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Why do I have to import an American franchise?
on March 7, 2011
This series of films is one I've been hoping for for awhile now. I am aware that the first two films are available here in the states but they don't have any special features to speak of. Imagine my surprise when I was just looking things up randomly and found an entire box set, five discs, of the Lethal Weapon films available on blu ray and for a reasonable price!!!!
Now I'm not giving plot synopsis of each film and I'm not really going to review each film with any depth. Sorry, just don't see the point in doing so for a 24 year old franchise. The first Lethal Weapon is an American movie classic at this point. It's been ripped off and emulated multiple times(and unfortunately still is today). At the time of its release there wasn't a huge action movie market back in 1987. Sure, there were action flicks, mostly starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but most of them were real low budget and grindhouse type fare. This had name stars and a big director(Richard Donner of Goonies, Omen and Superman the movie fame) attached. Now this wasn't a huge budget film either. The film only cost about seven million to make, and even back then that was peanuts. The Lethal Weapon film had something that the other films of the time like Commando didn't have; GREAT CHARACTERS. Characters that you believed and were interesting and ultimately you cared about one way or another. The plot itself is ludicris and impossible. The way the police go about their 'procedure' is very much of the 80's, but the snappy dialogue, fun action set pieces(set pieces that stand out due to them feeling urgent and possible, unlike most action films of today), and great cast chemistry made this film original. If this film had just been a slice of life drama and not an action film then it would've still worked. Lethal Weapon 2, while not as classic for being original as the first, just furthered the strong points of the first and arguably made a better film. Adding a great addition in the form of Joe Pesci playing an annoying state witness named Leo Getz. The antics with stars Glover, Gibson and Pesci are not to be missed. Letha Weapon 3 is where the quality started dropping. It's by no means a bad film, it's actually a really fun good one, but the routine-ness of the proceedings were starting to show through. Joe Pesci's character has no function in the film beyond the fact that he was so popular in the last movie. The villain is weak to boot. The action is great and Gibson and Glover are just as endearing and watchable. Plus, they added a legitimate love interest to the mix played by Rene Russo. Russo and Gibson have a now classic scene of foreplay as they compare battle scars. Lethal Weapon 4 is the low mark in the series. I woudn't blame or argue with anyone that hated this film. It's a more episodic film(due most likely to the film being written as they were filming, which you learn in this new set's fifth disc suppliments). There are action scenes, tho they are awesome and expertly staged, where the main characters bicker and joke WAY TOO MUCH. You just want them to shut up for a second so you can watch the scene play out. It's also the most sentimental in the series as all invovled were aware of the serie's long running popularity and the fact that they knew this would probably be the last. As with previous sequels a character is added in the form of Chris Rock(in his first major studio film) as Glover's would-be son in law. Now I like the film enough despite it's flaws. It's still a fun flick, espeically if you're already a fan of the other films. It has a nice sense of closure, jaw dropping action(especially a brilliant freeway chase like no other),and a great villain played by Jet Li(this being his introduction to mainstream America). So, those are the films themselves.
The new Import Only blu rays are AMAZING. Totally worth picking up for any fan. The transfers are all crisp. This is the best the films have ever looked. The first two films exist here in the states on blu ray but they're pitiful transfers in comparison. Each disc ports over the blu ray features for each film(deleted/extended scenes, vintage featurettes, etc) and adds brand new commetary tracks for the first three films by director Richard Donner. I was excited by the new commentary tracks, but was a bit disappointed. Donner is accompanied by the new set's producer and he seems more interested in watching the films then commenting on them. Plus, he doesn't seem to remember much and often confuses scenes with other films in the series. The producer doesn't help him much as he doesn't do much to push along the commentary. More annoyingly, sometimes you hear Donner responding to someone in the recording booth who isn't mic'd, and he starts answering questions with no frame of mind for the audience. Can be very frustrating. The dvd commentary for part 4 has been ported over from the 1998 dvd, and it's still a fun listen as Donner is accompanied by several members of that film's production team.
Sorry folks but these ARE NOT THE DIRECTOR'S CUTS of the films, or as they should properly be referred to as 'the so-called director's cuts'. Back when Lethal Weapon 4 came out Warner Home Video released director's cuts of the first three films. They had previously deleted scenes incorporated back in(all these scenes are included on each film's disc as special features). Now while Donner didn't object he didn't personally put these scenes back into the films. He states that the theatrical versions are his director's cuts. The first film had the most added footage. While at the time I was excited to see more, the film buff in me knew something was wrong. The first film has a great deleted scene where Riggs confronts a sniper at an elementary school. This is an exciting scene in itself but redundant when edited into the final film. It essentially does the same job as the scene where Riggs goes undercover to buy coke at the Christmas tree lot---it shows that he's daring and prone to violence. It's cool but doesn't do much for the final narrative. I know some love the director's/extended cuts and would prefer them to the theatrical, but Im not one of them. I'm happy having theatrical versions with the deleted scenes as extras. SO DO NOT BUY IF YOU WANT DIRECTOR'S CUTS.
There's also a fifth disc with a four-part making of/retropspective documentary that runs about two hours. It has brand new interviews with Richard Donner, Danny Glover, Mel Gibson, Chris Rock, Rene Russo, screenwriter Shane Black, producer Joel Silver, and producer Mark Canton among others. This is the motherload right here. It goes in deep about the production for all four films(while, like the Indiana Jones dvd set, focusing more on the first film more) and gives you every scoop you could want regardin this film series. It's fun and informative. My favorite moments that I can think of off the top of my head have to do with Donner admitting his own ignorance regarding the suggestion of Danny Glover being offered up by casting director Marion Dougherty for the role Roger Murtaugh. "But Danny Glover is black", was Donner's initial response not realising right away that he could cast a black actor despite the fact that the script didn't specifically describe one. Show the times and how they've changed. My other favorite has to do with the long process that went behind Riggs' suicide attempt in his trailer. Gibson wasn't ready to do so asked to have it pushed back in production schedule. They cut the trailer set in half and carried it around with them from location to location until Gibson finally said he could pull the scene off. And if you've seen the first film you know it was worth the wait. A truly sad and harrowing scene ever committed to any action film I've ever seen. There's tons more of this and it's worth a view by EVERY Lethal Weapon fan. Just to hear about Shane Black's original, and much bigger, scripted ending is worth the view. I know I'll be watching it again in the future.
All in all this is worth the upgrade. Great transfers. An abundance of new and old special features. Despite the weak first three films commentary tracks I was happy to give them a listen, tho I won't be listening to them again, this is a great set. If you prefer the theatrical versions over the director's/extended cuts, or just don't give a crap either way then this is a total no brainer! Buy it! You know you want to.
PS: I don't know of any official US release date for these films in this particular form, but I am kind of annoyed that I have to import American made films with new special features, especially a franchise this popular and influential. I couldn't wait so I obviously had to. Though, Warner Brothers doesn't regionally code their discs so it should play in all players. I learned this last year when I got copies of The Goonies(another Donne classic) and Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory(which includes special features not even on the US dvd releases like a great Tim Burton commentary).