher Origins." This details the history of the character with an interview with creator Gerry Conway. And last is "Drawing Blood: Bradstreet Style," which is an interview with the cover artist for the film. It’s a shame that they didn’t end up using the artwork for the DVD release.

My conclusion with the DVD is this is a great disc. The film is much better than I expected. It’s not in the same ballpark as "Spider-Man" for instance, but it is a good film. The fact that the disc has not just one amazing featurette, but four really makes this disc a guilty pleasure. I don’t think it’s worth purchasing but it’s a must rent. And as a little bonus, pay attention for a certain "Pulp Fiction" reference early on in the film that made me smile. I wonder if they wrote that in after John accepted the role. Enjoy!