Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon (1987)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Tom Atkins
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

One of their most popular and successful action franchises, it is hardly surprising that Warner Home Video has decided to add Richard Donner's 1987 explosive and funny actioner "Lethal Weapon" to HD-DVD in this early stage. It was certainly a great reason for me to revisit this incredibly well-crafted movie.

Watching "Lethal Weapon" is like taking a roller-coaster ride through a comedy show and an action-packed theme park. The film revolves around Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), two police officers who have been forced together as new partners by their office. Murtaugh is celebrating his 50th birthday when Riggs is dropped on him with his reputation as a reckless maniac with a death-wish since the loss of his wife. Murtaugh is determined to make sure Riggs is on his leash, while Riggs has much more important things to do. Very impulsive by nature he acts first and asks questions later, a philosophy that does not sit too well with Murtaugh – but he too will learn.

While the two are trying to settle their differences, they are trying to crack down on a drug ring that is run by a group of former Army Special Forces soldiers. When one informant tells them about an upcoming delivery, Riggs and Murtaugh become the gangsters' targets and they seem to have little chance to survive to see another day. But Riggs' unconventional approach to solve the case makes all the difference – all the way to bare-knuckle fights with the bad guys if need be.

Warner has decided to release the theatrical cut of the film on HD-DVD and not the director's cut that was released on DVD some time ago. That is absolutely fine by me, because the film worked perfectly well in its original version and didn't really need any "upgrading." The characters were very well fleshed out and that is the quintessence of this movie in particular. While the plot with the drug ring is interesting and keeps the characters motivated, pulling them through the plot, it is actually the interaction of Riggs and Murtaugh and their differences that make out this film. Apart from the explosive chases, stunts, shoot-outs and stunts, it is the scenes where Gibson and Glover share the screen that are the most appealing. The dialogues are superbly written, creating believable characters that are sometimes plain out funny, sometimes pensive and thoughtful, and at other times simply entertaining to watch. These scenes have put a very unique stamp on the series that distinguishes it from most other genre movies. Gibson and Murtaugh made "Lethal Weapon" THE buddy movie of the 80s.

But the success has also to be attributed to Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, who are the perfect team for the movie, and have since returned to their respective parts of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh on three more occasions. The two have a great chemistry going as they have personalities that could not be further apart from each other – although over the course of the series especially Riggs' character has matured significantly. In this movie however, Riggs was wild, untamed and out-of-control, a loose cannon, a maniac with a license to kill and no one could do that better than Mel Gibson with his iron stare and the run-down jeans outfit. After losing his wife, Riggs has lost his inner balance and is constantly challenging life. Unafraid to have a head-on collision with death, he is a thrill-seeker who is bringing life back into Murtaugh's everyday routine. A life, the aging officer is not necessarily happy with – but it grows on him, too.

The video presentation that Warner Home Video is dishing out for the HD-DVD version here is very good and adds to the film. Free of grain and entirely devoid of any speckles or blemishes, the transfer is presented in the movie's original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. While not a complete showcase presentation, the high definition transfer of "Lethal Weapon" holds a good level more detail than its DVD counterparts. This is evident particularly in selected scenes, such as the climactic fist fight in the rain, where you see thin streaks of rain hailing down on the actors, and tiny droplets explode from their bodies when there hit each other. But also the streets of Los Angeles are rendered with immaculate detail, all the way to the tiniest store signage that is suddenly readable to the last word no matter how small it may be. Textures and skin tones are wonderfully rendered with great gradients and good shadow fall off. The deep blacks in the transfer add immensely to the film's atmosphere and it is great to see just how balanced the film looks on this high definition transfer with solid blacks and wonderful highlights. Most notably the color delineation is better than on the DVD versions – and I thought those would be hard to improve upon. But here the colors are vibrant and rich giving some of the images a life of their own, almost. Look out for some of the nighttime shots on Hollywood and Wilshire Boulevard or the aerial shots of Los Angeles to see just how vibrant these colors come across.

The disc comes with two audio tracks. The first one is a Dolby Digital Plus track in English while the other one is a Dolby surround track in French. The English 5.1 mix is powerful and dynamic, helping the explosive nature of the film go all the way. With its increased bitrate the track is handling all moments with ease, reproducing every subtle rustle and each one of the big explosions with wonderful clarity. Making good and effective use of the surround channels, "Lethal Weapon" features an impressively engaging mix. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable despite the aggressive mix.

Michael Kamen has contributed a memorable score to "Lethal Weapon" that is presented in a good mix on this release. Although spread out to make use of the full 5.1 sound field, the mix sounds very tight, giving emphasis to the taut action on the screen.

As extras the release only contains some deleted scenes and the movie's trailer, all easily accessible from the disc's on-the-fly menu. The disc uses the same basic menu structure as all other HD-DVD releases making it easy and fast to find your way around.

"Lethal Weapon" is a great release, as expected, and makes sure you get what you pay for. A high quality video transfer that clearly tops the previous DVD presentations and an audio mix that makes you appreciate your home theater equipment just a little bit more. Clearly, "Lethal Weapon" belongs in to any action film fans' collection, particularly when it looks as attractive as on this HD-DVD.